Our workload has ratcheted up another notch as summer-crops have started maturing. Green beans, peppers, and cherry tomatoes have been added to the weekly harvest list. The increasing number of tasks mimics the abundance in the field and since most of them are manual by nature, work often starts at dawn and sometimes doesn’t stop until dusk.
Growing fruits and vegetables relies mostly on manual labor, crops are hand-planted, hand-weeded, hand-pruned, hand-picked, hand-dug, hand-bunched, hand-sorted, hand-washed, hand-packed, and then hand-loaded on and off the delivery truck. That’s a lot of handling before and after a seed has metamorphosed into any of the dozen or so produce items in your weekly CSA share.
With all that manual workload you can imagine how welcome a helping hand is at this time of year here on the farm. The last 6 weeks we have enjoyed such help from a wonderful group of teens. Every Friday, at 9 o’clock in the morning, 20 youths from the “Food, What?!” program gather in a circle under the giant oak tree by the barn ready to take on the field tasks scheduled for that day. Planting, weeding or harvesting, these kids don’t shy away from working in the fields.
“Food, What?!” I like the name; it’s an important question, one that is at the core of our well-being, the question to understand our connection to food and where it comes from.
Both the Farm’s Discovery Program and “Food What!” share common goals of youth empowerment and farm-based education. On their website “Food What?!” is described as a “… youth empowerment and food justice program using food, through sustainable agriculture and health, as the vehicle for growing strong, healthy, and inspired teens. The program partners with low-income and at-risk youth to grow, cook, eat, and distribute healthy, sustainably raised food and address food justice issues in our community. Youth from Watsonville to Santa Cruz join the FoodWhat Crew through Spring Internships, Summer Jobs, Fall Business Management positions, and leading big community events. It’s an opportunity for youth to engage in leadership development, personal growth, and job training”.
What is exciting and unique about this partnership between Live Earth Farm’s Discovery Program and “Food, What?!” is that the teens can engage in the operation of a real working farm, where they work side by side with 30 hardworking farm employees, experiencing literally from the ground up the fruits of their labor. Whether it’s getting the next succession of kale, lettuce or broccoli in the ground which involves planting thousands of seedlings in straight rows, cutting one hundred 24-count boxes of romaine lettuce, or weeding a 1 acre block of peppers.
At first these tasks sound simple, but once engaged many soon realize it’s not only the physical stamina but skilled hand and body movements and the mastery of a number of specialized tools that are required to do the job well. The teens come to realize that each crop is different, delicate and highly perishable. They come to understand that being a harvester requires different sets of techniques that need to be performed in a timely manner, with attention to quality under often physically taxing outdoor conditions.
Working with the group every Friday has been a real pleasure and a welcome help for the entire farm crew. This upcoming Friday we have planned harvesting potatoes, another big job we are thankful to get some help with.