Getting outside, getting your hands dirty, planting a seed, nurturing it and watching it grow. Then harvesting, eating and sharing the bounty with others. Simple, yet empowering acts that bring people closer to the earth, that break down barriers and give people a chance to connect and learn – about farming, about health, about life and about themselves.
Farming can be an especially powerful educational tool for youth and is being used as such in many different communities across the country. Below I’ve highlighted 11 youth farming programs that are making a huge impact. They give young people practical skills and the confidence to help them in whatever they choose to do with their lives.
The Edible Schoolyard is probably one of the best known farm-school programs in the country. It was started 20 years ago Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School in Berkeley, CA by Alice Waters, who set out with the goal of creating a garden and building a teaching kitchen that would enrich the curriculum and life of the school community. The garden, teaching facilities, and “edible education curriculum” have served as the blueprint for the other Founding Edible Schoolyards across the country and the ever-expanding Edible Schoolyard Network.
“The goal of our edible education curriculum is to empower students with the knowledge and values to make food choices that are healthy for them, their communities, and the environment. Lessons are designed to achieve a specific set of edible education learning goals (which we refer to as ESY standards) and life skills, such as communication, personal and community stewardship, flexibility, and perseverance.” – Edible Schoolyard
FoodCorps is a non-profit organization that enlists AmeriCorps service members at community-based service sites where they work in low income public schools to improve nutrition. It was started in 2009 by a diverse group of six leaders and in 2015 they have 205 AmeriCorps service members at over 500 schools in 17 states and Washington, D.C. The service members are typically 18 to 30 years old and commit to one year in the program. At their assigned location, service members grow food with students, teachers and community members in school and community gardens and then also bring their influence and knowledge into the classroom, working with teachers and school administrators to increase food and nutrition education in curricula.
FoodWhat?! is a youth empowerment and food justice organization in Santa Cruz County, CA. They engage low-income and struggling youth through a variety of internships, summer jobs, business management and community education positions relative to food, sustainable agriculture and health. The youth learn to grow, cook, eat and distribute food and address food justice issues in their communities. FoodWhat?! is sponsored by and operates out of Life Lab, a 35+ year old non-profit and Garden Classroom at the UCSC Farm.
“I have changed the way of thinking about the food system” I have grown by taking everything that FoodWhat has provided me through the past two months and adopting that to my life to make a change for myself and others.” – FoodWhat?! Youth
Grow Dat’s mission is “to nurture a diverse group of young leaders through the meaningful work of growing food.” Each year, more than 50 youth participate in their leadership and advanced leadership programs, where through training and experience they learn skills related to three curriculum pillars: Sustainable Farming, Food Justice, and Umoja (Unity or “I am We”). The 2-acre sustainable farm is located in New Orleans’ City Park and also includes seven retrofitted shipping containers which house offices, teaching kitchen, youth locker rooms, composting toilets, cold storage, post-harvest handling area and farm tool storage. Through the Shared Harvest program, 30% of the produce grown at the Grow Dat farm goes to households in need, through donations and subsidized sales. The other 70% is sold at the farm stand, farmers’ markets, a CSA and wholesale to local retail stores and restaurants.
Growing Power began in Milwaukee in 1993 with a farmer, a plot of land, a core group of dedicated people and a belief: “If people can grow safe, healthy affordable food, if they can have access to land and clean water, this is transformative on every level in a community. We cannot have healthy communities without a healthy food system.” Will Allen, that original founding farmer and now the company’s CEO co-authored the book “The Good Food Revolution” and is considered an international ambassador for urban agriculture and universal food security. Growing Power’s projects fall under three essential areas: Projects and Growing Methods, Food Production and Distribution and Educational and Technical Assistance. Each of these initiatives provide important opportunities for individuals and communities to network with each other as they work in partnership to promote food security and environmentally sound food production practices. Growing Power now has farms in Milwaukee, Madison and Merton, WI and in Chicago, IL. They’ve also established satellite training sites in Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky and Mississippi.
Jones Valley Teaching Farm started on 1 acre in downtown Birmingham in 2007. Since the beginning their mission has stayed the same: students. They empower students as critical thinkers and problem-solvers by providing them with innovative and hands on food and nutrition education. JVTF now designs and builds “teaching farms” throughout Birmingham and operate five pre-K Farm Labs and the Woodlawn High School Urban Farm in addition to the downtown farm.
MA’O Organic Farm is a 23 acre farm on the west side of Oahu, an area that was once self-sufficient in food production and land and water management, but now faces the highest rate of food insecurity in the state. MA’O trains new farmers and community leaders by having them co-manage the farm operations to grow, harvest, market and distribute fruits and vegetables. They also offer educational and entrepreneurial programs from youth leadership training to externships and scholarships, partnering with community organizations and learning centers. MA’O is the acronym for mala ‘ai ‘opio which translates as the youth food garden.
Seattle Youth Garden Works is a program by Seattle Tilth, located at the University of Washington Center for Urban Horticulture. They work with homeless and underserved youth ages 16 to 21 to gain a meaningful employment experience through urban agriculture. Throughout the one year program youth spend about 50% of their time on the farm and then 50% on education, which includes cooking and nutrition education, resume building, public speaking and small business training. Participants take turns selling produce at the weekly farmers markets. As part of the program, they receive bi-weekly stipends with the possibility of seasonal bonuses.
The Food Project grows mixed vegetables, herbs, flowers, and fruits on about 70 acres of farmland in greater Boston and on the North Shore of eastern Massachusetts. Each year they work with 120 teenagers and thousands of volunteers to integrate agriculture, enterprise, and service and create a rigorous and practical experience. The youth are involved in extracurricular academic, summer and internship programs which include workshops, working with local hunger relief organizations and leading volunteers in the fields.
The Youth Farm is an education-focused production farm in Brooklyn, founded at the High School for Public Service in cooperation with BK Farmyards, a local urban farming organization. They cultivate organic food and flowers on one acre and offer youth advanced farm training and leadership opportunities using sustainable soil cultivation and growing practices. Over 80 varieties of vegetables and 80 varieties of flowers are sold through a CSA, on-farm stand and to Brooklyn restaurants.
Austin is well known for its urban farming community. Located in East Austin, Urban Roots is a 3.5 acre farm and “youth development organization that uses food and farming to transform the lives of young people and inspire, engage, and nourish the community.” The program provides Austin youth ages 14-17 with paid internships to work for 25 weeks through the spring & summer program or for in fall to plan for the upcoming season’s program. In addition to participating in farm-related activities, the interns receive a variety of workshops on sustainable agriculture, healthy lifestyles, life and job skills, and food justice issues, including hands-on service at hunger relief organizations. Around 40% of the Urban Roots harvest is donated to local soup kitchens and food pantries and the other 60% at is sold at farmers’ markets, through their Community Supported Agriculture Program, and wholesale.