Youth Farm Project: Fortifying Our Communities

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Tompkins Weekly, 12-13-23

By Katie Church

The Youth Farm Project is a local organization entering its 15th year. Since 2010, we have been mobilizing the next generation of leaders towards transformative actions for food sovereignty. Our programs encourage young people to build loving relationships with the land, themselves, and each other while growing nutrient rich food for the community. By providing free produce to neighborhood food pantries, we fortify local food and address food insecurity. The Youth Farm Project offers young people a sanctuary where they can feel free! Free to discuss real issues affecting us, free to connect to the land and to their own power. Our programs train the next generation of farmers, improve civic engagement, empower young activists, support mental health in young people and center the experiences of black and brown youth.

Our farming is centered in soil-healthy practices, which in turn are animal and human healthy practices. We acknowledge that these practices and techniques were born, developed, improved upon, and then stolen from indigenous communities. White colonial settlers adopted farming practices from the people who were already here, generations of Haundenosaunee farmers, and also appropriated the Haundeosaunee knowledge and skills.

The word “resilience” has been used so frequently in recent times. The awareness that existence as we know it is tenuous is burgeoning to the forefront, and in the scramble to preserve ourselves as humans, we are grasping at what could be possible. The Youth Farm Project sees sustainability and resiliency as an interactive process that includes the physical health of the soil, water, and forests, and the fabric of our communities and the systems that care for them.

Part of the Youth Farm Project harvest. Photo provided.

At YFP we place the food system at the core of where we intersect.  We believe that food sovereignty is a need, not a want, and growing food directly links us to our own liberation. Engaging our youth and community through technologies of land-based care practices we plant seeds of healing, justice, and emancipation. Growing inwards and upwards, towards a new paradigm. We work to create a space where young people are free to explore and develop leadership, social well-being, make money, and explore the food system hands-on. Our workshop’s include mushroom cultivation, the history of agriculture, plant dying, herbal medicine, body sovereignty, the anatomy of a chicken, and the prison industrial complex. Time on the farm is fun, it is productive, and it is a joyful, loving community. This is us doing our part to create a more just world.

“When I was working it felt really good to look back on whatever I had done, or the work that my team had done and feel really accomplished, like when we weeded an entire bed or planted beans and then watched them grow.” Teen in our Summer Program

“Our favorite things at the farm were…”Harvesting potatoes and feeding the chickens! The students continue to talk about this experience.” – Elementary school teacher

Katie (she/her) is the YFP Director. She co-founded YFP in the winter of 2009, and has been with the program ever since. Katie works as the development coordinator and provides administrative and jack-of-all trades support for all programming. Katie comes from a small-farming background and has worked in the local food system for 20+ years. Katie’s passion for the powerful voices of young people, her commitment to social justice and her love for the land drive her commitment to the Youth Farm Project. Katie grew up in the Ithaca area and is raising her own family here.  For much of her life Katie’s work has centered around food, from working on farms, to managing a large CSA, to working as a chef.  Katie’s work with the Youth Farm Project ties all of these passions together.

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