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Born in the US, raised on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, lived in Italy, the US, and Canada. Lover of language, travel, colour, and the natural world.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Happy hands and rubber boots

Farming in the youth garden at Soil Born Farms
I started volunteering at Soil Born Farms on a bright, clear, sunny day this past week. I have been missing being out on farmland tremendously, and so when I heard that Soil Born was open to having volunteers, I got on the phone and asked if I could come over. Their response was enthusiastic, so I found myself in their youth garden in my rubber boots, clearing weeds from the paths between vegetable beds on a lovely February morning.

There is a lot to do to get the garden into great shape for another full summer. The fellow in charge of the education program explained that in addition to putting in vegetables and herbs, he wants to add a few raised beds so that youth who are in wheelchairs also get the opportunity to get their hands in the soil and experience the joy of farming. He is also thinking about adding a miniature aromatic raised bed so that blind youth can also come into the garden and experience the delicious smells of herbs and flowers. I am very excited about all of his ideas, and about the fact that this program is giving young people an opportunity to develop a relationship with the land and to learn more about where their food comes from. Farming is also such an empowering activity -- from the perspective of skills that it teaches, to the values it instills in those who engage in it, like confidence, courage, determination, consistency and patience.

After a morning of weeding, I joined the large group of friendly staff at Soil Born for a delicious lunch outside under a tree. We had red lentil soup with kale; red and green cabbage salad with cranberries and nuts; brown rice with currants; a potato, turnip and broccoli stir fry that way to die for, and fresh baked scones for dessert. Sitting outside at the picnic table in the sunshine with a group of great people enjoying food grown on the land all around us was terrific. And the fact that it was February was even more amazing to me.

After lunch I headed back to the garden with Guy to wait for the youth to turn up. Eight of them eventually wandered into the garden and settled themselves on tree log stumps that had been set up in a circle at one end of the garden. It was a very diverse group of African American, Asian, Latino and Caucasian youth. I was excited to see such a wealth of backgrounds and languages. I was introduced to the group, and we immediately got to work. The main task this day was learning to cook a healthy snack. We set up a burner outside in the garden and, after some instruction, the youth got to work preparing their snack using vegetables from the garden. A few mishaps later, we settled down in the sunshine to enjoy the fruit of their labour. Their verdict: fresh vegetables can taste good. Especially when cooked up with some spices and garlic, and accompanied by a bit of cheese!

The youth cooking healthy sandwiches using fresh vegetables from the youth garden
After our snack, the group started working on pulling some of the root vegetables from last season out of the earth and carrying them to the compost pile. After we had cleared these sections of the garden, we decided to go spend the time left by the American River, which runs right along the side of the farm, watching and learning about local birds, and learning to skip rocks! It was a mellow day. The youth were planning to go harvest fruit from trees in the yards of local residents over the weekend, so Guy was letting them have a bit of down time!

The main goal of this youth program is that the youth will be growing food that will go into a box program for low income residents in the area. The youth will learn to grow and harvest organic food. To cook healthy meals, and to give to their community by providing fresh produce to families that would otherwise not be able to afford it. Some of the youth in the group are new, while others have been participating or over a year now. 

The time rushed past, and before I knew it the day was over, and it was time to head back into the city. On my way back to my car I picked a fresh mandarin from a tree covered in bright orange fruit. It was sweet and juicy, and very refreshing after the full day outside. My conclusion: I am very, very excited to be working out on a farm again. I am so incredibly happy to have my hands back in the soil again, and just as excited to be working with youth. I feel as though this service is going to be a great learning opportunity, and I'm hoping that I contribute something to the lives of the youth in the group as I accompany them in their efforts to become agents of positive change in their community.

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