Maine Teens Help Feed the Hungry while Learning to Farm Sustainably
July 6, 2012 | seedstock
News Release – (FREEPORT, Maine, July 6, 2012) – At a time when the average age of the American farmer is 57 years old, four teens from the Freeport area are taking sustainable farming seriously – and helping to fill food pantry shelves as they do.
After weeks of toiling through downpours and heat waves, Wolfe’s Neck Farm’s new Teen Ag Crew has finally begun to harvest the result of their hard work. This week they made their first delivery of over 80lbs of chard, kale, lettuce, spinach and basil to Freeport Community Services (FCS). In the weeks to come, the deliveries will grow in size as they anticipate donating over five-thousand pounds of fresh, local and sustainably-grown fruits and vegetables this season. The food will be shared between the FCS Food Pantry, its monthly community meals, and the Summer Lunch Program for Kids, which provides youth in the area with free, healthy meals while school is in recess.
Abrin Berkemeyer, Emily Harvey, Andrew Hollyday, and Caroline Wild are the four local youth participating in the pilot year of the Teen Ag Crew Program at Wolfe’s Neck Farm. This educational job experience is modeled after a similar program at Aldermere Farm, a Maine Coast Heritage Trust organization in Rockport, Maine. Crew Leader Kaitlyn Gardner, a recent transplant from Oregon and now a Brunswick resident, oversees the group: “I’ve been involved with environmental and agricultural education on both coasts, and get excited about all the ways we can facilitate kids connecting to and investing in their environment.”
Throughout the summer and fall, the teens will be paid to learn the hard skills required for growing vegetables in Maine. As the seasons progress they will become increasingly self-directed and assume responsibility for developing growing plans and implementing their decisions. In this way the Teen Ag Program is unique; it endeavors not only to educate the next generation of farmers, but also to cultivate independent thinking, community-mindedness, and a conservation ethic. Andrew, age 16, shares: “I applied [to the Teen Ag Program] because I wanted to learn about sustainable agriculture, help the food pantry, help the soil, and help Wolfe’s Neck Farm. It seems like a win-win with so many benefits. It’s the movement of our future: small-scale farming.”
On their plot overlooking Casco Bay, the Teen Ag Crew is working to grow over ¼ acre of vegetables and 1/3 acre of pumpkins. The Crew also has use of a greenhouse, which was constructed in 2010 thanks to a grant from the Quimby Family Foundation in collaboration with Learning Works/Youth Building Alternatives of Portland (YBA). Now that the Teen Ag Program is in place, YBA students working toward their GEDs regularly commute from the city into the fields to work with the Crew, gaining new job-site skills that help them prepare for future employment.
In addition to vegetable cultivation, Teen Ag Crew Members can often be found learning other farming skills alongside WNF’s Farm Coordinator, Ken Hagar. “If you were to visit the farm you might run across them trimming goat hooves, building fences, or happily haying until nine at night. These kids work hard, and they work smart. ” says Kaitlyn.
Unlike many of their peers who spend countless hours indoors, the Crew Members relish the opportunity to spend their summer outside, contributing to their community in a tangible way. “If I was working in town it would be inside with technology,” Abrin explains. “There wouldn’t be as much substance involved; the substance of sustainable food, of feeding more than yourself. It’s hands-on.”
Emily, age 15, adds “Farming is fun! It’s the never-ending job of getting dirty.”
The Teen Ag Crew is completely supported by the generous grants and donations from the following funders: The Horizon Foundation, The Environmental Funders Network, The Northeast Agricultural Education Foundation, Farm Credit Northeast AGEnhancement, The Maine Community Foundation as well as private donors to the Maine Coast Heritage Trust and Wolfe’s Neck Farm.
About Wolfe’s Neck Farm Foundation
Wolfe’s Neck Farm Foundation is a nonprofit 626-acre saltwater farm on Casco Bay with a unique combination of open land, forest, and seashore. Founded in the mid-twentieth century, the Foundation’s mission is to contribute in significant ways to the advancement of sustainable agriculture through educational programs and the demonstration of practices. Wolfe’s Neck Farm Foundation uses its unique set of assets to create a campus that provides an interrelated set of programs, spanning agriculture, education, environmentally-conscious recreation, conservation and the preservation of historic landscapes. For more information, visit www.wolfesneckfarm.org