Trailblazers 2017: Youth Farming Nonprofits

A youth worker at Youth Farm's West Side // Photo courtesy of Youth Farm

A youth worker at Youth Farm’s West Side // Photo courtesy of Youth Farm

America has a farming crisis, one that has nothing to do with prices, pests, topsoil or water quality. The problem is with the farmers themselves—the average age of Minnesota farmers is 56, and they aren’t being replaced by younger generations at the rate we need. Couple that with another drastic shortfall—1.6 million Minnesotans lack easy access to healthy food, placing the state as the seventh worst in the nation.

Fortunately, a group of local food-focused nonprofits are planting the seeds of social change with the next generation, and in effect, hoping to mitigate both problems at once.

At Urban Roots, youth interns are given the tools and training to manage urban gardens and bring their produce to market via CSAs, farmers markets, restaurants, and the Roots for the Home Team program. In fact, in the 2016 season, over 600 youth working in the Urban Roots’ Market Garden Program grew over 10,000 pounds of produce. While helping to mend a broken food system, Urban Roots is also empowering young people to discover new possibilities and paths for their lives.

Youth Farm started as a small project with one part-time staff member, 10 neighborhood kids, a little plot of land, and a Volkswagen bus. It has grown into an organization that engages as many as 800 youth per year in free food and farming-based leadership work. And two decades later, the organization has spread to five Twin Cities neighborhoods, growing and distributing over 100,000 pounds of produce, while cooking and preparing over 40,000 healthy lunches and community meals to close the gap on low income and limited food access.

And Appetite for Change has been inspiring youth in North Minneapolis to join in its mission to improve health, build wealth, and drive social change in their community. Young people can lead workshops and grow food as a part of an urban farming cooperative that sells produce to its cafe, local corner stores, restaurants, and others. Appetite for Change won the 2017 Bush Prize for Community Innovation, an astounding grant worth $470,981, which will help them to further transform the city’s food desert into a developed, community-driven food oasis.

By stirring up change in communities that need and eagerly seek it, food-focused nonprofits are rooted in helping the Twin Cities healthfully grow toward a better, more nourished future.

Trailblazers are the people, ideas, businesses, and organizations doing necessary, important, and groundbreaking work in the realms of food, drink, and culture. See the rest of The Growler’s 2017 Trailblazers here.