Windy City Harvest Youth Farm: Learning life skills in urban farming and sustainable agriculture

Urban farming programs like Chicago’s Windy City Harvest Youth Farm are skilling up teenagers in sustainable horticulture and urban agriculture so they can grow food responsibly, work as a team, advocate for food justice, eat in a healthy way, and support the development of a socially just food economy in their area.

Each year Windy City Harvest trains and employs between 80 and 90 young adults from low-income communities at three farm sites in Chicago and one in Lake County.

The program develops collaborations that benefit communities and produces high-value, nutritious produce that is made available and affordable for local residents in retail outlets.

Part of Chicago Botanic Garden, teens from the urban farming program work in all aspects of sustainable farming and food systems—from planting a farm, managing a beehive, cooking with the food they grow, selling the food that is grown at local farm stands and markets, and working at Chicago Botanic Garden’s Garden View Café, where the chef incorporates fresh organic produce into menu items available to visitors. Teens are paid a stipend for four hours per week in the spring and fall, and 20 hours per week in the summer, but the benefits far outweigh the wages they earn.

Barrell Robinson, who trained on the Windy City Harvest Youth Farm program, said: “A guy like me, I never knew nothing about sustainable agriculture, I never knew nothing about vegetables.

“I have just gained so much knowledge after working with these guys [Windy City Harvest].”

Another trainee, Emmanuel Williamson, added: “I really struggled a lot. You know how it is in Chicago, everybody’s got financial problems. It was kind of hard to survive. If you come to the Garden [Chicago Botanic Garden], don’t just get your pay check and leave. Just stay because you are going to learn so much.”

Windy City Harvest started in 2003 as a green youth farm. Since then, it has trained more than 120 ambassadors – including former staff, interns, and trainees – to build their own programs in communities all across the nation, teaching about the power of plants to sustain and enrich life. It has also grown 100,000 pounds of freshly grown organic produce.

Angela Mason, Associate Vice President of Urban Agriculture/Windy City Harvest, said: “The teens in this program come away with real-world work experience, a great deal of learning, and the ability to make a positive impact in their communities. While weeding, watering, planting, and harvesting, they learn about being part of a team. And they take pride in shaping the farm from the ground up.”

For more information about the Windy City Harvest urban farming program, visit their website.

All images: © Windy City Harvest

Windy City Harvest Youth Farm

Rosalind Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief. She is a writer specialising in sustainable life & style, music, entertainments and wellbeing. Rosalind also works as a spiritual life coach and intuitive advisor helping people to become who they truly are and manifest their heart & soul’s desires into their lives: www.rosalindmedea.com

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