Growing Food, Nurturing Leaders
By Adam Smiley Poswolsky
I recently had the inspiring opportunity to speak with Jeanne Firth, program manager for Grow Dat Youth Farm, about her passion for food justice and youth empowerment. Grow Dat Youth Farm creates a healthy and supportive work environment for high school-aged youth from New Orleans who face limited job opportunities. With a focus on developing a sense of responsibility, community, environmental stewardship, and service among participants, the farm enhances leadership and teamwork abilities through the collaborative work of growing food.
Grow Dat’s recent campaign on StartSomeGood raised nearly $6,000, and over the course of their 20-week job skills training program in 2012, young people grew over 7,250 pounds of food on the Grow Dat Farm, donating 2,750 pounds of this harvest to address hunger and food insecurity in New Orleans, and raising $13,500 from produce sales at local restaurants and farmer’s markets.
Jeanne, what is your personal story? How did you get involved in food issues? Why are you passionate about food justice and youth empowerment?
I come from several generations of immigrant farmers on the Kansas prairie, and the vast majority of my family still farms. I grew up in Kansas City, but I never felt far from the land. In high school, I got involved in the global anti-hunger movement, working with international hunger relief and anti-poverty groups. I believe food is about more than calories, it’s about culture. Food is a tool for talking about livelihoods, and human rights. I did my graduate academic study at the London School of Economics in food and human rights; using food as a way to understand injustice, looking at who has access to food, and why only a small number of people have access to healthy food both in the U.S. and internationally.
As a youth, I benefited from many youth empowerment organizations that encouraged my voice in social justice and social change, which I why I love working at Grow Dat. I first started working with young people at Mission Pie, an amazing bakery/cafe in San Francisco that provides job skills training to youth.
How does Grow Dat Youth Farm work?
We hire young people in New Orleans to grow food for their community. These young people are hired and paid to participate in our educational program as well as grow chemical-free food on the farm. There is a very high teenage unemployment rate in New Orleans, especially among African-Americans, and teenagers that do have jobs often work in the fast food industry. At Grow Dat, we believe that act of growing healthy food, of growing healthy food for your community, is both a meaningful and transformational experience. Sixty percent of the food we grow is sold, and the other 40% is donated to those in the local community who cannot afford it (families, partners, food banks, free restaurants). We find that that the work our young people do has a larger social impact than many of the jobs that would be normally available to the average teenager.
Explain how your program model provides job training and leadership skills for youth, in addition to agricultural skills.
We believe agriculture is an incredible tool to develop young leaders. Chances are young people from an urban environment probably have not been exposed to farming, and even though most will not become farmers, agriculture is an excellent teacher of teamwork, persistence, attention to detail, and long-term planning. We nurture a diverse group of young leaders, bringing together youth from different backgrounds, different schools, different parts of the city, across race and class lines, in what becomes a transformational learning experience. We also teach hard job skills through weighing produce, learning to price food, and developing marketing and customer service skills in selling our product to the public and representing the organization at markets.
What other urban farm projects and programs did you learn from and try to emulate in building Grow Dat? What resources and best practices are available for others creating social change through youth leadership and urban agriculture programs?
There is such a high need for this type of work in New Orleans and other cities throughout the country, and it’s great to see that a lot of organizations are doing incredible work in this area. Grow Dat is modeled after in Boston, which has been engaging young people in sustainable agriculture for over twenty years, as well as in Austin. The Food Project provides excellent on their website, and , thanks to a grant from the New Orleans Food and Farm Network.
How have you utilized partnerships with New Orleans-area institutions, to further the impact of your organization?
Grow Dat’s success is tied to a robust network of engaged partners. Tulane City Center which is housed within the Tulane School of Architecture, has been essential from day one. Both Grow Dat co-directors, Johanna Gilligan and Leo Gorman, are Tulane graduates, and Tulane City Center is providing technical support to create our campus on the farm, which will include seven retro-fitted shipping containers that are going to house our outdoor classroom, administrative offices, youth locker rooms, a teaching kitchen, bathrooms, and refrigerated food storage. All of their work is done with an attention to a highly energy-efficient and sustainable design.
What is the greatest challenge for Grow Dat in 2012?
Our biggest challenge revolves around sustainable growth. How do we serve more young people, and grow more food, while still maintaining quality of excellence for the young people we serve? That is what we are focusing on right now.
Adam Smiley Poswolsky
I am a writer, editor, and social change inspirer. I am a StartingBloc Social Innovation Fellow, and I care about supporting social entrepreneurs and encouraging people to live out their full potential in life. For the last two years, I worked at the U.S. Peace Corps, writing speeches and working on special projects including President Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative. Prior, I received my BA in film studies from Wesleyan University and worked as a film producer and location scout. I live in San Francisco, but I travel often, mostly by dancing and smiling. Check out my blog and follow me on Twitter
Images courtesy of Grow Dat Youth Farm.
To learn more about Grow Dat Youth Farm and how to get involved, check out their , and this infographic about their work.
In preparation for World Give Day on May 4, 2012, we asked ten inspiring entrepreneurs who have run or are currently running campaigns on StartSomeGood to respond to the following statement:
Small gift, big impact: tell us about a time when you saw a small act of giving create lots of unexpected joy.
The response was overwhelmingly enthusiastic and we’re so glad to be able to share these truly amazing stories with all of you. Last week, we shared the experiences of Ehon, Tom, Jack, Gina, and Christina. This time around, we’re excited to share a few more inspiring stories of giving from Daniel, Yanti, Micah, Aimi, and Leo. Read, enjoy, and get ready to be inspired.
As a teacher, I see small gifts make a big impact all the time. That’s what we live for, the small moments that inspire change in a student’s mind, heart, or soul. In my five years teaching I have seen many of these, but there is one time of year that always sticks out: our Annual Adopt-A-Kid Christmas party.
The High School I teach at is a Title I school with a lot of low-income students. I have had homeless students, students in gangs, students with foster parents, and many other “at-risk” kids. Every year, just before our Winter Break, we have an Adopt-A-Kid party. On this day, each class adopts a needy kindergarten student and gets a wish list. All the students in the class pitch in a little money or food and we purchase gifts and throw a Christmas party for the student.
On the day of the party, “Santa” and his “helpers” (other students dressed up in costume) come by and get their picture taken with the little kid, who is getting more and more excited. Then it’s time for presents. All the high schoolers gather around and assist in opening, inching their present closer and saying, “Open this one!” Then, in the midst of little kids riding bikes through the halls and having story books read to them while finishing off a piece of cake, the announcement is made that it is time for the kids to return to the elementary school. We all help them pack up their gifts and say our goodbyes and Merry Christmases. The little guys and girls leave with great big smiles on their faces, almost as big as the ones on the big kids’ faces who got to experience the joy of giving.
When I was in Indonesia in 2008, I was visiting with my family in North Sulawesi. My family lives in a compound in a small town called Tomohon. The compound is made up of three houses all where my father and his siblings grew up also. My cousin was one amongst 15 cousins living there, all wanting and trying to make their lives different, however often having to compromise their dreams to earn money and make a living for the family. My cousin Harke had dreams to play music, play in a rock n roll band, but could never afford to buy a guitar. That year I gave Harke enough money to buy an electric guitar and encouraged him to play. Five years later Harke now lives in Jakarta and plays in a touring rock n roll band. Everyday I see his shows or see that he is recording, it makes me smile and realize how one act of giving can create such a life of joy and help fulfill his dreams.
I spent a month in Gulu, Uganda summer of 2009. It was an experience that I could never forget if I tried. One experience that sits in my mind like it took place yesterday, happened early on the morning after our first night in the country. A few friends and I came out of our hotel to explore the town for a few hours that morning when we stumbled on three young children sitting outside of their shack of a house. We had brought a frisbee with us for some reason, so we took it out and motioned to them to see if they wanted to play. At first they looked confused about the weird round object that I held in my hand. Then we started playing frisbee with each other to show them what it was all about. Slowly their faces started to light up. We included them and started what turned into a half hour session of throwing, or in the majority of cases, dropping the frisbee. For a half hour I watched three small children who had nothing, yet their faces showed that they had everything. The joy that radiated from their smiles accompanied by the shrieks of laughter that came from their mouths was such hopeful thing. A small round object and thirty minutes of our time was all it took. So simple, so profound.
One of my favorite memories of when I experienced a small act of sharing create an abundance of joy and laughter was when five of my friends and I visited a small school in rural Vietnam (near the border of China). We were on our way to visit another province and in getting lost we found ourselves at a small school with adorable vietnamese children curiously gazing at us westerners and we had to stop to say hello. We wanted to snap some photos of the charismatic children and as we pulled out our cameras they all stood back in awe. As we began to snap some photos of them, we’d turn the camera around to replay the images and each time they bursted in laughter and excitement. We began gathering them closer and briefly showed them how to use the camera to take photos of each other and each time they got to take a photo and see the result, they were overjoyed and had a blast capturing photos of one another. Their laughter and pure excitement was completely unexpected but truly humbling and reminds us how having excitement for the simple things and memories in life is key to creating lots of unexpected joy.
Twenty-five bucks may not seem like a big deal, but for Carnisha, a first-year Grow Dat Youth Farm Crew Member, it amounted to one afternoon’s stipend earnings at her first real job. She beamed with enthusiasm when she opened her first pay check, funded in part from multiple $25 donations received through our Grow the Green campaign on StartSomeGood. Carnisha and twenty of her Grow Dat peers are honing their leadership potential through the meaningful work of growing food this spring and summer thanks to small gifts with big payoffs.
Last week, we had two campaigns finish successfully and one reach its tipping point:
- RiAus enjoyed an impressive finish for its campaign to launch the ASSETS program. In the last week, the campaign reached, and then far surpassed its tipping point, raising $3,747 that will go towards educating Aboriginal and Torres Strait youths. The ASSETS program is a science and technology program that helps build students’ technical and leadership skills. The campaign funds will help cover the travel and accommodation costs for two Aboriginal students.
- Grow Dat Youth Farm finished its campaign last week, raising $5,965 from 57 backers. Funds raised for the Grow the Green Campaign will help Grow Dat Youth Farm hire teenagers to grow 10,000 pounds of produce for their New Orleans community. This venture will help the community by providing meaningful work to teenagers and increase residents’ access to fresh foods. A portion of the produce is sold to the community through farmers markets and to restaurants and the remaining portion is given to residents in New Orleans that have low access to affordable, fresh, healthy foods.
- The Desk enjoyed a really successful week, reaching its campaign tipping point of $4,000 and then subsequently raising an additional $951. The Desk is a web application that will help teachers design more effective lesson plans by allowing teachers to collaborate and share ideas, tools, and best practices. So far, the funds will allow the Four Teachers Project to build a limited-function prototype. Help Us Build the Desk has about a month left to reach its total funding goal, which will allow the Four Teachers Project to build a full-function prototype and incorporate as a 501(c)3 non-profit organization.
Social entrepreneurs, have these successful campaigns inspired you to start your own good? Do you have a social enterprise, a non-profit, or an amazing idea that needs some momentum to take off? Visit our site to find out how to start your own campaign today. Still have questions? We have answers—check out our FAQ section.
In the last week of 2011, we saw one campaign reach its tipping point:
- Last week, Grow Dat Youth Farm soared past its tipping point for the Grow the Green campaign. Grow Dat Youth Farm hires teens in New Orleans to grow produce that is sold to the community and given to low income households in food deserts, where there is low access to fresh, healthy and affordable food. For the new year, the farm is hiring 20 teens to grow 10,000 pounds of food. The Grow the Green campaign will provide funds to hire six teens and teach them the importance of eating healthy while also providing job training skills.
Social entrepreneurs, has this successful campaign inspired you to start your own good? Do you have a social enterprise, a non-profit, or an amazing idea that needs some momentum to take off? Visit our site to find out how to start your own campaign today. Still have questions? We have answers—check out our FAQ section.
Last week we launched three new campaigns:
- CivicSponsor is a platform for funding community public projects with tax-deductible donations. The government is falling behind on being able to fund public projects, so this business provides taxpayers in the community a channel to fund the projects they want directly and with transparency. Citizens will know where their money is going and will have a direct say in it. This campaign will help launch CivicSponsor by launching its pilot projects in Philadelphia, PA and San Jose, CA.
- Grow Dat Youth Farm hires teenagers to grow food on its farm for the New Orleans community. Forty percent of the crops go to New Orleans families that don’t have access to fresh, healthy foods. Also, while farming, the teenagers learn how to work in teams, communicate, and cook. This year, the farm wants to hire 20 new employees. It already has funding for 14. This campaign on StartSomeGood will help it raise money to hire the last 6 employees.
- Bottomup Chess Academy uses chess as a way to teach low-income South African youths who deal with neighborhood violence and gangsterism on a regular basis how to make the correct life choices. Chess promotes careful thought and consideration and rationale. The Chess Academy’s campaign will help launch a pilot program to bring a daily chess class to certain primary schools in South Africa.
We also saw one campaign reach its tipping point:
- With about one month left, dane101 was able to reach its tipping point and still has time to reach its overall funding goal. With the tipping point funds, dane101 will be able to hire two freelance writers to cover the 2012 election and the news in Madison, Wisconsin. Any additional funds raised from now until the campaign’s end will be used to hire more freelance writers for other various topics. Join us in congratulating dane101 on reaching its tipping point. We hope dane101 can go even further and raise funds for the project in entirety.
We had one campaign end successfully:
- We are so excited to see Connective Possibilities finish its campaign with such great success. In fact, the campaign was very close to reaching its overall funding goal. The funds will help with a critical step in the launch of Connective Possibilities. It will be able to incorporate as a nonprofit, build a website and recruit volunteers and partners that will help bring critical life resources to low-income families.
Social entrepreneurs, have these new and successful campaigns inspired you to start your own good? Do you have a social enterprise, a non-profit, or an amazing idea that needs some momentum to take off? Visit our site to find out how to start your own campaign today. Still have questions? We have answers—check out our FAQ section.