Ithaca teens learn about food and business through the Teen Urban Farmers program

May 03, 2016 No Comments by

by Anne Uhle

Ithaca teens arrive at nonprofit space, Just Because Center directly after school on Wednesday afternoons to have a healthy snack and then set out to weed, mulch and plant.

They are not getting paid. The teens work enthusiastically, growing food and other harvestables in the Teen Urban Farmers program at the Ithaca Children’s Garden.

On April 20 they prepared their plot and planted fruit trees in the nearby community garden. Lauren Salzman, the TUF coordinator, said the work the teens had done thus far is mainly preparation.

“The only thing we’ve officially planted are peas at the garden, but we did take a lot of hard wood cuttings of some of the shrubs in the garden that give us edible goods, and we are keeping them in a nursery and taking care of them to sell them at the plant sale,” she said.

The TUF program was launched in 1999 and was formerly called the Youth Horticulture Apprentice Program. Salzman said interest in the program has grown steadily over the past few years.

“In the summer we have a larger group,” she said. “Last summer we had 16 teens who worked with us intensely over six weeks. During the school year we’ve been slowly growing, and now we have about eight teens that regularly come. Last year, we started in the fall during the school year doing one day a week, the teens also come out and help us with community events and educational programs when there is no school.”

Participants in the summer program mostly come from local employment agencies such as the Ithaca Youth Bureau’s youth employment services, Workforce New York and the Cornell Cooperative Extension’s youth employment program so that they are paid for their work.

Lucas VanDee, a participant of the TUF program, said he was placed at the ICG through the Cornell Cooperative Extension, but continued his work there on a volunteer basis.

“We spent eight or nine weeks in the children’s garden over the summer, we built things, we did a lot of garden tests, and then I came back in the fall during school on Wednesdays for two hours a week,” he said. “I came back to do winter TUF and now I’m in spring TUF. I just really like doing it.”

During the school year, some of the participants come from the various employment agencies, but just as many volunteer. They plant in and maintain the Ithaca Children’s Garden and other community sites.

VanDee and many others said they simply enjoy the atmosphere that TUF creates.

“I enjoyed the group aspects that we had over the summer, which is why I came back,” he said. “It’s changed slightly through the spring and fall but had the same feeling to it.”

After the teens harvest the food, the business aspect comes in. The teens run a farm stand in the summer where they sell grown food and flowers. Salzman said this is important for teaching them entrepreneurial skills.

“It gives the teens the opportunity to really look at the garden through the lens of entrepreneurship and think about what they can harvest and how to make it attractive to customers and how to price it competitively with other local farms,” she said. “This year, we have a partnership with Moosewood and we’re selling herbs to them.”

The leftover food doesn’t go to waste and is donated to food charity, Friendship Donation Network. At the end of the program, the teens are rewarded for their labor by the ICG.

“About half of what we generate through farm sales goes directly to the TUF program, so there is some funds that can be used in other places,” Salzman said. “Last year at the end of the farm stand season, we looked at the funds we had leftover and did something special, so we had a party and a catered lunch for the teens and we were able to go on a field trip to go fruit picking.”

Salzman said the teens are a vital part in taking care of the ICG.

“They come because they’re interested in the work and they’ve developed a community with the other teens and just love to be here,” she said. “Thanks to grant funding there is some money that so we are able to offer them a small stipend at the end of the program.”

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Business, Farming, Social

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