The Long Haul – Our Message of LOVE & how Youth Farm is Affecting Positive Social Change in 2017 America

That’s when I started saying, ‘Horton, get yourself together, get ready for the long haul and try to determine how you can live out this thing and make your life useful.” – Myles Horton, The Long Haul

We find ourselves in a world now where the people that are closest to the core of who we are as an organization are threatened, dehumanized, falsely represented, and the object of contempt and hate from the highest levels of our society. Youth Farm will not stand idly by while our family is threatened. At Youth Farm, we welcome all the people that have built our family over the past 22 years. We will fight for your rights and for the human respect that you deserve in the best way we know possible: with love and through the power of effective Youth Development work. Youth Farm is an organization that stands with Immigrants, Muslims, members of the LGBTQ community, People of Color, Women and Girls and recognizes them as leaders.  At Youth Farm, you are not merely welcomed here, you are Youth Farm.

We will not stop at statements though. We will engage in the question before us, How do we affect change in a world and political climate that seems to be putting up new barriers every day? As Executive Director of Youth Farm, I want you to see how we envision this change and how we will support the members of our family that are being threatened. At Youth Farm, we will continue to focus our energy and skill on what we know results in tangible change – – finding our place in action, a place that is impactful and inclusive – – continuing our journey on The Long Haul. This place for us has 3 key ingredients that are the cornerstone of our mission – We Farm to Grow – Food, Community and Leaders. We want you to know how and why we do this work, we want you to know that we are committed to supporting our family with this work, we want you to know that we will reject hate and show our love for our communities through this work.  

At Youth Farm, we commit to:  Harnessing Food as a personal and collective Power – We Farm to Grow Food

At Youth Farm we commit to using food as a catalyst for social change, for community engagement, for leadership development – Food is our tool to change the world. Food is the place we start, the place where cultures are shared and differences are appreciated. Food is the most natural intersection of Love and Power. Through food we share culture and self, we nourish our neighbors, family and peers, and create access to a basic human right.

Youth in Youth Farm’s cooking class at Humboldt OWL School use Youth Farm produce to prepare a meal for each other.

Neighborhood-specific food assessments and annual farm and distribution planning are integrated into the core of our youth development programming throughout the year. Youth Farm’s food distribution promotes food justice by growing new relationships between youth and food, meeting the wellness needs of our communities, and recognizing historical narratives and current exploitation in the food system. Our Food Distribution Goals are Youth Defined.

  1. Food distribution utilizes sustainable land use and food production;
  2. Food distribution promotes youth engagement;
  3. Food distribution supports Youth Farm programming;
  4. Food distribution increases food access to Youth Farm families, community members and community partners;
  5. Food distribution promotes community wellness and food justice.

With these goals at the heart of our food work, the food grown at Youth Farm stays with the people that grew it. Food grown at Youth Farm is used in classes and community meals, sent home with families, and distributed to partners throughout our neighborhoods.

We are not the only ones doing this work locally or nationally. Type in “Food Justice” to an internet search and you will see hundreds of organizations doing great work. Find the one that speaks to you and invest your time and resources in places that are taking action today and into tomorrow.

At Youth Farm, we commit to: Strengthening our neighborhoods to build resilient citizens – We Farm to Grow Community

Supporting neighborhood level connections has impact. We know from research that strong neighborhoods build strong youth. This is one of the reasons we design our programming around neighborhood based work. It is also one of the reasons that we systematically design our work to need real community partnerships to be successful.  By grounding all our work in neighborhoods, young people, their families and neighbors feel greater ownership, accountability, and understanding of the powerful role youth play in a community. Strong intergenerational and intercultural relationships among youth, parents, business owners, churches, schools, community centers, and neighbors, connects youth and adults in each neighborhood, creating a long term foundation for social change. This in turn creates communities that feel a responsibility for youth and claim youth as valuable, contributing members. According to The Asset-Based Community Development Institute (ABCD), “local assets are the primary building blocks of sustainable community development. Building on the skills of local residents, the power of local associations, and the supportive functions of local institutions, asset-based community development draws upon existing community strengths to build stronger, more sustainable communities for the future.” Neighborhoods matter on so many levels, and this provides a roadmap for so many of us on where to put our energy and resources.

Youth Farmers, families and community members gather at our annual harvest celebration.

The neighborhoods Youth Farm works in – Lyndale/Whittier & Powderhorn/Central in S. Minneapolis, Hawthorne in N. Minneapolis, Frogtown and & West Side of St. Paul – are not random, but strategic. Our work in these neighborhoods stems from years of community organizing, meeting people and organizations, and envisioning together what role Youth Farm can and cannot play in these neighborhoods. These 5 neighborhoods all have strong assets (networks of community organizations, passionate residents, histories of engaging and welcoming immigrants, and a deep neighborhood pride) and struggles (large economic, racial and class disparities, lack of resources and access to both quality youth programming and quality produce), but all are amazing communities that Youth Farm is committed to. We know these neighborhoods because they are the neighborhoods we grew up in and live in, the neighborhoods we believe in and act in.

At Youth Farm, we commit to:  Supporting Youth as Leaders Today – We Farm to Grow Leaders

Youth Farm Board member Shanna Woods and S. Minneapolis Program Manager Jesus Perez, both 15+ year veterans of Youth Farm.

We will invest in youth as leaders, not just in their capacity to be leaders in the future, but their ability to be leaders now. If you have every heard me speak at a Youth Farm event or in public, you have probably heard me say this, but nothing could be more true at Youth Farm. We farm to grow leaders. At Youth Farm, this is the most important part of our work. Food and healthy eating and living, are all tools to a great end, providing a space for youth to be active leaders in the community and to support youth to be engaged citizens and leaders beyond their Youth Farm years. At Youth Farm young people are problem solvers to a variety of systematic problems, from food access to quality education. We are not growing the next generation of farmers, but supporting a cadre of youth leaders who will become teachers, scientists, community organizers, politicians, mothers, fathers, first generation college students, and so much more. In the most humble way possible, we believe greatly in the quality and impact of our youth work. We are so proud of the Youth Farm graduates that are actualizing their dreams as adults, some of them even right here at Youth Farm.


All this brings me back to the theme of this blog post, The Long Haul. The Long Haul is the title of the Autobiography of Myles Horton. Myles Horton was an educator, activist and organizer from Tennessee. Myles Horton started the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee in the 1930 as a place for thought, organizing and action. In the 1930’s and 40’s, the labor movement blossomed out of work at Highlander. In the 1950’s, no place was more important to the Civil Rights Movement than Highlander. From Rosa Parks to Martin Luther King Jr., Highlander was a key place of planning and organizing that allowed bus boycotts, marches, and legislation to pass because of years of planning. The Long Haul seems most appropriate here because it is how we approach our work at Youth Farm, and how we see long term social change happening. Put our time and energy into the things that create change – sometimes it is marches and protest, and sometimes it is having a kid bring his Mom from Mexico to a cooking class to share food with his Somali neighborhood friends. Over time, and often, it does not happen overnight, putting our resources behind Love, Caring and Respect, we do help shape a better world. At Youth Farm, that better world necessarily involves Immigrants, Muslims, members of the LGBTQ community, People of Color, Women and Girls and any other attacked group, and we are committed to the Long Haul.

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