Within the first three weeks of her time as a Farm Steward at Youth Farm, Emma Schluter stood by the Youth Farm team as a pipe burst in the greenhouse, the St. Paul Public School teachers went on strike, and COVID officially shut down almost all in-person activities. Although her work may have looked different than expected, Emma used these circumstances as an opportunity to learn and grow.

Now in her last semester at St. Catherine University, Emma is set to graduate with a degree in Dietetics this spring. As graduation approaches, so does the end of her time working at Youth Farm. It may be something she stumbled into, but the impact of her work has been significant, both on her community and herself.

“St. Kate’s has a program that connects students to internships at outside organizations,” Emma said. “I had never heard of Youth Farm before, and when I started to learn more I wish I had known about the work. I was initially interested in growing plants, but over the past three semesters, my interests in the food system and the impact of introducing kids to the way it works have really evolved.”

Connecting to the food system is something dieticians have to do all the time, but Emma’s interests have become increasingly more specific – she sees a role for herself in community nutrition and public health, a role that focuses on healthy eating and living as a means to prevent long-term health issues.

“Both food and youth work are very important to me,” Emma said. “Coming from a dietetics background, I have tended to look at food and diets in a clinical way. However, there is an important need to be met related to preventative care, and a big part of the solution is involvement in the food system. Things I have been doing at Youth Farm, like engaging youth in cooking classes, are important ways of making healthy food more exciting and accessible. This focus on community nutrition and public health through engagement with food is where I see myself going in my career.”

Already, Emma’s connection to the food system and dedication to ensuring others are also involved is clear. Not only has she spent time over the past year working as part of Youth Farm’s greenhouse team, she also took on the opportunity to manage the garden at St. Kate’s.

“Last season, I was the garden coordinator for the five raised beds on St. Kate’s campus,” Emma said. “It was really cool to be involved with seeding plants in Youth Farm’s greenhouse, transplanting them into my school garden, and then harvesting the produce. This process really brought all of my work together. In partnership with the gardens on the property of Sisters of St. Joseph Carondelet, I was able to deliver produce to the campus food shelf that serves students, faculty, and the patients at the university’s community clinic”

Emma at the St. Catherine University school garden

“As I was managing the garden space at St. Kate’s, I was also working with AJ and Zoelle on the new greenhouse catalog,” she said. “This was the biggest project I worked on during my time at Youth Farm and it has already carried over into other parts of my life, like planning what to grow at my school garden space.”

As she has looked back at her time at Youth Farm, Emma also thinks that the turbulence during her first few weeks has served as an important learning experience.

“When I started my position as a Farm Steward, I was expecting to spend my days in the greenhouse or hosting youth classes, but since last spring, my school has still not returned to in-person work,” Emma said. “However, I am happy with the places the work has taken me. As we shifted to a remote work plan, AJ [Youth Farm Program Specialist/Emma’s supervisor] encouraged me to spend distanced time learning. He suggested podcasts and resources for me to learn about the food system, gardening, and youth development. I thought it was really cool to be encouraged to take so much time to learn on the job.”

“Shifting my work throughout the past year has also made me use different skills,” she said. “I’ve really honed my skills in working on a team and being adaptable – things that are important in any situation.”

With these strong skills in her pocket, Emma is getting ready for another big shift – grad school. This coming year she will be studying Food and Nutrition Policy and Public Health. 

Emma (left) and AJ creating soil blocks at the beginning of 2020’s growing season

“There is such a strong need for lasting, systemic change within the food system that will impact generations to come,” Emma said. “Nonprofits and communities already do so much important work within the food system and policy needs to support and unify this work – that is the piece that I want to be involved in.”

As she continues to shift through all of life’s changes, Emma is set to be a changemaker – someone who isn’t afraid of a challenge, puts community first, and always looks for growth opportunities, related to both plants and people.