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Youth Bring Local Produce to Worcester’s Farmers Market

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

 

You would never think to find a farm in the middle of Worcester’s Main South neighborhood, but amid the rows of triple-deckers and old mill factories is a thriving lot of plants and an eager bunch of neighborhood youth behind it.

While at first glance the area doesn’t seem conducive to raising a yard full of fresh vegetables, the Regional Environmental Council’s YouthGROW program has turned an empty lot into something that benefits everyone.

Each year, the program employs dozens of youth from the area to teach them about gardening, sustainability, and teamwork.

Turning Ten

This will mark the program’s 10th year. Last year’s team successfully raised garlic, peas, beets, carrots, onions, cilantro, kale, collards, chard, lettuce, and strawberries that were available at the weekly farmers market

The Regional Environmental Council (REC) will celebrate its 5th year of selling its produce at the Community Farmers Market which will be held every Saturday from June 16th-October 27th, 10am-2pm, at the YMCA Family Park at 104 Murray Avenue in Worcester. The area is behind the Central Community Branch YMCA in Worcester's Main South neighborhood, and EBT/SNAP/Food Stamps WIC Coupons, Senior Coupons, cash, credit and debit are all accepted for purchases at the market.

And a purchase from this group won’t just get you a great supply of fresh, locally grown produce but will also support a program that has been helping youth in Worcester for years.

Growing Together

Last year’s group worked hard to keep the farm on Oread Street thriving. Youth leader, Christian LeBlanc tilled a row of rich soil, prepping the area for squash.

“I’ve never taken it for granted. I’ve always been really thankful for what it has done for me,” LeBlanc said. “I’ve gotten to meet a lot of great people – from the mayor to the kids on the street.”

The area was full of busy bodies, moving trays of plants, picking weeds, and looking after plants. The open space is near Worcester’s industrial area, but makes for a quiet escape for these hardworking youth.

“It’s relaxing, and there’s a great view,” said Monaye Leathres, who graduated through the program. She watches as her younger brother stays busy on the other end of the lot. “It’s a great thing to be able to see my family grow here, too. It’s helped me mature, be a better person, and stay out of trouble.”

Expansion Over the Years

Originally, YouthGROW was only a summer program with limited funding allocated through the state program, Youth Works. Years later, the organization has seen vast expansion and now offers more kids more opportunities, even in the years after high school.

“It’s organically grown throughout the years, and we use the kids’ input to tweak it and make it applicable to the needs in Worcester,” said Casey Burns, the REC’s Food Justice Program Director. Burns has already committed seven years to YouthGROW but shares its success. “Community members, volunteers, and Clarkies all made it possible.”

“It’s changed a lot over the years,” she said. “When it first started, we modeled it after the Food Project in Boston. The founders wanted to bring that to Worcester.” Originally, the organization was not able to give the youth wages, but by the third year, growth afforded them the opportunity.

Before the lot on Oread Street became a farm, the plot was used for illegal dumping. Thanks to an Earth Day cleanup, and a cohesive effort, the space has changed.

Beyond the Farm

YouthGROW doesn’t stop at the farm. The organization works to motivate youth outside their area, taking them to regional discussions about sustainability and food and water issues.

The organization works to teach youth about sustainability, health, nutrition, and form a sense of community.

For Grace Duffy, an Education & Youth Development Mass Promise Fellow, YouthGROW has been personally fulfilling.

“It’s been really great. I’m from Main South, on Mason Street. When I was looking to come back to this area after school, working in this community was really exciting,” she said. “It helps in developing relationships with the youth. I’m a white, female, college graduate. Yes, I am all those things, but I’m also from this neighborhood.”

YouthGROW provides a safe, community-based outlet for local kids to learn about food justice, sustainability, and nutrition in an area that was before plagued with litter. Burns and Duffy only expect the program to continue to expand and hope to provide an enjoyable and educational experience for all involved.

 

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