Friday’s Featured Leader: Alecia Mathews

Alecia, center, with Program Specialist, Jesus (right), and fellow Project LEAD, Dani (left)

The range of talents we have on our youth staff team consistently astounds us. Some of our youth are amazing athletes, mentors, artists, musicians, actors, and gardeners. Others, like Frogtown Project LEAD Alecia Mathews, have talents that lie in the kitchen. 

Since becoming a Project LEAD three years ago, Alecia has expanded upon her skills in the kitchen and there is no hiding the fact that she is a talented cook. 

“Before coming to Youth Farm, I already cooked at home, but here I have learned so many new recipes,” Alecia said. “I love spending time in the kitchen and we get to do a lot of that here.”

Although Alecia has been comfortable in the kitchen for quite some time, we are excited to see her learning new skills and becoming a leader during food prep when the St. Paul team hosts cooking classes and community events. 

Alecia’s involvement with Youth Farm has not only allowed her to spend more time in the kitchen, but it has also helped her spend more time outdoors and participating in new and interesting activities with her peers.

“I first got involved with Youth Farm because my brother’s best friend had been attending program, so my parents signed us up,” Alecia said. “For me, it is a great way to get outside and spend time in the kitchen. At home I play a lot of video games and coming to Youth Farm is something different.”

Although a large amount of our program time is spent in our gardens or in the kitchen, we also enjoy traveling and learning about how others are getting involved in agriculture and social change. Allowing our youth to meet new people and explore new places is a constant goal of ours. 

“One of my favorite Youth Farm memories was going to Wisconsin and visiting Buttermilk Falls Farm,” Alecia remembers. “We got to go strawberry picking and learn about the way they ran their farm.”

We recognize that when it comes to creating a youth-led food movement, we are not in it alone and we are excited to see that our youth recognize that as well. 

As Alecia enters her junior year of high school she is beginning to think about what the future holds for her. 

“Our cooking classes are one of my favorite things we do at Youth Farm,” she said. “Because I enjoy cooking so much, I have been thinking about going to culinary school after I graduate to continue working in the kitchen.”

While post-high school life rounds the corner for Alecia, we are excited to see where it takes her. In ten years we can only hope to get a table at her newly opened restaurant and experience how her cooking skills have evolved. However, if her path curves in a different direction, we have no doubt that she will be successful wherever she goes and we look forward to supporting her in whatever she chooses to pursue. 

Playing for the Plants: Episode 2

This past Saturday marked the second episode of the Playing for the Plants garden music series. This installment was very special to Youth Farm’s North Minneapolis team because it was hosted in the Nellie Stone Johnson Community School garden. This garden is the largest garden managed by Youth Farm in North Minneapolis and it was built many years ago with the help of one of our current Farm Stewards, Sergio Arredondo.

Local artist Traiveon takes the stage.

The afternoon was filled with plenty of food and live entertainment enjoyed surrounded by the crops that local youth have worked hard to maintain. In addition, we were so grateful to our sponsor Timberland for offering a pair of their classic boots to give away to one of our guests!

Community members gather in the garden for lunch while listening to local artists.

This episode featured local artists DJ SciPreme, Traiveon, and Grey Matter. Their talents were perfectly complimented by the culinary talents of one of the neighborhood residents who also happens to be Farm Steward Sergio’s mom. She whipped up a beautiful spread of Mexican beef tacos, rice, and beans. Our youth also prepared and served a full salad bar for guests.

Music in the garden was complimented by a colorful lunch which was free for guests.

Youth Farm’s North Minneapolis Program Director, Marcus Kar and the entire Northside team have worked hard to organize the Playing for the Plants series in the hopes of activating public spaces and allowing youth, community, and artists to take ownership of their neighborhoods. The music is recorded live to support the guest musicians and invite the masses to help support the series. By opening our arms and allowing people to experience urban gardens, our youth are able to garner more momentum behind a youth-led food movement in the Twin Cities. These youth leaders are creating social change through food and music and we couldn’t be happier to support them in this role.

For more information about the Playing for the Plants garden music series please visit

Friday’s Featured Leader: Sergio Arredondo

Farm Steward Sergio, left, with North Minneapolis Program Director, Marcus Kar.

Northside Farm Steward Sergio Arredondo is heavily involved in Youth Farm’s operations, however his involvement started almost accidentally many years ago. 

Now 21, Sergio had to dig deep to think about how his time at Youth Farm really started. 

“When I was in fifth or sixth grade we had an Americorps member working at our school,” Sergio said. “He was working to start a garden and some students, including myself, helped him build the garden from the ground up. That garden is now the Nellie Stone Johnson (NSJ) School Garden.”

After Sergio and other students had put in countless hours of hard work at the NSJ garden, it was unfortunately time for the garden designer from Americorps to leave. However, he was passionate about the garden he had helped these kids build and didn’t want to see it go unused. 

“When it was time for him to leave our school, he found Youth Farm and asked if they would be willing to take over the space. And they said ‘yes,’” Sergio said. “From then on Youth Farm has managed the garden that I helped to build and I have stayed involved since the very beginning.”

The value that Sergio brings to the Youth Farm team is immeasurable. Not only did he help build one of our largest gardens, he also knows the neighborhood and the community within it like the back of his hand. We are so proud that young people like Sergio continue to be involved with our programs year after year and aim to consistently understand why they make the choice to stay engaged. 

“When you start something, it sticks with you,” Sergio said. “I built this garden from the ground up and I continue to enjoy being outside tending to the plants here. Also, who gets to say that they have fun at work running around the garden with kids all day? My job at Youth Farm just doesn’t get boring and as I have gotten older I have been able to take on more responsibilities.”

Not only does Sergio enjoy his job as a Farm Steward, but he also helps us achieve our goals by bringing what he learns at work to his family and community. 

“When I was younger and had first started at Youth Farm, my family lived in an apartment, so we didn’t have a good space to grow food,” he said. “When we moved from our apartment into our house, we finally had a backyard. Now I take care of our home garden that grows things like peppers, onions, tomatoes, and herbs. The plus is that my mom is an amazing cook and will just run into the backyard if she needs something!”

Although it is clear that Sergio finds comfort in the garden and works hard to master his growing skills, he is most definitely a multi-skilled worker. He is about to start his last year studying welding at Minneapolis Community and Technical College and is set to graduate in the spring of 2020.

As Sergio takes on more responsibilities and forges his way into adulthood, his passion for the work he does at Youth Farm has not fizzled. 

“In the next few years I will be looking for a welding job to start my career, but I would really love to stay involved at Youth Farm somehow,” he said. “This is where I grew up and I have been in this garden since it was built. No matter what, I have learned that if I could build this garden when I was in middle school, I can do a lot of things. Through building, working in, and now managing this garden I have worked on myself and networked with so many great people.”

Youth like Sergio who have grown up before our eyes make us believe in a world where people can work, live, grow, and eat peacefully together and we are so excited to see where he takes all of his pride and passion in the future. 

Friday’s Featured Leader: Pedro Bayon

We are constantly astounded by the youth who choose to be involved in our programs. They are all extremely smart, charismatic, and multi-talented, characteristics that are easy to see in Project LEAD Pedro Bayon. 

Pedro originally got involved at Youth Farm because his mom was looking for neighborhood activities to keep his active mind busy during the summer. However, his engagement with Youth Farm has lasted much longer than just one summer, as he has now been involved for five years. 

“Although my mom totally forced me in, I clearly remember that my very first day at Youth Farm set the tone for how things are here,” Pedro said. “From the second I walked in everyone was so friendly and made me feel comfortable. I’ve stayed involved for so many years because of this positive and welcoming atmosphere and because I genuinely have fun when I am here.”

Throughout the years, Pedro has not only stayed involved with Youth Farm programs, he has also taken his home gardening to the next level. 

“Before starting Youth Farm I was interested in gardening, but not nearly as interested as I am now,” Pedro said. “When I started here my family had a very small garden with some tomatoes and a few flowers. Now I have started growing a larger variety of flowers, including sunflowers, and a variety of vegetables like snap peas. I also helped my family start our own compost.”

Pedro embodies our mission by not only learning about urban agriculture and sustainable practices, but taking what he has learned and teaching it to others. Through motivated leaders like Pedro, we envision a youth-led food movement taking over the Twin Cities.

As a recent high school graduate, Pedro has had some time to reflect on the skills he has developed at Youth Farm and how they will impact his life moving forward. 

“Through Youth Farm I have really developed my character,” Pedro said. “I have been given responsibilities like running classes and games for younger youth that have helped me develop into a leader, organizer, and role model.”

As Pedro moves into his adult life, he plans to continue using his skills and passions for gardening, leading, and performing. This coming fall he will be attending Augsburg University to pursue a degree in Music Business and Music Performance. 

“I am really excited for college, but I really think that Youth Farm is such a unique community and I hope to find a community like this wherever I go,” Pedro said. “It is truly amazing how the staff, community, and youth are connected in such a meaningful way.”

As our youth grow up and go out into the world, we hope that the impact we have made in their lives, and the impact they have made in ours, shines through. Nothing makes us prouder than the leaders we are able to witness achieve their goals and make this world a more connected and conscious place. 

Friday’s Featured Leader: Yasmin Banishoraka

Herbalist, social justice fighter, college student, mentor, leader, and Youth Farmer. All of these words describe Northside Farm Steward Yasmin Banishoraka, but they don’t even begin to scratch the surface of this young leader’s multifaceted interests and skills. Youth Farm is beyond honored to have such a driven role model on our staff. 

Yasmin’s journey with Youth Farm started at eight years old after her mom coaxed her along. Being a member of the Lyndale Neighborhood Association’s board, Yasmin’s mother had a plethora of community connections. One day one of those connections led her to Youth Farm and she knew it would be a perfect fit for her daughter who had already started gardening and gained a passion for it in her few short years. 

After joining Youth Farm, Yasmin was hooked. Now 21, Yasmin has been involved with Youth Farm for 13 years and counting. She has been a perfect example of our progressive program model, starting her involvement at an in-school program at Lyndale Community School, then attending summer program, and then moving on to become an All-Star, Project LEAD, and eventually a Farm Steward.

“What keeps youth, including myself, involved here at Youth Farm is the fact that it’s one thing to make people feel welcome, but another to make them feel wanted,” Yasmin said. “And people feel wanted here. They feel like they have a purpose and that their role matters in the bigger picture. Youth Farm has given me a sense of being bigger than myself and has proven assumptions I had about myself wrong. For example, I used to think I was bad at public speaking and that I would never be a leader, and now I know I am good at both of those things.”

To say that Yasmin’s role is important to the bigger picture would be an understatement. Currently, in her role as a Farm Steward, Yasmin is serving as a mentor to younger youth and has also been tasked to manage the schedules and work plan of the entire Northside team. 

“Youth Farm has provided me with so many professional and community opportunities,” Yasmin said. “I know because of Youth Farm that my resume is top notch and I have a lot of good references and connections to go along with that. I have also met a ton of political figures and built a great local network.”

Youth Farm may have helped Yasmin build her resume and community network, but it has been her passion and drive for community building and social justice that has made her a true world changer. There are so many examples to choose from when it comes to showcasing Yasmin’s work, but a truly unique example is the children’s garden she started at one of the community gardens in her neighborhood.

“When I was younger, I kept getting more and more involved with Youth Farm and I really built a strong passion for bringing people, especially kids, together in the garden,” Yasmin said. “I decided I wanted to find a way to involve young children in local urban agriculture, so I started a children’s garden in South Minneapolis where kids who were too young to be involved at Youth Farm could start to experience the magic of the garden.”

Both Yasmin’s knowledge and love of gardening have since transpired into many different projects in and outside of Youth Farm. To start out her college career, Yasmin attended Minneapolis Community and Technical College and earned an Associate’s Degree in Liberal Studies alongside an Herbal Studies certificate. Her expertise in herbs has taken root in many Youth Farm projects, this year specifically shining in the upkeep of the Peace Havens Herbal Garden in North Minneapolis. On any given day you can expect to find Yasmin wandering around the garden showering those who will listen with an abundance of plant knowledge. Have a headache? Bug bite? Skin rash? Whatever it is, Yasmin will have just the plant for you. 

Now entering her senior year at the University of Minnesota, Yasmin has big plans for the future. 

“I am at a transition point in my life,” Yasmin said. “There are so many routes I can take and right now I am trying to choose which one is best for me. I am currently studying Political Science and have always thought about going to law school to become a lawyer with the hope of eventually becoming a judge. Even with this plan in mind, my time at Youth Farm has also made me consider a job in the nonprofit world. Either way, I want to focus my time on social justice and making urban agriculture accessible to more and more people.”

After years of knowing Yasmin, we don’t doubt that she will do great things and continue to change the world with her passion for plants, people, and justice. 

Playing for the Plants Episode 1: Celebrating Community Partnerships

On Saturday, June 22nd, the 2019 Playing for the Plants series kicked off at the Peace Haven Herbal Garden located in the Harrison neighborhood of North Minneapolis. Community came together in the space to listen to live music, explore the garden, and eat colorful food served by youth. Youth Farm partners with several community members and organizations to help maintain the many native, medicinal, and pollinator plants in the Peace Haven garden. The garden has become a beautiful and lively space, last year 20 Monarch butterflies were counted in just one day! Because of the beauty of this space, Youth Farm’s Director of North Minneapolis Programs, Marcus Kar, wanted to bring community together here, allowing the work of many dedicated people to be showcased and shared with others.

The pieces that brought everything together for this project have been in the works for a long time. Back at the end of the growing season in 2017, Kar partnered with amazing herbalist and professor Erica Fargione of the Minneapolis Community and Technical College (MCTC) Herbal Studies Program. The aim of their partnership was to use the Peace Haven garden as an extension of the Herbal Studies Program at MCTC, and to host community learning events surrounding pollinator gardens and native and medicinal plants. This partnership also intended to beautify and activate dormant spaces in urban areas, giving ownership of those spaces to youth farmers, community, and educators in North Minneapolis.

Herbalist and professor, Erica Fargione, poses by the new Peace Haven Herbal Garden sign that was installed during the first Playing for the Plants garden event. Her work in the garden has been monumental to activating the space.

In 2018, Fargione and several volunteers from the Harrison neighborhood worked at the Peace Haven site to develop a medicinal herb garden. There were over 170 volunteer hours logged the first year taking care of the garden. Those hours consisted of planting, mowing, seeding, designing, tilling and watering. The plants that were on the site already were mostly medicinal and pollinator plants, now they are all doing well and the soil is supporting good health. Fargione, Kar, Youth Farm youth staff, and community members continue to maintain the space together.

Marcus Kar poses in the garden with Appetite for Change (AFC) youth and Program Manager, Michael Lee. Many partners like AFC have helped support the progress of the Playing for the Plants series.

Fast forward to 2019 and Kar, along with the North Minneapolis Youth Farm team, organized and hosted a community celebration of their growing, cooking, and eating together. Many community members came out to spend time together, with youth from Appetite for Change even coming out to help prep and serve food. Playing For The Plants strives to connect artists, musicians, chefs, and educators. The event is captured visually and used as a measure of documenting our growing season and the music is recorded live to support the guest musicians and invite the masses to help support the series.  Please visit for more info and stay tuned for Playing For The Plants: Episode Two.

The Lyndale Neighborhood Association and Zion Lutheran Church: Keeping South Minneapolis Youth & Neighborhoods Engaged

Although Youth Farm is no longer offering direct programming in South Minneapolis, there is still so much going on throughout the community.

Zion Lutheran Church, whose building houses Youth Farm’s Minneapolis office, has been hosting the Lyndale Community Dinner on Wednesday nights for close to 20 years. Over the years, pieces of the dinner have changed to better fit the needs of those who live in the neighborhood. Zion’s leadership feels this dinner is an important community building aspect of the Lyndale neighborhood and values their partnerships with the Lyndale Neighborhood Association (LNA), Youth Farm, and many other neighborhood entities. Zion and LNA have been long-time partners of Youth Farm and they have also been long-time partners of each other, now organizing the Lyndale Community Dinner together. This dinner offers a space for members of the Lyndale neighborhood to come together for a wholesome, fresh, and pay-what-you-can meal served alongside great conversation and community activities.

On Wednesday, June 5th Zion and LNA hosted the first outdoor dinner of the year, offering fresh grilled burgers, veggie burgers, and hot dogs.

Alison Hoyer, the Food Access and Environmental Justice Community Organizer from LNA, has worked hard in conjunction with members of Zion’s congregation to ensure that fresh and colorful produce is reaching the plates of community members.

“We have recently partnered with Co-Op Partners Warehouse and I collect produce from them on Tuesdays before the dinner,” Alison said. “These donations have been awesome because we can include fresh produce in our dinners as well as offer any leftovers for people to take home with them.”

The spread of produce and bread from local partners that neighborhood residents are able to take home with them.

As well as including produce from co-op partners, the Lyndale Community Dinner also strives to include neighborhood-grown produce from the garden located at the Charles Horn Towers. Alison, along with former Youth Farmer, Haakon Anderson, manage the garden and ensure that the crops produced there go right back into the community. This garden-to-table project of LNA aims to bring community together and create access to wholesome, locally-grown produce.  

Not only is the Lyndale Community Dinner a great place for neighbors to come together and eat, it is also a great opportunity for youth and adults alike to get involved in their community. Each dinner includes activities for anyone to participate in ranging from BINGO and board games to free bike tune ups and blood pressure checks. Along with these activities, the dinner also offers a space for community members to volunteer. Haakon Anderson is a great example of youth getting involved in volunteer opportunities like this. Not only does he help manage the garden that grows produce for the dinner, he also helps serve and clean up.

After his time at Youth Farm came to an end, Haakon took it upon himself to stay engaged in neighborhood activities.

“I’ve stayed involved with a lot of things throughout the neighborhood,” Haakon said. “I grew up in Youth Farm and have continued to love gardening. I now volunteer at the CHT garden and help Alison manage it. I also love serving at the Lyndale Community Dinner because it’s not only fun, but I see a lot of people I know from the neighborhood.”

It’s easy to see that Haakon has a passion for the Lyndale neighborhood, especially the kids. “Through working at Youth Farm, I realized how much I loved working with kids and being a leader. I am thinking about going to school to become a teacher,” he said. Volunteering with the community dinners has allowed Haakon to continue to engage with kids from throughout the neighborhood, several of which were also Youth Farmers.

Haakon (second from left) and Alison (left) serve up homemade salads to community members.

Youth Farm is very proud to see the ways in which our community partners and former South Minneapolis participants are continuing to be a shining light in the neighborhood. These partners are also helping current Youth Farmers be present in South Minneapolis neighborhoods. On June 19th, the North Minneapolis Youth Farm team will be cooking and serving at the Lyndale Community Dinner. Although we no longer have direct programs in South Minneapolis, we are thankful to our partners like LNA and Zion for keeping us engaged. However, we are even more thankful that they are keeping the community and youth engaged in their neighborhoods.

The Lyndale Community Dinner takes place every Wednesday night at 6 pm at Zion Lutheran Church. For more information about the dinner please visit Zion’s website: or Facebook page: and for weekly menus check out the Lyndale Community Dinner Facebook page:

For Lyndale Community Dinner volunteer opportunities please contact and sign up online at to get your hands dirty for the Garden-to-Table Project of the Lyndale Neighborhood Association.

What’s changing around Youth Farm?

Just as our youth grow and change through the years, so do we as an organization. Now entering our 25th year of serving youth throughout Minneapolis and St. Paul, here at Youth Farm we are taking on some major changes, aiming to increase our program quality and impact.

There are currently three key programmatic and organizational changes taking place at Youth Farm:

  1. Due to our capacity and the desire to fully capitalize on it, we have recently narrowed our focus to serve three specific areas: 1) school partnerships, 2) the St. Paul neighborhoods of Frogtown and the West Side, and 3) North Minneapolis. How we engage groups in each of these three areas will look different, but this narrowed focus will allow us to be more dynamic and build off of a variety of partnerships.
  2. Secondly, as we focus on this narrowed scope, we have decided not to run a traditional 4-8 week “summer program” in any of the neighborhoods we serve. Instead, we are transitioning to “growing season” programming. At Youth Farm, our growing season typically takes place during the months of April through October. Our focus on quality year-round programming will allow us to reach more youth with the least access to quality youth development opportunities and engage these youth in new ways.
  3. Finally, although we are sad to see an era come to an end, we have decided to move out of the South Minneapolis neighborhoods of Lyndale and Powderhorn. We will no longer be running direct programs in these neighborhoods, but strive to continue our impact through consulting long-term partners like the Lyndale Neighborhood Association and Lyndale Community School as they take over the maintenance of previous Youth Farm gardens.

As an organization, we understand that these changes may come as a shock to some people, but we would not be making them if we didn’t truly believe in the positive impact they will make. We strive to always do the highest quality work and came to the realization that maintaining gardens and programs at six sites in South Minneapolis was simply beyond our capacity.

In addition to supporting our South Minneapolis partners as they take over these spaces, we will continue to work with and employ a number of our South Minneapolis Project LEAD that have worked in the Lyndale and Powderhorn neighborhoods in the past, finding new opportunities for them in North Minneapolis and St. Paul.

We are excited to see how Youth Farm evolves and grows and will continue to communicate how this manifests over time.

Slow Roll 2019 Kick-off

Slow Roll Twin Cities is a project of the Cultural Wellness Center that empowers people to rediscover, reconnect, and reimagine their communities together, on bicycles. The ride helps to build healthy, economically vibrant, connected, and people-centered cities and the 2019 kick-off ride on Monday, June 3rd did just that! We were lucky to have beautiful weather, great music mixed by DJ SciPreme, and some seriously delicious food served by Zamaya Delicious Catering. Youth Farm is a committed partner in organizing this event alongside several other organizations, musicians, chefs, and community organizers.

Ride leaders review safety and riding hand signals before the group heads out.

Monday night’s ride was attended by young and old alike. The Loppet Foundation did an awesome job assisting riders with free bike rentals and tune ups. After everyone was outfitted and ready to go, the ride leaders led the way and the group took off to ride through North Minneapolis neighborhoods, stopping at local businesses and landmarks to learn more about the city’s rich history and culture.

Youth Farm’s North Minneapolis Program Director, Marcus, and Farm Steward, Sergio, ready to welcome back riders.

The ride started and ended at the University of Minnesota-UROC building. As riders came back, they were greeted by fresh food and music. Youth Farm’s North Minneapolis Program Director, Marcus Kar, alongside our North Minneapolis Project LEAD and Farm Steward staff have been and will continue to coordinate music and food for the Slow Roll 2019 season. Participating in this vibrant community event allows youth to meet people within the neighborhoods in which they are growing and leading. By making these connections, youth are better equipped to lead conversations surrounding social, racial, economic, and environmental justice.

Riders were greeted by this colorful spread provided and served by Zamaya Delicious Catering.

This summer, Slow Roll Twin Cities will take place every Monday night at various locations throughout North Minneapolis. Each night will feature a fun, safe, and inclusive bike ride for all community members as well as music and food. For more information and location announcements please visit

Joining the Conversation: Environmental Justice in Minnesota

Local artists also attended the community conversation and created a beautiful display of the speakers and their causes.

Minnesota has long been known as a leader in tackling climate change and last night Congresswoman Ilhan Omar lead the way at a community conversation with other environmental leaders regarding environmental justice in our state.

Youth Farm’s North Minneapolis Program Director Marcus Kar was joined by Program LEAD staff member Michael to attend this groundbreaking conversation. Kar makes it a priority to expose all of the Youth Farmers, Program LEAD, and Farm Stewards he works with to the environmental issues surrounding them. Connecting these issues to the work Youth Farm is doing is fundamental. Providing access to urban gardening, fresh and local produce, and quality outdoor youth programming are some of our top priorities. The time is always right to also provide youth the connections they need to link these activities to the environmental justice movement that they are ultimately involving themselves in.

North Minneapolis Program Director, Marcus Kar (left), pictured with Program LEAD, Micheal (center), and environmental justice leader and speaker at last night’s conversation, Tara Houska.