Often, the world can feel increasingly chaotic in the craziness of daily life and the onslaught of constant information via social media and cable news. There always seems to be another problem arising in some corner of the world with seemingly very few solutions.
One New Orleans-based nonprofit is seeking to be a solution to a real and basic need, “through the meaningful work of growing food.”
Grow Dat Youth Farm is tackling a major problem in its area: food insecurity among local youth. However, from its inception in 2010, the organization has also sought to provide 360-degree positive mentorship and community building within their city.
The nonprofit’s “Our Story” page on its website says: “We aim to provide unique opportunities for New Orleans youth to develop leadership skills and initiate change in their communities alongside a diverse group of their peers, staff, and community partners.”
The sustainable working farm, a 2.5-acre plot on a 7-acre site in New Orleans’s City Park, is a place where local youth can learn about sustainable growing. It produces more than 50,000 pounds of produce yearly, with 80% sold through its CSA Farm Share program and the other 20% distributed in its Shared Harvest program.
The organization also offers leadership programs that help paid youth employees, ages 15 to 21, with everything from conflict resolution to leadership courses focusing on diversity and inclusion.
Garden & Health had the opportunity to speak with two of its staff members to gain greater insight into Grow Dat Youth Farm’s work.
Alex Sanders, the assistant farm manager, shared his introduction to the program, which pretty succinctly sums up a big part of Grow Dat’s efforts: helping youth implement structure and discipline into their lives.
“I first found out about this program in high school. You know, I wasn’t really doing much,” Sanders said. “I was kind of in a weird place in my adolescence, hanging around, you know, weird people not really doing good in school and, you know, going down the wrong path.
“And these guys came to tell us about Grow Dat, and it was just like, even if I’m not really interested in farming, like, it’ll be better than what I got going on right now,” Sanders continued. “So, me and a friend tried it out — he wound up leaving. He didn’t really like it that much. But what can I say? I’ve been in for seven years. It’s been great!”
His fellow Grow Dat team member and farm fellow Clarence Webb also came to the organization in high school through a family member.
“My uncle, he worked here. He told me about the organization and about the program and everything. I already worked a retail job, but I knew I didn’t know what I was doing at work,” Webb said. “So, he recommended working here for me is like, you know, like my second job.”
“When I was here, I was able to get like a lot of different skills and be trained in a lot of different ways that were not how it worked at my first job,” Webb said. “I didn’t even know how to clock in and clock out!”
Speaking to the skills they learned as young men, Webb goes on to explain a little of what Grow Dat does on a daily basis, specifically teaching.
“Basically, we just take a lot of folks from all around the city of New Orleans, from different backgrounds and everything,” Webb said. “So, the way that we do that is, we have workshops that are talking about food insecurity, food deserts, and things like that.”
“But we also have conversations about like feelings and emotions and how to constructively express your feelings and emotions,” Webb continued. “Not just in the workplace, but like in your everyday life as well.”
Both Sanders and Webb speak sincerely about the program. However, one can really hear the passion in their voices when they discuss the positive impact these programs have on today’s youth — as it did for them as younger men.
As Webb puts it, the goal is “to build up, not just work confidence and workplace confidence but self-confidence as a young person.”
It’s clear, speaking to these two young men who have been through the program and now serve their city as mentors, that not only is this an organization with positive goals and aspirations, but Grow Dat Youth Farm gets results. Simply speaking, it’s part of the solution in its community.