Sustainable Food, Sustainable People: Grow Dat Youth Farm

Sustainability is a popular topic today, as people are trying to find new ways to make improvements to our society and deal with issues that have arisen while making those improvements last and continue to better society for future generations. One of the better ways to ensure that a project is sustainable is to incorporate some form of education about the issue for young people. That way, as those young people grow up and become leaders in society, they will have knowledge that can help them make informed decisions to better the lives of people in the future. An organization that works toward this goal in New Orleans is the Grow Dat Youth Farm.

This program prepares high school students to become leaders in their communities. It teaches them skills that can be applied to many areas of life and many different fields—in this case agriculture. These are skills will be valuable tools for the students’ futures, as their leadership abilities can help them get jobs and therefore decrease the chances that they will end up in poverty. This is one way in which the organization is sustainable, because it aims to improve the future as well as today’s society.

The project is also sustainable because of the specific avenue through which it teaches these high school students to become leaders: food. The farm employs the students, and they learn how to grow a variety of cash crops using specific techniques such as irrigation systems and cover crops. Then, they learn to wash and pack the produce and how to sell it to consumers at places like CSAs and farmer’s markets. This is sustainable for the community and the environment because it encourages people of the city to buy and eat local produce. Having local produce is significant because many impoverished communities are considered food deserts and the residents are unable to get good, affordable produce to eat and gain nutritional benefit from.

The students employed by this organization spend half of their time working directly with the plants and crops, but the other half of their time in the project is spent in the classroom. They learn about things like food deserts and other aspects of food justice as well as nutrition. This education is sustainable because it will help the students make informed decisions and better understand what is going on in their communities as they get older.

It is very important to realize that while the food issues are great for the students to learn about and be actively involved with, the main goal is that they become leaders in their communities. They are able to do so, because through their work on the farm they learn skills such as public speaking and entrepreneurship, which can easily apply to any future job the students will pursue. As we volunteered with the Grow Dat Youth Farm, it was amazing to learn about the program and hear some background about how it has grown over the last few years. And it was really exciting to actually work firsthand with the organization.

They make a point to not have volunteers working on busy work. Instead, they bring their volunteers directly into the project and have them set up the next projects that the student workers will do. We took out irrigation systems, lettuce plants that had gone to seed, and kale that had been eaten by bugs. It was really interesting to learn about why each of those jobs was important and hear how the workers will build on our work as well as the environmental factors that were benefiting. For example, taking out the lettuce plants allows the students to plant cover crops that will enrich the soil in the off season. It was really exciting to learn about this organization and work so closely with the program that I believe is very valuable to both the community and the individual students involved.

Amy Violante

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