Youth farm grows future leaders, helps the hungry

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Youth farm grows future leaders, helps the hungry

6:33 p.m. PDT October 28, 2015

Ever since Lillian Poole was a child, she has loved playing in the dirt.

But she didn’t just love the feel of earth between her fingers. She loved what that earth could do. She loved that she could make food with it.

Poole, 20, now studying to be a horticulturist at Chemeketa Community College, loves growing food because it produces a tangible result to her hard work.

“I love to see what (I’ve) worked on come out of the ground,” she said.

She also loves teaching others how to grow food as well.

As part of the new Marion-Polk Food Share and Chemeketa partnership, she gets to do both — grow food and teach others how to grow food — all while helping people in need.

In three years, the food share’s Youth Farm program has grown 23,000 pounds of food and has helped 30 youths grow into future leaders.

Now, a partnership with Chemeketa Community College will allow for more land, more food and more leaders and fewer hungry people.

The youth farm program will more than double in size by moving to a new site at Chemeketa’s Salem campus, now having up to six acres of irrigated land. There will also be a greenhouse and an outdoor classroom for gardening classes and workshops.

To kick off the partnership more than 30 Chemeketa and early college students planted garlic and fava beans Wednesday and prepped another field for crops.

“Having the youth farm at Chemeketa is more than just a bigger farm,” said Ian Dixon-McDonald, vice president of programs at MPFS. “We have the opportunity to create a garden education site for the entire community.”

The new farm was integrated into Chemeketa’s agricultural sciences curriculum and gives students an opportunity to see a working farm in action.

Students from the early college programs in Salem will have a similar opportunity.

Andrew Bond, 15, had never done anything like this before. The youth farm is an extracurricular activity for the early college student.

Bond said he loves the farm because it combines growing organic food with nature and fun.

He also said that it is significant to him that his work goes toward helping people in need.

Bond, along with other students, is also able to learn business skills through the program. For instance, Bond managed the money made at the Saturday Market from another youth farm site last year, which taught him how to manage the sales of his crops. Bond had to apply for this position.

This provides students the opportunity to have hands-on experience, while also developing other skills they need to work as professional horticulturists.

Joleen Schilling is the instructor of the Intro to Horticulture class at Chemeketa. She said she thinks the partnership is pretty awesome.

As a Chemeketa professor, Schilling gets to bring her students and young, service learning volunteers to the outdoor classroom.

She said this gives them practical, real-world experience, but it also helps them “close the loop” in their understanding of how food is made and who it can help.

“What they are learning can help people gain access to food they wouldn’t have access to otherwise,” she said. She anticipates great things from the partnership.

MPFS and Chemeketa are thrilled about it as well.

“This partnership is exactly the kind of collaboration we seek to integrate educational opportunity with community needs,” said Julie Huckestein, president of Chemeketa.

The two organizations have been working on the collaboration for about two years, but were able to really get the ball rolling six to eight months ago.

Rick Guapo, president of Marion-Polk Food Share, said the program leaders looked at a few places they could partner with, but once they looked into working with Chemeketa, they knew they were the right organization.

“This is the partnership we wanted,” he said. “Together we have the resources to strengthen the community.”

He said there is a clear synergy between the two groups and their desires to improve and help the community. Additionally, he said Chemeketa provides a clear benefit to the students and the school’s mission was directly inline with the food share’s goals.

About half of the produce from the youth farm will be distributed through the MPFS network to families in need in the community after it is harvested in the spring. The rest of the produce will be for public sale in the summer of 2016 through community supported agriculture shares and at the Salem Saturday Market.

npate@StatesmanJournal.com, (503) 399-6745, or follow on Twitter @Nataliempate

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