Thanks to Schwan’s Corporate Giving Foundation for their Bold Support of Youth Farm

Dimitrios Smyrnios, CEO of Schwan’s Company announces a new charitable partnership with Minnesota-based non-profit Youth Farm. Smyrnios presents Gunnar Liden of Youth Farm a $150,000 financial donation from Schwan’s Corporate Giving Foundation at U.S. Bank Stadium on Thursday, Sept. 14, 2017, in Minneapolis. (Andy Clayton-King/AP Images for Schwan’s Company) (PRNewsfoto/Schwanís Company)

We were beyond honored to receive support from the Schwan’s Corporate Giving Foundation last night at Schwan’s Feast on the Field event, a celebration in partnership with the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee to honor the people, the food and the cultural traditions that distinguish the Bold North, as well as a celebration of Schwan’s Company’s 65th Anniversary and their commitment to the community. We look forward to our partnership and utilizing these resources to do great work and support amazing youth leaders in the Twin Cities!

Place Matters – Learn about Youth Farm’s Neighborhood Based Programming & Our Goals of Impact

Place matters. By grounding 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.

Click image to enlarge map

Youth Farm’s current 5 neighborhoods (Lyndale & Powderhorn is South Minneapolis, Hawthorne in North Minneapolis, and Frogtown and West Side in St. Paul) all have great strengths and possibility, a multitude of community institutions and schools to partner with, and youth as a key asset, and varying levels of food insecurity in and around the neighborhoods. Within these neighborhoods, Youth Farm seeks to address and/or engage around 3 main areas:

  1. Youth as a community asset: For many in the Youth Development field, asset based youth programming is not a new concept. Youth Farm not only focuses on building positive development of skills and experience in programs, but also in the communities themselves. Youth Farm has over two decades of experience actively engaging youth in the neighborhood they live in to be true social change makers through the work they do around food. Youth Farm strikes a balance of engaging youth as real community contributors, while also focusing on childhood as a time for exploration, learning, and discovery.
  2. Access to quality youth programming: For many lower income families, finding quality youth programming that they can afford is a struggle. In an effort to be accessible to all youth, Youth Farm’s programs are free, eliminating one clear barrier. Cost is not the only factor that prevents youth from accessing programs. In an effort to proactively facilitate participation for all youth, our program staff work intentionally throughout the year to reach neighborhood families who have additional barriers that include: limited English language skills, transportation, and unstable home environments. We work to prioritize youth and families with the least access.
  3. Local food access for lower income residents: We continue to refine our model to provide more fresh, healthy food to lower income residents in a way that is sustainable and true to our youth development mission. We engage youth in effective local food distribution, by involving them not just in the growing and distributing of produce in unique ways such as family CSA’s, cooking classes and food shelves, but as community researchers and planners in their Action Research and neighborhood food distribution plans. By actively engaging youth and families that have the least access, we are more effective at having youth as true community change makers.

Where Youth Farm establishes programs is very intentional, as is who we work to engage and create access to our programs. While we have evolved and grown over the last 23 years, the importance of place and the role neighborhood based programming plays in our approach has remained solid. Strong connections and involvement in each of these 5 neighborhoods provides the foundation both for Youth Farm’s work and Youth Farmers success in becoming great leaders.

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.

Congratulations Jesus!

Youth Farm is excited to announce Jesus Perez as our new Manager of South Minneapolis Programs! Jesus has been involved in the Lyndale Youth Farm Program for over 10 years as a youth participant, Project LEAD staff, and South Minneapolis Farm Steward.  As part of the inaugural Farm Stewards Program in 2011, he helped to develop the program into what it is today, he worked with partners at Green Central and Lyndale School to build hoop houses and facilitate programming, organized in the Whittier Neighborhood, and hosted Lyndale’s popular Thursday cooking program while recruiting and developing relationships with youth.

Jesus is a compassionate and thoughtful youth worker. He brings creativity to the classes he facilitates, humor and mentorship to our staff team, and an eagerness to learn from the youth he serves and the community partners he works alongside.

Jesus will be the main contact for all Lyndale and Whittier programs and play a support role in Powderhorn and Central programs. We are honored that he chose to share his talents with Youth Farm and excited to see what he brings to the youth of South Minneapolis in his new role.  Congratulations Jesus!

A few snapshots of Jesus over the years!

Cooking in 2012
Farming in 2010
Building Hoop houses in 2016

Food is our tool to change the world – Support Youth Farm Today!

As we end what has been a divisive year politically and socially, we want to reconfirm to our supporters the values and impact of our work. Youth Farm utilizes food as a catalyst for social change, for community engagement, for leadership development – Food is our tool to change the world. We want you to see Youth Farm as a place that you can take action to support and grow leaders of all ethnic, racial, and economic backgrounds in our Twin Cities community.
Youth, Staff, and Community members eat lunch together at our CHT farm in Lyndale/South Minneapolis.

We feel that Youth Farm, both our programming and organization, is made stronger by our differences and unique life experiences that everyone brings to the literal and metaphorical table. Food is our tool to do this. This is lived out every day at Youth Farm – as Youth Farmers and staff eat lunch or dinner together in our summer and school year programming, as we engage Youth Leaders to create more access to healthy produce, and also as we support young leaders in our neighborhoods to organize their families, neighbors and businesses to build a community that is unified in its support of all its residents.

This year your support feels more important than ever. We look to you as stewards of Youth Farm to invest in both our current and future Youth Farm leaders – to support an organization that continually looks to improve itself by engaging people of all racial, religious, socioeconomic, and ethnic backgrounds. Without the contributions of youth leaders of differing backgrounds, we would not be the organization we are today, and we look to further these efforts even more so in the coming years.
It is from this humble position that Youth Farm asks for your financial support. We know that many of you already have, and we thank you for that! For others, please help us reach our $25,000 goal today. Donate Today!
Youth Farm. Where Leadership Grows.

Fall program kicks off!

Last week we kicked off fall programming with cooking classes in both our Lyndale and Powderhorn neighborhoods.

Farm Stewards Zainab and Jesus and youth from Lyndale and Powderhorn prepared amazing first meals using produce from our gardens.  Egg plant parmesan started things off in Powderhorn for the Tuesday cooking class and zucchini chocolate cake with mocha frosting was on the menu in Lyndale’s Thursday class.

Know youth that live in the Powderhorn/Central or Lyndale neighborhoods that would like to participate in fall harvesting and cooking? Contact our Farm Stewards!

Powderhorn/Central All things food

Tuesdays through November

Powderhorn Park Building

Contact: Zainab Youngmark 612-401-8303


Lyndale All Things food

Thursdays through November

Zion Lutheran Church

contact: Jesus Perez 612-401-3412


St. Paul is also kicking things off. Look for class info next week!

Welcome Hawthorne Organizer Marcus Kar!

This week Youth Farm is honored to welcome our Hawthorne Community Organizer Marcus Kar!

Marcus comes to Youth Farm with deep connections on the Northside, a passion for community and relationship building, an ability to use music as a tool for community and youth development, and a love of food. We are honored that he has chosen to join our team.

Marcus will be learning alongside his fellow Youth Farm staff.  His work on the Northside will include working alongside Farm Steward Sergio and taking what he learns from our Youth Farm model and adapting it to fit the communities we work in on the Northside. He will also continue our partnership with Nellie Stone Johnson school working to connect farming and nutrition to the classroom.
We are excited for what he has to offer and for the enthusiasm and passion he brings to youth work and food access. Welcome Marcus!
Marcus will be the main contact for all of Youth Farm Hawthorne and Northside work. Learn more about Marcus and how to contact him here
Marcus shows off his first harvest after a farm work day with Nellie Stone Johnson 4th grade students.

Thank You Phil Rooney!

IMG_8005For the past 10 years, yes 10 years, Phil Rooney has been an indispensable part of the Youth Farm community. This past Friday marked Phil’s last day at Youth Farm and we wanted to take a moment to reflect on his journey and impact, as well as to say Thank You for all he has done for the youth in our neighborhoods and for our organization over the last decade.

Phil started his time at Youth Farm as an AmeriCorps member on the West Side of St. Paul, doing double duty between Youth Farm and the Jane Addams School. As his AmeriCorps time came to a close, Phil found ways to stay involved and engaged in Youth Farm, working for 4 years as a summer staff person on the West Side neighborhood program. During that time, Phil brought his skills in planning and youth work to both manage the Robert Street Farm, but also engage our Youth Farmers and leaders to have true ownership over their work and impact.

In 2009, when our Lyndale neighborhood program had an opening, we naturally encouraged Phil to apply. During the interview process, Phil stood out because of his ability to understand and engage around higher level youth development concepts and effectively incorporate them into lesson plans and his 1 on 1 and small group interactions with Youth Farmers. This is something we see very rarely, and something that Phil brought to Youth Farm every day for the next 7 years. From 2009 – 2015, Phil grew and developed the Lyndale Youth Farm, helped launch our Farm Stewards program, mentoring other young adult leaders to be great youth workers, and forged a multitude of important partnerships with neighborhood schools, businesses, and non-profit partners. In 2015, Phil transitioned to a new leadership role, becoming our first South Minneapolis Director of Programs. Over the last year, he has help build a new leadership structure that focuses on our Farm Stewards in program leadership roles in Lyndale and Powderhorn, and heightens our school year engagement.

For any of you that were there this past Wednesday at the Lyndale Neighborhood Harvest Festival and were able to hear many of the long time Youth Farmers, Project LEAD, and even former staff who came back just for the celebratory goodbye, you heard the impact Phil had on them. Almost everyone of the youth leaders that talked spoke to how Phil continued to push them to be even better leaders and youth workers, and how he never let them off easy. They all spoke to how much he cared for them and what an important role he played in their development as leaders with their peers and with their community. Simply put, many of them would not be in the position they are in today without Phil Rooney. That is a great legacy to leave and to be proud of!

How do you properly thank someone who has given so much to hundreds if not thousands of youth leaders in our community, built up partnerships and worked alongside so many young people to grow tens of thousands of pounds of produce to create access to healthy food for so many? We are not sure if there is a way that honors all of this, but we know Youth Farm and so many great young leaders are better off because of Phil Rooney and his time at Youth Farm.

From all of us at Youth Farm – THANK YOU Phil!

How do we appreciate Theo? Let us count a few of the ways

Youth farm: all grown up! From 2008 to 2016! Pictured: Theo, Thierno, Raquel, Amm-Ra, Charlot, Asiya, and one other cute little YF'er back in the day



Maimouna, “Theo is always patient with everyone. He’s respectful, genuine, and very appreciative. He’s just a super laid back guy and there is never an issue with him.”

Amm-Ra, “Theo always has a positive attitude even in stressful situations.”

Ellesha, “He treats everyone equally no matter who they are. Also, he is good at riddles.”

Raquel, “I would say he’s a very genuine and caring guy that is always chill but never too cool to do goofy things and make connections with anyone.”

Phil, “When he gets excited about something his whole face and eyes light up and he gets a little flush. It is so fun to see and I know he is going to grab hold of his passions and carry them forward.”

Liv, “He’s very kind and protective of the people he cares about.”

Harrison, “He’s like the big brother of Youth Farm.”

Zo, “I appreciate how he’s always been able to connect to kids and he always can calm people down and doesn’t have to say something for you to know you’re important.”

*This post is part of a series of posts recognizing Youth Farm’s graduating seniors. It was written by Powderhorn staff*