Summer Leadership Institute 2017 – Youth Farmers

Today marks the last day of our 4 week Summer Leadership Institute for our Youth Farmers (ages 9-11). So much great work has happened over the last 4 weeks – growing food, creating friendships, cooking amazing summer lunches using vegetables from our farms, and all the leadership and mentorship that goes along with making 5 neighborhoods run smoothly. One of the exciting things about our new Summer Leadership Institute is that even though our structured 4 week programming is finished for Youth Farmers, we still have lots on our plate for August. Our Farm Stewards (19-24 year olds) and Project LEAD (14-18 year olds) will be continuing their work through the end of August harvesting and distributing produce to Youth Farmers and their families, offering additional programming for All Stars (ages 12-13) on a neighborhood basis focused of farming, cooking and/or other interests of the All Star participants throughout the summer, and providing opportunities to celebrate the neighborhood level leadership our Youth Farm participants take at neighborhood harvest celebrations.

We would love families and community partners to join with us in breaking bread together at these gatherings. The dates are as follows:

  • Frogtown – Saturday Aug 5th, 11am-1pm – St. Stephanus Church
  • Powderhorn – Thursday Aug 10th, 5:30 – 7:30 – Powderhorn Park Garden 34 1/2 St. and 11th Ave S
  • West Side – Friday Aug 11th, 5:30 – 7:30 – La Puerta Abierta Church
  • Lyndale – Wednesday Aug 16th, 5:30 – 7:30 – Zion Lutheran Church

Furthermore, Northside/Hawthorne will be hosting/collaborating on a series of “BIG Dinner Party” events throughout the remainder if the summer and into the fall that you will hear more about soon.

Thanks to all the hard work and support of our Youth Farmers and we look forward to continuing to use food as a catalyst for social change through the work we do.

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.

Calla-a passion for all things food

Calla started at Youth Farm as a participant in the West Side summer program in 2012. She spent her first day that summer looking bored, not participating, and projecting a “too cool” persona. After transitioning to the All-Star group later that week her interests, skills, and passions started to show.  That summer she took on every leadership opportunity available to her. She then applied to be a part of the LEAD program and quickly became an active member of the West Side staff team.

Calla has a passion for all things related to food and especially for being in the Youth Farm kitchen.  Her dedication to cooking is apparent to anyone who has had the pleasure of working through a menu with her. This past summer Calla contributed to our program’s success in numerous ways, most notably as the direct apprentice to our summer chef and also as an activity group leader. She started her days in the kitchen washing and chopping produce, preparing work stations, and teaching youth as young as 9 years old how to cook. Calla, along with the summer Chef and 4-5 youth prepared the lunches that fueled our summer program. A program that regularly had 70 or more youth and staff, many of them lining up immediately for seconds. After lunch she transitioned to leading an afternoon activity group called “The Adventurers”. To help create a welcoming community, a cornerstone of good youth work, Calla created individual journals for each of the youth in her group so they could track their summer time learning and fun.

Calla is graduating this year from Highland Park Senior High School in St. Paul.  This fall Calla will be enrolled at the University of Minnesota, specifically in the Food Systems program within the College of Food, Agriculture, and Natural Resource Sciences..  We wish her the best and look forward to her returning to YF to share her new knowledge.  

Calla, hiding behind some Youth Farm bell peppers as she works her magic in the kitchen



*This post is part of a series of posts recognizing Youth Farm’s graduating seniors. It was written by former West Side Program Director Tyler Berres*

Jack-an exceptional leader (and dodgeball player)!

Like many Youth Farmers, Jack found his way to the garden by following the footsteps of his older brother.  It was nearly 10 years ago when I met the 9 year old version of Jack. He had very long hair and was full of energy, the kind of energy that got him chosen first for dodgeball games. Jack continued with YF for each summer until he was too old to participate. Wanting to contribute to the program that supported him, he then applied to be an intern and and a member of our summer staff team. Jack was clearly one of our top candidates, he showed maturity, thoughtfulness and patience; all essential skills for the work Youth Farm does.  

Jack has worked at YF for the past three and a half years, over that time he has grown in all aspects of his role and as a person as well. He connects with the youth we work with, his community, and his coworkers in authentic ways. Jack is extremely reliable, consistent, and has shown perseverance throughout his life. He balances his school work, jobs, health, and art.  

At Youth Farm, Jack shows exceptional leadership qualities. His co-workers and classmates look to him for guidance, advice, and support. He has applied and been accepted into leadership positions at school and work.  His ability to rally youth and his peers around a task is impressive: from getting a group of 9 year-olds to clean up a workspace in the kitchen or garden, to offering supportive words during a difficult time.  

Now that Jack has graduated he will be heading to New Jersey to pursue his passion in glass art at Salem Community College. His glass skills became apparent a few years ago when his constantly changing necklace pieces became a regular topic of discussion and admiration from everyone at Youth Farm.  It was even more apparent when others were wearing pieces he made as well. His pride and confidence in his work justifiably grew and he has since became a regular art vendor at the West Side Farmer’s Market.  You can check out some of his current work here.  We all at YF wish him well in the next stage of his life and are excited that he will be a part of the West Side team this summer.

Jack demonstrating thoughtfulness in our Wellstone Center cooking class

*This post is part of a series of posts recognizing Youth Farm’s graduating seniors. It was written by former West Side Program Director Tyler Berres*

Yasmin! You are a Star.

Being a LEAD at Youth Farm is a big responsibility. You are charged with modeling community, farm skills, and empathy to young people who are molding their values and developing their interests. Even though Yasmin was young herself at fourteen beginning as LEAD who also had skills to learn, has been such a star. Yasmin explored beyond the hours of Youth Farm how to involve the Lyndale community in the power of relationships and cultivating food. She even help lead the community garden on her block where she assisted youth too young for Youth Farm in learning techniques of growing food, skills in social development, and delegation to work cooperatively.

Yasmin and I worked closely in the CHT garden over the last three summers where you could see her love for organizing and youth leadership explode. Her leadership as a LEAD, time she’s dedicated to the youth, and community speaks to the amazing young woman she is. Congratulations on your academic milestone and keep propelling towards greatness.


*this post is part of a series of posts recognizing Youth Farm’s graduating seniors. It was written by former Lyndale Farm Steward Shanna Woods*

Mimi: adventurous, community minded, and willing to try new things

That’s Mimi on the left chomping on some Kale!

When I think about Youth Farm, I think about youth development, community connection, and food access. It interesting, as a staff you aim to support and shape youth experience. I have worked with Youth Farm as a staff and had the opportunity to support Mimi in learning how to grow vegetables, how solve an argument with a friend, and we even made up songs. My job was to help her have a positive summer that encouraged her to continue being involved with Youth Farm even through the school year.

Thinking in retrospect, youth workers think about the offerings and services we provide when youth not only shape their own experiences, but their peers. Mimi is a stellar representation of that. Mimi, since she was ten all the way into her LEAD years, has been a kind, intelligent, and thoughtful presence. Mimi absorbed what it meant to be a youth farmer; adventurous, community minded, and willing to try newthings. She would influence others around her to try kale, scream the youth farm chant the loudest, and use different nicer words in the name of SOPAM!

It has been nothing but a delight to see Mimi become the considerate leader that she is. I’ve seen her thrive and grow with Youth Farm, I can’t wait to witness her academic and personal achievements as she graduates! You go Mimi!


*this post is part of a series of posts recognizing Youth Farm’s graduating seniors. It was written by former Lyndale Farm Steward Shanna Woods*

Help Celebrate our Graduating LEAD during May

IMG_0567As spring is finally upon us, not only does that mean that our farms will soon be blooming with vegetables and bustling with Youth Farmers, but also that for a number of our Project LEAD participants, they are graduating High School and entering their last summer at Youth Farm. While we will be sad to see many of these Project LEAD move on from Youth Farm, we are thrilled about the next chapter in each of their lives and hope that their Youth Farm experience has set them up for success in whatever challenges and accomplishments they have ahead of them.

For anyone who has visited a Youth Farm summer program day and joined the Youth Farmers for lunch, you know that a very important part of our youth development model is incorporating public recognition of individual and group successes. During the summer, we do that through our awarding of Green Thumb awards every day to those Youth Farmers who have gone above and beyond as true contributors to the group. We thought that it would be great to extend that to our graduating Project LEAD. During the month of May, we will have current Youth Farm staff, and even some former Youth Farm staff as guest bloggers, highlighting the 12 graduating Project LEAD.

We all know how great it feels to be applauded for something you have dedicated your time and hard work to accomplish. If you know one thing about our Project LEAD program, please know that these young leaders make real decisions, take on real community input and take on the responsibility to mentor and engage younger youth in the neighborhood. So please look for these blog posts and celebrate with us all that these Project LEAD have done, and will do moving forward.

Youth Farm is hiring in Hawthorne in North Minneapolis

Ms. Bev & VaronPassionate about youth development? Have experience community organizing? Know the north side of Minneapolis? Bring those talents and interests together at Youth Farm. Youth Farm is currently hiring a Community Organizer position in North Minneapolis’ Hawthorne neighborhood to engage youth, community partners and families in youth leadership, food access, and community change. Learn more about the position and how to apply HERE