This article is by Erin Barrett of the Ithaca Times. The original link is http://www.ithaca.com/news/youth-farm-project-breeds-experiences-opportunity/article_dc807866-14f2-11e3-be60-0019bb2963f4.html.
"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."
Hey I'm Taylah! This was my second year working on the farm and my second year being a crew leader. As something I really grew to love, it was awesome being able to show people who'd previously never experienced working on a farm how it works. Working with my co-crew leader, Amelia was one of the funnest parts. We really balanced one another out. Since we had the youngest and biggest crew, they were sometimes hard to keep on task but we always brought them back together. By the end of the summer, seven very different people found common ground in farming.
This year, I took on more of a leadership role and presented in front of all members of the Youth Farm Project. The past two years, I've realized the tremendous connection between advertising and the decisions that people make in their daily lives. I realized through observations and a little bit of research that advertising could be the key to stopping global climate change and creating a different attitude towards how we treat the earth.
I asked if I could share my findings with the rest of the farm and I got the okay to do it. I began with a trivia-like game, where I had the farmers "Complete the Jingle." For example, I'd sing "'Cause Oscar Meyer has a way..." and often excitedly someone would yell "With B-O-L-O-G-N-A." I asked ten of these questions and answers were instantaneous. After I asked questions about things that surround us daily. Since we are in the finger lakes region, I asked "How many finger lakes are there?" I found that answers were much less quick. People were stumbling over their answers and guessing. It was astonishing that people could quickly recall the jingle to bologna that they don't even eat, but they don't know how many lakes there are like Cayuga within less than one hundred miles of them.
After this, I went on to tell them statistics, just to reinforce the point that advertisement really rules the world. It was magical, giving definitions to the things that all of us had been exposed to since we were born. I could see people's eyes widen in disbelief when I told them tactics that advertisers use. I was giving them just a little bit of media literacy and that went a very long way. After my presentation, I could see in the discussions that we had that everyone was beginning to connect the dots. It was wonderful to pass on knowledge about something like advertising because many don't know how powerful it really is.
I applied for a job via the Youth Employment Service just looking for something to do and make some extra cash during the summer. I picked the Youth Farm Project as my first choice because I always enjoyed gardening and outdoor work. But what I didn’t know was that this wasn’t just going to be a boring summer job. I came into the Youth Farm Project not knowing anything about it. Not knowing that it was about community, food justice education, and a very rewarding summer of hard work and fun.
Before the Youth Farm Project my experience with farms had been minimal. I lived in New York City for sixteen years and so when I moved to Ithaca, seeing all the farms everywhere was almost a magical sight. But I wasn’t just a pure city kid. My grandfather who lives in Amherst, MA in the woods in the middle of nowhere always fascinates me by his knowledge of the nature and the land he lives on. He is not a farmer but he knows everything there is to know about the trees and plants and wildlife that live around him. And in the same way, farmers like Ann and Joseph know so much about their farmland and the weeds and crops that they grow.
There are many aspects to the Youth Farm Project. The most important one is actually learning about the basics of farming and what jobs are required to maintain a healthy and successful farm. The daily life on the farm consisted of tasks of all sorts ranging from weeding, harvesting crops, mulching beds, putting up fences, trellising tomatoes, feeding the chickens, setting up irrigation systems, transplanting and much more. Tasks that would ordinarily seem boring or repetitive become fun and the time flies when you’re laughing with your crew and making endless farming puns.
The hidden aspects of farming- and food are easily overlooked, and the Youth Farm Project does a superb job of making its workers aware of these issues. Every Wednesday, instead of working in the fields, the Youth Farm Project gets together at ACS (the alternative high school in Ithaca) and discusses food justice issues and the economics of sustainable agriculture. In the afternoons a chef comes in and helps the Youth Farm Project cook up a healthy, fantastic meal using crops harvested from the farm. For me, Wednesdays were the days that really put our hard work into perspective and gave it genuine meaning.
The third thing that the Youth Farm Project gave to me was growth. Not just growth of newly transplanted, but growth as a person. I was one of the co-crew leaders of my group and this position really helped me advance my leadership skills and bring out my confidence. But more importantly, I didn’t feel like was working above or under anyone, everyone was on the same page and the environment was so friendly and welcoming.
Farming no longer became some abstract imagine of a man in denim overalls driving a tractor, it became a group of friends and laughter and hard work. It became personal. It became the reward of not just hard work, but meaningful work and a great learning experience.
By Willow Hunt, Summer 2013 Crew Leader
Natalia and Willow's Crew hanging out with the chickens (Buff Orpingtons).
If my heart were a plant, its sun would be a healthy little chicken--small, warm, and tucked under my arm for safekeeping. Because when I hold any of our chickens, and feel their gentle clucking, I swear my heart grows a little. There's a sense of care and protection that comes when you carefully pick up an adorable chicken, and stroke the soft feathers on its tiny head that cocks to the side with question or surprise. The only gross part of a chicken to look at are the scaly dinosaur feet that sprout out the bottom of each of their plump legs, but the Silky Bantams make even a foot look cute. Their white tufty feathers fluff over their toes, which is a good look for a rooster sprinting towards food. Besides the Silky Bantam variety, the Youth Farmers are proud caretakers of Barred Rock, Silver Laced Wyandotte, Speckled Sussex, and Buff Orpington chickens.
Each morning, a crew whose chore it is that week, will make its way across the street from our cultivated fields, to the bright pink chicken coop. They lug a bucket of water across the treacherous country road, clean and fill the water dishes, change the bedding, feed the eager hens, and collect the smooth, brown eggs. It's safe to say that this is my crew's favorite chore. Even crew members who were initially hesitant about picking up a flapping bird have grown confident, and will scoop up a squawking hen and gently pet her feathers. It would be impossible to not love our flock.
Of course, chicken duty is not our only job, and a task that is not so instantly gratifying is weeding. Unfortunately, the summer heat and constant rain create perfect conditions for weeds to shoot up, faster than should be possible. While the crew is less enthusiastic about yanking endless plants from the pathways and beds, we try to make that fun, too. We make conversations about the British humor in Monty Python sketches, or play word games for as long as they can still be fun, but these discussions inevitably taper away. Truthfully, weeding is a lengthy and monotonous job. But we do it anyway, and I'm immensely proud of the way my crew can motivate each other. We have begun referring to weeds as the bullies on a playground, picking on our poor, innocent vegetables, and we are determined to protect our plants so they can grow. The work we do results in incomparable satisfaction.
This satisfaction comes at the end of the day, when we see freshly cleared pathways and newly exposed vegetables stretching their leaves to the sun, or take a look at the vast pile of discarded plants that used to be crowding our fields. Our job is special in this way; there are few other types of employment that require manual labor for hot, sunny hours outside, but end in such a unified sense of pride. Some of my crew members will never farm again, and maybe some will pursue it as a lifelong career. Either way, we get the privilege of spending our summer together, bonding with chickens, weeding weeds, and feeling the sweet satisfaction that comes with some good hard work.
With our digging forks we dug
And with our hands we tugged
Unearthing garlic on a sunlit morning.
We pulled up Zemo, then some Jack
Taking full wheelbarrows to the barn
And bringing empty ones back.
We harvested it all after harvesting four rows
With eight people it’s amazing how fast it goes.
Then we tied with our hands
Bundling garlic with twine strands
Stringing them under the old barn roof.
Some of us tied knots
While some of us hung.
Some worked and talked
While some worked and sung.
We hung up hundreds, and more and more!
Til leaves and fallen cloves littered the floor.
Now admire! A morning’s work is done!
Who knew that garlic could be so much fun.
By Amelia Kaufman, 2013 Crew Leader!
On Monday, July 1st the summer program kicked off with the crew leader training and on July 2nd, 18 additional high school aged youth showed up for their first day of work. In total, there are about 25 youth working at the Youth Farm this summer. The crew members are coming from the Ithaca High School, the Lehman Alternative Community School, and the New Roots Charter School. While the crew leaders have either just finished high school or have done some years at college (with the exception of Rayna). The first day is filled with rules/expectations for work, emotional/physical safety, and working agreements/hopes for the summer. Although we have a lot of important details to cover, we also throw in fun name games, a tour of the farm, an explanation of how the farm fits into the Ithaca community, and some farm work. One of my favorite activities that we do on the first day is that each one of us puts his/her favorite word on the chalk board one at a time and explains why it is important to him/her and their prospective summer at the youth farm. This year, my word/phrase was “sense of place,” which I shared was important to me because I was born in Ithaca and I have worked at the Youth Farm for the two previous years before this one. My strong sense of place in Ithaca and now at the Youth Farm instills in me a strong love for farming sustainably with high school aged-youth (I got into to growing things during 11th grade at LACS) and growing lots of vegetables for Ithaca City Schools. Now if you visit the Youth Farm you’ll understand what this list is all about.
This summer, I will no longer be a crew leader, but will be taking a new role as assistant farmer and assistant program coordinator. In addition, I will be leading the on-farm agricultural/environmental science education. We will be learning about the various elements and practices involved in farming sustainably. Some topics that we will explore are what is soil and what makes healthy soil, various tractor implements on the farm, composting, cover crops, weed I.D. and weed management, pest and disease management, how chickens and bees fit in, nutrient management, and of course a conversation about how all these components are connected. Some new components of the farm that I am excited about are: a working hoop house where we are growing tomatoes and bell peppers, four new breeds of chickens, a beautiful plumbed sink on the side of the barn, 75 raspberry plants, a few goose berry and asparagus plants, and more.
This summer, I’ve been blessed to have my 16-year-old brother Raffi work at the Youth Farm Project. Last summer, he wrote a famous ballad called “I hate farming” after a morning of forced family fun, weeding the carrots at the farm, but this summer he has been loving it! He has even been tending the garden at my mom’s house after I moved out. With three years of experience under our collective belts, I’m excited for a summer filled of making new friends, learning, working hard with one another.
Youth stand proudly in front of a big fall harvest of copra onions!
When the Youth Farm Projects 2012 summer season came to an end and I began to gear myself up for a new school year, I couldn’t imagine spending my days inside, rather than that the farm. I left the summer program with an immense feeling of accomplishment and pure joy. Never before have I had an experience that had such a huge impact on my interests and passions. I was overjoyed when I was invited to continue working part time at the farm for the rest of the year.
This was the first year that the Youth Farm Project was able to partner up with the Youth Employment Service (YES) of Ithaca to hire youth to complete a year round position at the farm. There were usually about four young people working during a given week. We worked 1-2 days after school from 4-6pm and Saturdays from 9am-1pm.
Fall at the farm is a whole different scene, hot busy days of weeding meld into crisp days that leave you with gorgeously full buckets of beans, peppers, kale, broccoli, collards, brussel sprouts, potatoes, onions, beets and carrots. During the fall months we harvested over 2,000 pounds of potatoes! Digging for potatoes is like digging for treasure. You enter a rhythm, pushing a pitch fork into the soil and lifting to unearth beautifully grown potatoes. Harvesting onions was one of my favorite fall tasks. When onions are ready to harvest the top of the onion is reveled. You can see the lovely yellow or deep magenta purple of their fruit. As you harvest you pop then out of the ground, leaving behind a little divot in the soil. During the fall most of the food produced on the farm goes to the BJM Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Snack Program and ICSD. Nothing filled me with more excitement than seeing potatoes in my school lunch that I had harvested the previous weekend.
We slowly finished harvesting fall crops and began to allow the farm to slip into a sleepy trance of dormancy. The thing that amazed me most about the farm during the winter was the amount of potential held quietly in the snow covered fields. It is sometimes unbelievable to me how much the farm produces. To see it totally quiet, yet know that so much life was being contained and stored up for the spring was breathtaking. During these cold months we busied ourselves by cranking out jam and salsa. We make jam from currants and raspberries from a local berry farm, Kestrals Perch (Thanks Katie!). In some batches we add a bit of jalapeno pepper grown at YFP to create a unique warm tasting jam. Our Salsa Verde is made from our tomatillos and jalapenos, it is so delicious to eat with tortilla chips, or on just about anything!
Beginning the spring farming season was a joyful time. Seeding flats was our first task, though tedious at times, I poured my excitement and energy for new life into the job, knowing that I would soon be rewarded with the task of transplanting. As the spring months have passed we have been hard at work cleaning out the barn, building and preparing our new hoop house, raising a new batch of chicks and transplanting flowers, basil, tomatoes, kale, collards, cucumbers, squash, lettuce, onions, leeks and much more! Our first spring harvest was peas! They were delicious, especially after spending hours planting and weeding them! As we transition back into the beautiful mayhem of summer I couldn’t be more grateful to have gotten to experience the farm in each stage of its being.
After working on the farm for a full year I am back for another summer. Throughout the year I have familiarized myself with the farm to a greater extent and learned so much more about the different work we do on the farm. This year I am taking on more of a leadership role within the program working to lead one of the four crews of youth on the farm. It’s awesome to be able to share what I learned over the year with the people in my crew. I hope that I can help them to feel excited and empowered by the work we are doing, because it is really special work.
May and June Update: Prepping the land, Transplanting 1000s of plants, and Getting Ready for the Summer Program
As soon as I finished my last tests as an undergraduate on around 5/12, I got right to work prepping the fields. Due to farmer Ann’s bad back, it was necessary that Katie and I learn how to drive the tractor and begin to absorb the techniques behind using each tractor implement. We used the moldboard plow in the upper two fields on the barn side of the road, which had been left fallow for a year. The moldboard plow buries vegetation on the surface by inverting the soil to about 6-12” deep. Although the moldboard plow is a powerful tool, it deals serious damage to the soil structure, soil organic matter, and life in the soil by completely flipping the first 6-12” of topsoil upside down. After the moldboard plowing the two up fields, we used a disk harrow to create an even soil surface, which was followed by the use of a spiketooth tine harrow for further evening the soil surface and most importantly bringing up weed roots, mainly quack grass, to the surface to dry up and die. For the first time, we were able to use the chisel plow in the lower field on the barn side of the road instead of the moldboard plow because of good cover crop management in the lower field. In 2012, we planted two successive oat and pea cover crops, one in the spring and one in the fall. The fall cover crop winterkilled leaving a nice layer of pea and oat mulch on the soil surface and few weeds to deal with. The chisel plow disturbs the soil to a similar depth as the moldboard, but doesn’t invert the surface soil. Ann and I are excited about reducing tillage at the Youth Farm to improve soil health year by year!
Each year, before the eight-week summer program begins in July, the Youth Farm Project depends on hundreds of volunteer hours to prep the fields, shape the beds, set up irrigation, seed trays, direct seed and transplant two to three acres. Simon, Natalia, Zac, Catherine, Max, Anna, Amy, Raffi, Alice, Leah, Marie, Thea, Emily, Amanda, Amelia, Serena, LACS classes, and a Waldorf summer camp all came through to miraculously get everything in the ground on time. In addition, this year we also had the help of four high school students who were employed through the YES program to work through the Fall-Winter-Spring on Saturdays from 9am-1pm and Mondays and Tuesdays from 4pm-6pm after school (See Rayna’s awesome blog post for more detail). I feel so fortunate to be a part of the amazing community that exists around the Youth Farm Project and that has allowed YFP to continue into its fourth growing season!
Emmy's Organics's press release about how they are celebrating Earth Month: Earth Day is Monday, April 22nd, but for local organic food company Emmy’s Organics, one day is not enough. For the entire month of April, the Ithaca based entrepreneurial business will be celebrating “Emmy’s Earth Month” by donating 15% of their online profits to local non-profit, The Youth Farm Project.
Also, located in Ithaca, The Youth Farm Project works to create job experiences for youth ages 14-18 that exemplifies what it means to work together, teaches leadership and communication skills, as well as the skills to grow food for their local community.
“This non-profit was a perfect match for what we represent as a company,” said co-founder of Emmy’s Organics, Samantha Abrams. “We started Emmy’s right here in Ithaca, so being able to donate to an organization that is near and dear to our community and what we represent as a brand, is a match made in heaven. We’re really excited about it!”
In fact, local is what Emmy’s Organics is all about. Both Abrams and Ian Gaffney live in Ithaca and launched their company out of Gaffney’s mother’s home-kitchen (you guessed it, her name is Emmy) in 2009. The duo came together as business owners, and eventually found love along the way. “Launching Emmy’s Organics has been quite the journey. What started in my mother’s home-kitchen has grown to a full-fledged business,” said Gaffney. “We spent weekends working at farmer’s markets and delivering samples to stores to get the word out. Once we landed our product in Whole Foods, we knew the sky was the limit. Our next step was to give back to the community that gave so much to us.”
And that they did with the official launch of Emmy’s Earth Month.
“It was important to us to remember our roots, where we started to where we are today and acknowledge that. Emmy’s as a brand represents how important it is to take care of the environment and our health. We only have one body and one earth, it’s important to protect and nourish both. Through Emmy’s Earth Month, we are given the opportunity to spread that message and support a good cause,” continued Abrams.
The Youth Project couldn’t agree more, "As the Youth Farm Project enters its fourth year, we are excited to work within the community to offer a program that empowers youth leaders from diverse backgrounds, increases food accessibility, and teaches sustainable growing techniques," said Joseph Amsili, Assistant Farmer/Program Coordinator of The Youth Project. “We are so grateful to be a part of Emmy’s Earth Month. This is a pivotal opportunity, and we truly congratulate Emmy’s in their efforts as sustainable entrepreneurs who make nutritious and delicious products that give back to the community!"
Emmy’s Organics specializes a line of high quality and sustainable products, including macaroons, granola, chocolate sauce, sprouted food, trail mix and more, to its eco-friendly biodegradable packaging. All of the good are made in a vegan and gluten-free kitchen.
At the end of April we received word that Emmy's Organics was donating 600$ to the Youth Farm Project. Thanks so much Emmy's!
Last week students from Hobart and William Smith Colleges joined us on the farm for their week-long alternative spring break. The eight students and their amazing coordinator from the Finger Lakes Institute arrived early each morning from their campus in Geneva, New York to work with us for the day. The HWS students put in approximately 360 hours of hard work and the results were astounding. With their amazing energy and hard work, we finished mulching the garlic, putting up the hoop house, taking down last years fencing, giving the barn a good cleaning, prepping fresh vegetable and fruit snacks for the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Snack Program, and we accomplished much more! Many thanks to the Hobart and William Smith group for letting us wake the farm this past week! Megan Begart, the director of the Ithaca Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Snack Program, enjoyed hosting the HWS students, as well and appreciated their help prepping the snack and making dried apple rings for the kiddos!