Growing Up Youth Farm by Nora Knutson

Nora Knutson harvesting in the Pillsbury Avenue Farm

When I was nine years old I spent my first summer at Lyndale Youth Farm.  Now, ten years later, I have returned as an adult staff member.  Though I am still really young, I almost feel like an old timer at Youth Farm.  It’s a good feeling, though; it’s a comfortable feeling.

My family had never heard of Youth Farm until an older friend of mine told me about the summer program and encouraged me and my brother to sign up.  My mother liked the sound of it primarily because Youth Farm was free, very close by, and we would be spending our time outdoors.  I was excited to join because I would get to hang out with kids in my neighborhood, go on field trips and do arts and crafts.  Back in those days, we even got a weekly stipend of fifteen bucks, and that was definitely an encouraging factor for a nine year old to consider.

It didn’t take long for the energy of the people and the program to sweep me away and I became an eager little Youth Farmer, excited to be a part of such a unique community.  I liked working in the gardens and getting dirty, but the fact that my summers revolved around growing vegetables wasn’t really important at that point, it was just a method of having fun and connecting with people.  I looked up to the high school LEAD staff greatly and knew from the start that I wanted to join the crew as soon as I was old enough.  I got the job as a LEAD staff and continued working with the program for several years. As a teenager, I began to really appreciate the experience of working with the land and growing food, and I thought that the staff members were seriously the coolest adults around town.  After I graduated from high school, I traveled around the country and volunteered on organic farms to further explore my interest in farming, and now I’m back in the Twin Cities and working at Youth Farm this summer!

It’s fun to think about how Youth Farm has changed, as well as what’s stayed the same, since I was a Youth Farmer myself.  There’s a sort of oral history of Youth Farm that exists among people who grew up with the program or who are growing up with the program right now.  Each program director leaves a different impression, and over the years Youth Farm has gone through a lot of changes as an organization.  Youth Farm is an ever-evolving community of really neat folks, and in coming back to the Twin Cities this summer, I’ve begun to realize just how many connections I’ve made through it.  Whether I’m biking around the neighborhood and some kids from the summer program see me and say hey, or I’m at a big event and I run in to someone I worked with while I was in high school, or I meet someone who knows some people that are working at Youth Farm this summer, it feels good to know that I’m a part of this diverse and dynamic network of people who all have something in common.

I really did grow up with Youth Farm, alongside many others who are very different from me, and I can positively say that it has made a huge impression on who I am today. I’ve gained a lot of skills that look great on a resume: leadership skills, youth work skills, community organizing skills, farm skills, and social skills.  Even if I didn’t know the importance of some of these things as a LEAD staff, I now know how to be silly; I know how to get dirty; I can be LOUD and get people’s attention; I can “fake it until I make it”; I know how useful plans and back-up plans are; I know how to go with the flow and change plans on the fly; I know how important it is to have a safe space to be yourself.  And, yes, I know how to play Ride That Pony; and yes, I know how amazing Youth Farm parodies of popular songs can be; and yes, I know how to make some hot compost.

It’s really amazing to be working alongside staff members who were also in the program as kids, as we teach, lead, and learn from youth that will hopefully continue growing and developing with Youth Farm in to young adulthood, just like we did.

Nora Knutson

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