Pulling up to the Grow Dat Youth Farm, I thought I had entered a treehouse farm oasis. The open air, structure is surrounded by 7-acres of land tucked away in City Park.
Grow Dat nurtures a diverse group of young leaders through the purposeful work of growing food. The farm hires teenagers from six different city schools to create a learning and working environment. The core of the organization is to answer two problems plaguing our city – food deserts and meaningful work for our youth. The marriage of these two ideas creates a more harmonic and rich community. While there, youth farmers split their time between farming in the field, cooking, and learning about the food system.
I spent the afternoon walking the grounds and chatting with Jabari Brown, Site Manager and Outreach Coordinator.
“One of the things we have to realize is that everything that lives is connected,” Jabari explains as we tour the property. “And if we cease to forget that the cricket is connected to us or that the tadpole swimming in the water is connected to us we will dismantle ourselves. We’ve also been incorporating agroecology into our lessons showing youth the linkage between humans and the built and natural environments.”
Established in 2011 by Executive Director and Founder, Johanna Gilligan, Grow Dat planted its roots in City Park last Spring. As we walked, Jabari pointed out all the different fruits and vegetables grown on the land – there were forty types of produce harvested this year. I taste tested the cherry tomatoes straight from the vine and they were the sweetest, most delicious tomatoes I’d ever eaten.
“Our goal is to transform the lives of the young folks here. We reach others through them whether it’s through cooking a recipe or passing food knowledge around the table – that’s how we affect the broader community.” Jabari explains about the mission of Grow Dat.
Just as NOCCA harnesses young people’s leadership and team building skills, Grow Dat helps develop their confidence levels. Jabair proclaims the most rewarding aspect of working with the organization is “making a real, but often immeasurable impact on the youth – especially watching their confidence grow.”
Through their leadership program young people begin to change the way they think about food, how to work with a diverse group of peers, and how we are all connected to the earth. From my time at the Grow Dat farm it is evident they are an organization interested in using the land as it was once was used, but more importantly improving the lives of our city’s youth.
Learn more about Grow Dat: www.growdatyouthfarm.org
Listen to an audio documentary by Jacob Brancasi: Grow Dat Youth Farm Audio Documentary