"Around noon on a late August day, the barn of the Youth Farm Project at Three Swallows Farm is a pleasant commotion of two dozen bustling teenagers preparing food for a dinner to be held that evening for around 90 parents and YFP supporters.
The teens work in circles at various tables, chopping vegetables, hand-mixing egg yolks and oil, bodies keeping time with the music, capable and focused. A group of boys pass by daring each other to drink the by-product of one recipe: zucchini juice.
“Why not,” one replied, “zucchinis taste great; the juice can’t be that bad.” Not a bad way to spend a summer.
Ann Piombino, manager and founding member of YFP, explained the project was started four years ago as “a way of having youth become an integral part of a sustainable food system and to create job opportunities.” YFP was the result of collaboration between Three Swallows Farm, the Full Plate Farm Collective CSA, the Southside Community Center and Lehman Alternative Community School. The project employs youth ages 14-18, from diverse socio-economic backgrounds, for a seven-week program that focuses on sustainable farming practices. The teens work on the farm for four hours a day, three days a week, and spend Wednesdays in a classroom setting, learning about social and food justice issues from local volunteers in the morning, and new vegetarian recipes from local chefs in the afternoon.
These development sessions are a favorite of many of the YFP participants. As Simon Warhaft, 21, a three-year volunteer of YFP, explained “there is an epidemic of not knowing where our food comes from and being around the YFP staff and volunteers I saw that I could make a real impact in the community.” Warhaft continued, “the program really helps kids focus on the positive impacts of their actions on the environment.”
In addition to farming skills and food and social justice education, YFP teaches communication skills to the students through games designed to encourage them to be specific and direct. Fridays on the farm feature “straight talk,” feedback sessions during which positives from the week are highlighted as well as “deltas,” areas that would benefit from positive change. During the first week of the program participants are asked to write one or two words on a chalkboard that express what they hope to get from their seven weeks with YFP. The board is kept in the barn throughout the program; the list is thoughtful and mature and features goals such as: trust, exposure, accomplishment, commitment, and consideration.
YFP’s five acre farm is contracted with Full Plate, maintaining the U-pick field for CSA members, the Beverly J. Martin Elementary Fresh Fruits and Vegetable Snack program, the Ithaca City School District and LACS lunch programs, and YFP produce is sold at the Friday night Congo Square Market. Many of the teens also listed producing food for the local schools as one of their favorite aspects of the program. As Anna Pensky, 16, stated, “I like getting to see what my efforts produce and getting to share that with classmates in school.”
YFP funds the workers through multiple sources, including grants, the Town of Danby, Cornell Cooperative Extension, Workforce NY, and Youth Employment Services. Last year YES and YFP began employing three or four students per season, throughout the school year. The students work after school two days a week and on Saturdays, harvesting and cleaning up in the fall, making and canning jams and salsas during the winter, and preparing the farm for planting in the spring.
Due to limited transportation to and from the farm during the school year, Mike Smith, a program leader at YES, drives the students from school to the farm, works alongside them and brings them home in the evening. Smith said of Piombino, “Ann really works to support the kids and the community and we like to support her.”
Rayna Joyce, 15, was one of the students working on the farm last school year. Standing in the loft of the barn amidst rows of hanging garlic lit by shafts of afternoon sunlight, the swallows that inspired the farm’s name flitting in and out, Joyce demonstrated confidence and maturity beyond her years.
“The community aspect,” she replied when asked her favorite aspect of YFP, “the project brings together diverse youth from around the community who may never have met. Working in the field you’re talking with each other, learning powerful stuff together, that really brings people together in a unique way.”
Saturdays at YFP are community work days, members of the community are encouraged to visit the farm at 23 Nelson Rd from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. to volunteer in exchange for experience and information on organic farming practices. To learn more about YFP visit its website at youthfarmproject.weebly.com."