- First day – I think I was more nervous about Kahlil’s first day at Youth Farm than I was for his first day at school. Would he like it? Would he make friends? Would my passion and life’s work be something that brings us together? I was so pleased when I picked him up and he was excited to talk about how great the spanakopita was at lunch (yes, we have awesome spanakopita during our summer lunches). That began a 3 day a week ritual of bonding over how great the food is at Youth Farm, what new foods he tried, and what fun activities he did with his new “Youth Farm friends”.
Green Thumb – Probably my most proud moment was showing up for lunch a little early during the 2nd week of the summer program and getting to see Kahlil (unbeknownst to him) be awarded a “Green Thumb” award for his strong work in the farms that morning. Watching from afar, I was able to see the pride in his demeanor as he looked with confidence around the circle of Youth Farmers, almost to say, “Yep, that’s right, I did awesome work today, and am really proud of it!” I also saw the excitement of a 9 year old who then got to eat first for lunch (a long standing tradition at Youth Farm is the “Green Thumb” winners get to eat lunch first). Rarely do we get to see our children get publicly recognized for their good work at places outside of home, and even more rarely do elementary age youth verbalize all that happens throughout the day, I was a proud Dad that day.
Jalapeño planting – During the 3rd week of the summer program, Kahlil was extremely excited to bring home the leftover Jalapeño plants that they had from Youth Farm to plant at home. We have always bonded over spicy food, and Grilled Jalapeños poppers are one of our favorites. When we got home, he went rushing to one of our 3 raised beds and turned over the soil, planted the 8 jalapeño plants, and then talked non-stop for an hour about how excited he was for them to be done. We just harvested them a couple of weeks ago for the first time, getting a haul of over 30 Jalapeños, and grilled them up with our family as we gathered for Labor Day – they were quite the spicy jalapeños, labored with lots of love.
Creating his “Youth Farm” Friends, Trying new food, and Compost Winners – One of the things you will often hear (adult) Youth Farm alumni talk about when asked about what was meaningful in their Youth Farm experience was the experience of creating a set of friends that is based around place, around shared interest, and around doing good. This is something that happens because Youth Farm is a place that believes in young people to make real choices, pushes them to think of others, and understands the importance of place in a young persons life. Watching Kahlil throughout the summer engage with new friends, feel comfortable to strengthen his older friendships, and be pushed to own the importance of the decisions he was making around the farm – was spectacular. This happened in fun ways, when Kahlil and his group of friends at Youth Farm playing “drip, drip, splash”, which quickly turned into, “Splash, Splash, Drench!” an all important shift for the 9-10 year old boys. Lunches continued to be a great bonding point for us, even in the things he did not like. While he is someone who has an open pallet and for the most part loves vegetables, he really never has liked salad that much, but one quote from him stuck with me, “I usually don’t like it (salad) that much, but I always eat it.”
I love that Youth Farm culture of always trying food has done a better job at getting him to experience salad that we do at home for dinner. Getting a text from my wife one night late in the summer when I was at a Youth Farm board meeting of Kahlil cooking dinner for the family was heart warming. The other great memory is the day that our Associate Director, Amanda Stoelb and I were able to bring over and present the “Compost Cup” to the West Side for having the hottest compost amongst the 5 Youth Farm neighborhoods. Celebration that ensued was great. The pride in work as an individual, as a farm group and as a neighborhood was palpable.
I recognize that my work at Youth Farm over the last 16 years makes this parent experience different and probably more unique than many other families, but I don’t think it makes it any better. I love that when I run into parents, both at Youth Farm and randomly around town, so many of them have little stories to share about how Youth Farm shapes their children’s experiences with their peers or their families relationship with food and their neighborhood. Food is the great equalizer here and the thing that brings family together, young people together with new and old friends, and neighborhoods together to rethink and challenge long held beliefs about what young people can contribute to the world. I see young people living the mission everyday, at our office, in the farms, and now in my home with my son Kahlil, that the answer is that there is a generation of young people driving great change – and food is that tool.