This article appeared in the 8/21 Ithaca Journal Paper, titled "Youth Farm Project teaches students to grow." "This summer about 22 Ithaca area high school students worked on the farm, growing onions, kale, collards, tomatoes, carrots, potatoes, winter squash, turnips and more".
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.
Link to digital article:
The last official week of work with the youth farm was very productive and it was sad to know we were nearing the end of the summer program. A part of our farming experience was to go through the process of chicken slaughtering from a non-conventional humane approach. For me I was a little hesitant at first since I don't eat meat, however I feel it is a highly important process to go through. Eating meat that is from animals that have been raised and killed with care and respect is a much better way to eat meat than eating meat from animals that had to live a conventional life in a factory where for their whole life they never even get held by human hands. We enjoyed the chicken at our Taughannock park picnic among other meals we made with the food we've grown. The picnic was delicious, we laughed a lot and had great conversations.
We ended the week with a trip to what was one of my favorite farms the Good Life Farm which is an organic farm raising cows, turkey, chickens, guinea hens, and rehabilitating previously mistreated horses and using them for work like plowing fields. The Good Life farm is also growing vegetables and making and selling cider. In the last week we also played group games like tunnel of love which let us share our appreciation for each other and level the playing field which showed the diversity in our group and even with our differences we could still work efficiently together and create friendships.
Working at the youth farm was one of the greatest experiences I've ever had and an unbelievable first job. I learned so much, grew more confident and made more friends. The people I've worked with are so kind, passionate about their work and treat you like an adult which is very refreshing for me. I hope to work another summer on the farm!
Written by Lilly, Summer 2014 YFP crew member.
Images: 1st- Lilly observes Rafael Aponte as he teaches us how to kill a chicken quickly and respectfully.
This was an eventful week as we prepared for our annual community dinner! On Monday all crews were assigned to organize, harvest, weed, and make other various decisions involving their respective fields in order to present these fields and to show families all the hard work that went into their cultivation. Both Monday and Tuesday my crew (the Thunderberrys) worked strenuously, planting row after row of kale in Field Four. Despite the blaring sun and heavy humidity, we persevered through this task, listening to music, talking, laughing, and having an overall surprisingly good time. It’s in moments like these that I remind myself how meaningful this work is. I’m sure that come fall, I will see the kale that we planted on my plate as a part of my school lunch and that the broccoli and cabbage also growing in field four, will be distributed throughout the community ending up at places like the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Snack Program at BJM. I am grateful to know that the work I am doing on the farm is helping so many people.
On Wednesday, we met at LACS and began the morning with an educational game led by Jeff Beem-Miller, who is a staff member in a lab at Cornell that focuses on the effects of climate change on agriculture. In the game, Cropopoly, each crew was assigned to a hypothetical farm in the future where extreme weather events have become more common and the government is both incentivizing and taxing agricultural activities that either mitigate man-made climate change or promote it. The crews had to make numerous decisions involving what to plant, how many fields to cultivate, how many kilograms of nitrogen fertilizer to add to crops, and how to invest money on the farm. The goal of the game was to make the most amount of money in a given amount of time. It was obviously evident that the crews planting only the typical industrial crops of corn and soybeans, made the most amount of money for the theoretical five years of farming. The crews that attempted to abide by more sustainable practices and plant more environmentally friendly crops ended up making a significantly less amount money. The point of this activity was to get us thinking about the various economic, ecological, and cultural trade-offs that farmers make and thinking how a climate change lens may influence these choices. In the short term, it is easier for farmers to profit more from solely corn and soybeans. While in the long term, a farmer who plants the same two crops over and over again will deplete soils of their organic matter, rely on external inputs: fertilizer, pesticides, seeds, which are costly, contribute to climate change, and overall create an agricultural system that is not resilient to climate change. In the long run, sustainable agriculture is more beneficial not only economically, but also environmentally, because soils will remain healthy year after year as a result of not being subjected to monoculture, intensive disturbance, pesticides/herbicides and the farmer will gradually gain a greater profit because they have reduced their need on off-farm inputs. After the fun
On Thursday, all crews worked hard to prepare specific meals for that night’s dinner. My crew made pesto, a lot of pesto, using 6 pounds of freshly harvested basil from the farm. We ended up making a delicious pasta dish that seemed to be a big hit among the pesto lovers. Thursday’s dinner was an enjoyable success. It was fantastic seeing how well all the crews presented their fields and the meal was delicious. It is wonderful to see how food can foster connection, not only between people, but also between people and the environment. I am so grateful to be apart of the Youth Farm community.
Written by Adrienne Wooster, 2014 Crew Leader
Photo above: Adrienne presents field #4 with her crew members at the family dinner.