Building leaders is what Youth Farm is grounded in. We believe that leaders, no matter how young, can change not only their communities, but the world. However, we also recognize that leadership comes in many forms, both good and bad, and we aim to overcome challenges to produce solely positive change. Our goals may be lofty, but our youth speak for themselves and show us everyday that what we’re doing matters.

In the words of St. Paul Farm Steward, Leo Sovell-Fernandez, “Youth Farm has taught me that good leadership is not built through power, but through relationships. I’ve learned that this concept goes a long way, especially with kids. Build a relationship with them and then give them a little bit of freedom to lead their peers and community, even in something as simple as a kickball game, and they will take pride in it.”

Leo, center in green, leading a volunteer work group on the West Side Farm.

To hear this directly through a young adult that has been involved with our programs for ten years is so gratifying. 

Leo started his time at Youth Farm by coming to West Side St. Paul’s old summer program. After hearing kids on the bus talk about something called “Youth Farm,” he talked to his parents and started attending programs with his sister in 2009. Since that first summer, Leo has been consistently involved with Youth Farm programs, at first coming for only summer programs, and then getting more involved during the school year as he got older. 

“I remember those first couple Youth Farm summers being really fun and coming to program was always somewhere I felt comfortable,” Leo said. “I started getting even more involved when I needed volunteer hours in eighth grade. I decided to volunteer at Youth Farm programs during the school year for the credit I needed and that transitioned right into a Project LEAD role the following year.”

Leo was a dedicated Project LEAD youth staff all the way through high school and has taken on a Farm Steward position this summer. We are so lucky to have him back for the summer before he heads back to Vermont, where he will be a sophomore at Middlebury College. 

After so many years and a college career that has taken him states away, we were interested in knowing why it is that Leo is still so dedicated to Youth Farm after all these years. 

“Eventually I’d love to spend a summer in my college town, but my family and playing competitive ultimate frisbee brought me back to Minnesota this summer,” Leo said. “Youth Farm has been part of my life for such a long time that it felt like a no brainer to take a position here while I was back for the summer. The work I do at Youth Farm is something I really care about. Some of my best friends are people I met here and working with such a great group of people to build community and work with neighborhood kids is so rewarding.” 

Leo, right, with Program Specialist AJ.

Leo has brought so much to Youth Farm, from his passion for sports to his dedication to the West Side neighborhood. We can only hope that we have brought as much positive influence into his life.

“I decided to go to college in Vermont because I have family in New Hampshire, but Youth Farm really helped me get there,” Leo said. “All of my experiences here have been such great resume builders. Back in high school they helped me build a strong application for my study abroad trip to Mexico and that trip along with the skills I built at Youth Farm were really my tickets into Middlebury.”

As Leo heads into his sophomore year as a Geography major, we can only hope to continue to support him, even if this may be his last formal summer at Youth Farm. We realize many of his goals lie out east, but no matter if he chooses to stay there or go elsewhere, we know that he is ready to take on anything that comes his way.