As we continue to expand our work with public schools, it is extremely beneficial for us to explore our past successes within these partnerships. 

To say that school partnerships oftentimes serve as a youth’s first experience at Youth Farm would be an understatement. So many of our youth who are now taking on Project LEAD and Farm Steward roles got involved with Youth Farm because they attended an in- or after-school program, and St. Paul Project LEAD Nickolas Vang can attest to that. 

Nickolas (left) learning to make tortillas with Program Specialist, Jesus.

“I think I was in third grade when I started going to after school cooking classes,” Nickolas said. “At that time, I was a student at Jackson Elementary School which is actually the school the Project LEAD team partnered with this summer where we taught younger kids about gardening and growing food.”

It is so rewarding to see the evolution of our youth, especially as many of them grow into the role models they once looked up to. By employing youth that are from the same neighborhoods and backgrounds as the younger youth they are mentoring, Youth Farm is able to create a more connected community through the efforts of these respected youth leaders. 

Speaking of looking up to role models, Nickolas had a pretty good one. 

“I was a youth farmer for many years and during that time my brother actually became a Project LEAD,” Nickolas said. “When I started high school, I followed in his footsteps and applied to be a Project LEAD myself.”

A mission of Youth Farm’s is to engage youth that choose to be involved in our programs themselves. Although many youth begin their involvement with some sort of nudge from their parents or guardians, it is interesting to hear how they got hooked and why they stuck around.

“Like a lot of kids, my parents wanted my brother and I to get outside when we were younger,” Nickolas remembers. “We’ve always had a family garden which has gotten us outside, but Youth Farm was another way for us to do that and ended up being super fun. When I was younger I loved taking Friday field trips. Both me and my brother chose to stay involved for a long time and it was the first job either of us have ever had.”

Nickolas (right) mulching at the main farm in the West Side neighborhood with a fellow LEAD staff.

Now in his second year of the Project LEAD program, Nickolas is looking forward to starting 10th grade and is taking plenty of important skills with him. 

“I’ve been involved at Youth Farm for over six years and I have learned a lot of valuable lessons,” Nickolas said. “Although I have no idea what my plans after high school are, I have learned to be a good time manager, teacher, problem-solver and employee.”

There are no words to explain how proud we are to hear those words from our youth. No matter what they do or where they go, we know they have built the skills for success.