Saturday, July 24, 2010

Teens Farming Brooklyn to Earn Money!

This summer at the High School for Public Service Youth Farm, we have partnered with Expeditionary Learning School for Community Leaders and their Growing Leaders program to create an inspiring and exciting seven-week Summer Youth Employment Program for teens. The mission of the program is to provide youth with job training; teach horticultural and market skills to youth; and to foster communication and community building within the group. The project is also a pilot program to provide school with reproducible, fun, and rewarding food system curriculum on the farm.

Time flies by when you are farming! We are 3 weeks into our program, and the teens have already mastered a couple basic farming techniques and tried some adventurous new things. The youth have braved the 95-100 degree heat everyday for their new summer job, guzzling gallons of water in the process. They have forked and raked out 10 beds in preparation for new crops; dug up several cubic yards of grass to create a new planting bed on the farm; turned the compost; deadheaded all the flower beds; harvested hundreds of pounds of produce; transplanted two beds of seedlings; and dug up unknowable amounts of weeds.

Three days a week, the youth take a timeout from farmwork to prepare a community meal for everyone on the farm. There have been recipe ingredients that some of the students have never tried: kale, eggplant, mustard greens, and calendula to name a few. So far, the favorite recipe is our kale salad: amazing what our team can do with raw kale! Our Nutrition Intern, Nava leads community meal each day: she is studying at NYU and is teaching the teens not only how to prepare tasty food, but also how to increase nutritional value in a recipe. Look out parents, these students are ready to take over dinner preparation soon!

Market days are my favorite: everyone fans out to harvest food for the community. Some man the washing station while others forage through our planting beds for vegetable goodies. This week we sold a record 138 pounds of eggplant at the market! With all the different crops at the farm, the carrots remain the crop teens love to harvest. There is something about pulling bright orange veggies out of the earth that excites people every time. The teens are also learning market skills: how to arrange a pleasing array of vegetables on the table; how to welcome people to the farm; and how to entice someone to buy a vegetable she may not have tasted before.

Work on the farm provides all kinds of new adventures for these youth. Horticulture workshops on compost and soil health provide the perfect opportunity to turn the compost bin and see what's brewing in there. A field trip to our 50-hen chicken coop at Imani Garden allows the youth to hold a chicken for the first time and investigate what kind of habitat is required to keep our urban chickens happy. And yes, they also cleaned out the coop much to the delight of our ladies.

We have three main curriculum series on the farm this summer, horticulture , food justice , and communication workshops, as well as field work within the food community. In our first food justice workshop, teens studied ingredients in processed foods and did a taste test between Wonder Bread and bread that they baked from scratch. After the taste test, there was a lot of Wonder Bread still on the table while our homemade bread was completely devoured. Part of the teens field work was to discover how many of their favorite fruits and veggies were available in the neighborhood's bodegas and markets. Check out the teens and their reactions to doing a neighborhood food survey with the Brooklyn Food Coalition Mapping Committee.

We are looking forward to another productive four weeks with the youth. Stay tuned as they introduce themselves on this blog and report on their recent field work.

We are still looking for sponsors to help with community meal items such as olive oil and vinegar as well as transportation for the teens to visit an upstate farm. Please consider helping out in any way you can.