At Youth Farm, young people focus their efforts heavily on making community impact through food. This past year, Project LEAD Anastasia Thompson took some of Youth Farm’s recipes international, using food to connect to her host family in Spain. During her exchange year, Anastasia whipped up some Youth Farm chilaquiles and shared them with her Spanish family, while they introduced her to some new favorites including Spanish tortilla, Cocido Montañés, and Quesada Pasiega. After almost a decade of being involved in Youth Farm’s programs, Anastasia credits much of her exploratory palate to consistently trying new vegetables in the garden while she was growing up.

Anastasia at a community event, with a stack of bread

“When I was younger, I remember cooking with things that I wouldn’t normally want to eat if I was served it elsewhere, but since I had grown and harvested it I was invested and wanted to try it,” Anastasia said. “Kohlrabi and eggplant are a few vegetables that I wouldn’t eat before, but after growing and cooking them at Youth Farm I have come to love them. In Spain I tried a lot of new foods – one of them was a rice patty with fried pig’s blood. My host family wouldn’t tell me what it was at first, so I just tried it and ended up really liking it.”

Before she became a world traveler, Anastasia got involved with Youth Farm through connections at her church. Her father is the pastor at St. Stephanus Lutheran Church in Frogtown, where Youth Farmers used the kitchen to cook together for many years. After learning to cook and garden as a Youth Farmer and All Star, Anastasia was excited when she was offered a job as a Project LEAD.

“When I was involved in cooking classes as a youth participant [Youth Farmer and All Star] I started to take on more leadership roles, helping younger kids in classes learn new skills.” Anastasia said. “I found leading younger youth participants both fun and rewarding, so I decided to continue doing those things in new ways as a Project LEAD.”

Anastasia (left) and a fellow Youth Farmer making homemade pizza. The results (right) were delicious!

This year, when Anastasia returned from Spain, she was ready to jump right back into her role as a LEAD, but she knew it would look different than previous years. 

“In many ways, this year feels somewhat the same to me, our work is just done in smaller groups and we have a bit of a different focus,” Anastasia said. “While we are still gardening and working as a team of Project LEAD, we have taken a break from directly interacting with younger youth. Although I love to do that, this shift has given us the opportunity to re-envision what we are going to do in garden spaces both now and in the future. We have also had time to work on larger projects. We recently built a drip irrigation system at Main Farm and soon we are going to start some other building projects.”

As Anastasia and the rest of the team work through a summer of social distancing, she remembers some of her favorite Youth Farm memories, hoping to make more like them in the future with the return of more in-person gatherings.

“One of my favorite events we’ve done at Youth Farm was the Frogtown Farms kitchen and pizza oven opening,” Anastasia said. “Leading up to the event, we were invited to practice running the oven and then the day-of we made a bunch of pizzas and served them to people. This event really encapsulated what Youth Farm is all about – food, being together, and getting outside.”

This fall, Anastasia will be entering her first year of Post Secondary Enrollment Option (PSEO) classes at the University of Minnesota, where another important component of her work at Youth Farm will be put into play.

“I have learned a lot of leadership skills at Youth Farm,” Anastasia said. “This job [Project LEAD] is different from other jobs because of the level of input we are given as youth. We collaborate and discuss what we want to do as a team and our leadership experiences are unique because they are all neighborhood and community based.”

Anastasia (left, with hand raised) working on planting projects at the West Side Main Farm with fellow Project LEAD.

Throughout the remainder of her high school days, Anastasia plans to use the leadership skills she has gained at Youth Farm and combine them with skills she has learned in other parts of her life, hoping to one day become an international change-maker.

“After I graduate, I would like to get a political science degree followed by a law degree. Eventually, I want to work for the United Nations or another international organization,” Anastasia said. “My travels have really shaped what I want to do and have made it clear to me that I want to live internationally or be connected to international travel.”

With big dreams ahead of her, Anastasia continues to remain committed to working with and for those around her, saying that, “Youth Farm has helped me see that I want to help people no matter what form that takes – small or large scale.”

Her words perfectly capture the power of community work and leadership. At Youth Farm, young people may be growing food right now, but the skills they learn and the connections they make from organizing this work will go far beyond community garden spaces. That impact will travel halfway around the globe.