A summer farming program has high school students planting, picking, eating and earning green.
The Youth Farm Project started five years ago as a collaboration between Three Swallows Farm, the Full Plate Farm Collective CSA, Lehman Alternative Community School and the Southside Community Center. Students are paid through local youth employment agencies to work on a 3.5-acre organic vegetable farm on Nelson Road, and the food they grow and harvest makes its way into Ithaca city school lunch and snack programs.
This summer, about 22 high school students worked on the farm, which sits on land adjacent to the Ithaca Waldorf School. The farm hosts a diverse slate of crops; onions, kale, collards, tomatoes, carrots, potatoes, winter squash, turnips and more.
Students work 20 hours a week and in the process they learn farming, cooking and teamwork skills while also developing a deeper awareness of sustainability and food justice issues, according to Joseph Amsili, who is a coordinator of the summer program and co-manages the farm with Ann Piombino.
"Some kids come with a lot of gardening experience from home, but for a lot of kids it's completely new to them. So we teach kids how to learn to work hard and use their bodies. We show them they can be powerful and create something pretty meaningful," Amsili said. "One big part of our program is that we depend on having five or six kids returning from previous years that can be role models and leaders for the people who have just arrived on the farm."
The food the students harvest is used in lunch programs in the Ithaca City School District, New Roots Charter School, the Full Plate Farm Collective CSA's u-pick garden, plus initiatives such as Beverly J. Martin Elementary School's Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Snack Program, GIAC's Market Box and Hot Meals programs, the Congo Square Market at Southside Community Center, and at a number of local food establishments.
The Youth Farm Project, which is supported by funding from the Park Foundation as well as local businesses and individuals, is an offshoot of the not-for-profit Social Ventures, Inc.
This was the second summer that Zoe Larson, 17, of Newfield, worked at the farm. The New Roots student said she was initially drawn to the program because she wanted to find a job that would keep her in shape over the summer.
"I found that. It definitely keeps us in shape," Larson said. "It's a great environment and the people are awesome, and it's work that you can be proud of."
Larson is serving as a crew leader with the program. She's long had an interest in how food is grown and the ways that society has become detached from that process, and she appreciates the boomerang effect of growing the same food that she and her peers consume at school.
"My school gets some of the food and I can always tell," she said. "The potatoes are extra sweet, the lettuce is extra crispy. It's really cool."
In addition to the summer program, the youth farm project also employs a handful of students during the school year. Larson hopes she can continue to work for the program several days a week, most likely storing food as well as prepping and canning jam, if her schedule allows it. Either way, she plans on returning to the farm for next summer before she ages out of the program, which hires teens between 14 and 18 years old.
"Every single person that's come to the farm so far, even if they've been really skeptical about it, the people that I've seen have all absolutely loved it," Larson said. "They can be from totally different backgrounds...The group of people all work together so well in the environment. It's awesome."
The seven-week summer program officially ended last week but there are still about about eight youths working on the farm, Amsili said.
"Growing food is such a powerful teaching tool so far as empowering young people to see (the process) from a seed to a big plant to something that you're harvesting to something you're maybe selling at a farmers market or maybe seeing in your school lunch," Amsili said. "I think there's a lot of power in being able to see that we're all able to make that happen."
Thanks to David Nutt and Simon Wheeler for a great article.
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