PANEL 9 Youth and Urban Farming
Dave Madan – theMOVE
Wil Bullock – Far Educaor at the Trustee of Reservations (former member of the Food Project)
Selvin Chambers III – Executive Director of the Food Project
Kenny Lopez – youth intern at The Food Project
Shanelle Villegas “Flower Power” UNLR, 15 year old entrepreneur
Hakim Sutherland: Roxbury Environmental Empowerment Project
The panelists, after introducing themselves, directly solicited the audience for questions. Below is the summary (not transcript) of the exchange that followed.
Q: How much does the Food Project pay? Is it enough?
Selvin: there’s a stipend that pays about 400 every 2 weeks, for about 20 hours of work per week. There’s also an academic program for students that will pay 7.25 initially, then 8.25, then 9.25 as you progress.
Kenny: Its not about the money anymore. But it did take some time to click.
Wil: For me, it was initially about the money. And it is for a lot of kids initially. But we really want to engage them past the paycheck, toward the larger community values.
Kenny: The paycheck is important but it has a deep valuation towards developing healthy lifestyles. Young people need to be aware of food justice and access to fresh healthy food. We are helping to make the connection for people between the food and its source. It has become more than just food or farming but about spreading the message to our peers.
Q: How do you [youth workers at the Food Project] answer the question, “what do you do”? Isn’t urban farming dirty and kind of crazy?
Wil: The first comments I got from people were, “thats slave work.” And many people wondered why I would do it and invest my time working on my plot and getting my pants dirty. I my view, you can’t afford to not eat healthy. You’re going to pay on one end or the other. You can take care now to prevent diseases or you can pay later in life–we have a choice to make. I wish my family was aware of this it can be so hard to get the message out there. The best way to make that connection between food and the environment is through farming. I see people all the time that have a moment when it just clicks when the come to the farm to get their hands dirty and experience where their food comes from–its powerful. Health is directly connected to the land!
Shanelle: “ Me just being me, changes how my peers view me”. They think its cool. Like I really like apples, and so when I go to school I eat my apple and tell everyone about how good it is. And everyone is like, that’s cool. Its the same thing for the farm.
AUD: thats because your leaders and people, your peers, follow your lead. If you think farming and eating healthy is cool, they will too. People are attracted to confidence and courage.
Q: Do you think kids would be into a summer experience / paid internship on a farm? (asked by a farmer)
Wil: Yeah. We shouldn’t box teenagers into a certain view, because they have far more potential than most adults realize. You should contact the Food Project to find someone who could help you out.
Hakim: We have kids interested in farming and the environment. We were able to recruit several kids through outreach at local schools
Dave: We could all put you in touch with kids that want to be involved.
Q: What is the structure of the program at the Food Project? How do you approach communicating these somewhat difficult ideas to younger kids? Do you have talks / discussion sessions? How do you hire kids initially?
Hakim: I was initially brought in by my history teacher.
Kenny: A lot of learning about food justice is just learning about people around you. Once you connect it to those people, its less difficult.
We have “guidelines” for our operations at TFP
1. “Try on” — you always need to try out different techniques, get new experiences, eat new foods, etc.
2. “Straight talk” – you give your team members positive feedback, and also a “delta” that they can change to make better
3. DIRT (dynamic, intelligent, and responsible teenagers) – you need to go out and become leaders in your community, and take ownership of your own plot.
Will: We have programs for youth that involve agriculture, land stewardship, and trail maintenance. We also operate a program called “City Harvest” that help to subsidize our youth efforts but we are a non profit. We pay our interns even if the program is not making a profit, our focus is education.
AUD: What are the opportunities for youth to get involved?
Selvin: There are numerous opportunities. In mass alone there over 100 properties practicing farming with youth.
Dave: How do you get kids to take ownership of food justice?
Hakim: Food justice is important and something we are committed to. After traveling to detroit and witnessing the urban agriculture movement motivated him to be more involved and try to create awareness amongst his peers. I was able to participate in the Health of Boston Survey, and this made me aware of the food justice problem in my own community. Kids become more involved and committed when they put time and effort into a cause. When they spend time trying to advocate or working on a farm they feel invested into a movement and became further interested. It creates ownership in the food justice cause.
Kenny: For me it started with the food project when i was able to grow some food and provide it to some underserved people. It made me feel like I was actually making a difference. I continued to participate in the Food Project programs working in various different projects. “I was able to help people”. Wasn’t sure if he could handle the tough physical hardships of farming (heat, sun, labor). It taught him to meditate which something he now does regularly.
Hakim: I recently had a teach at school ask me to teach a class on food security and food justice. “I was honored and thought it was a wise move by the teacher because I know more about it then they do”. “I was able to teach my peers about our community and the issues we face”. The kids should be teach food justice to each other!
Will: we have kids turn off their cell phones. The younger generations addiction to phones and tv’s is a serious problem. There is a place and time for phones and social media and it is very import to getting the message out about food justice and health, but on the farm all cell phone are turned off and the kids are allowed to connect with nature.
AUD: Do you think you will have a career in farming?
Kenny: No, I wanted to be a doctor, but now I am not sure.
Aud: (to Kenny) you are a doctor! you are providing healthy food to people.
Shanelle: I started a business trying to farm called Flower Power and it was really hard. We didnt make any money but we learned and had fun working. I think caring about food justice and farming will always be part of my life even though I don’t want to be a farmer.
Selvin: I have been committed to eating healthy for many years now and social justice issues revolving around youth. I didn’t realize the importance of the connection between health, youth and food justice until I came to the food project 9 months ago. It has been a great experience.
Aud: Do you think that farming should be part of public education like sex-ed is?
Panel: Unanimous yes!