Walking into Youth Farm’s greenhouse on a spring morning, Zoelle Collins is greeted by the sweet smell of soil and hundreds of sprouting seedlings. In the busy season of her last semester at Macalester college, Zoelle finds time spent nurturing plants to be both relaxing and rejuvenating.

Zoelle’s work as a Farm Steward at Youth Farm started back in the fall of 2020. Since then, they have been integral in creating a new greenhouse catalog, planning for the upcoming growing season, and assisting with day-to-day greenhouse operations. As she prepares for graduation and the transition into job searching, Zoelle took some time to reflect on her time at Youth Farm.

“From a very young age, I always wanted to be a middle school teacher,” Zoelle said. “I think middle and high school students are such a great group to work with. When I came across the opportunity to work at Youth Farm through the Off Campus Student Employment program at Macalester, I knew it was something I wanted to do. I would have the opportunity to explore my newfound interest in plants while working with younger youth.”

“From the second I walked into the greenhouse, I loved the positive vibe of Youth Farm and the clear purpose of everyone’s work,” they said. “Although I came in with a primary interest in gardening, I have since learned more about the goals of Youth Farm and the importance of the work going on within the food and environmental justice movements.”

Like many plans over the past year, Zoelle’s time at Youth Farm was impacted by COVID-19. Although she wasn’t able to do in-person greenhouse programming as planned, they did get to connect with Project LEAD (teen) staff members virtually, co-create an amazing new plant catalog, and assist with day-to-day greenhouse operations.

Trays of seed starts are lined up in the greenhouse throughout the spring. Zoelle has been a key member of the greenhouse team this season.

“The work I have done at Youth Farm has been new to me,” Zoelle said. “It was exciting to browse through plant information while creating the plant catalog – I even discovered plants I had never heard of like orange cauliflower and rainbow chard! It was also really great to be working in a team with AJ [Youth Farm Program Specialist] and Emma [Farm Steward]. The three of us got so much done together – we even finished sanitizing all the tools and trays in the greenhouse on time, something AJ admits always got pushed back in past years.”

As their time with Youth Farm comes to a close and graduation approaches, Zoelle has spent a lot of time thinking about what comes next.

“This year, especially because of the way COVID has changed things, I have really been focusing on what feels the most productive and enriching to me,” Zoelle said. “My work at Youth Farm has really set the stage for what I am looking for out of a future employer.”

As a double major in both Religious Studies and Creative Writing, there are many paths Zoelle could take, but she has a few ideas that are really starting to stand out.

“I have recently been looking into teaching positions as well as youth work positions, specifically at public libraries,” Zoelle said. “When I was younger, I participated in a summer youth theater program, and that has really kept my interest alive in creating alternative learning opportunities for youth.”

“Ultimately though, one day my dream is to open a plant shop, one where a dog roams around to greet the customers,” they said. “In the shop we would host local farmers to teach community classes. This might be a far out there dream, but it would combine my passion for plants and learning.”

If her work at Youth Farm has been any consolation, this dream is well within reach. Wherever post-graduation life takes her, Zoelle will surely continue to be a learner, teacher, and hard worker with the added bonus of a very green thumb, one that grows greener with every spring day spent in the warmth of a greenhouse.