The Oconee River SWCD provided funds to the Athens Land Trust (ALT) to support the Young Urban Farmers (YUF) program. The program goal is to help Clarke County youth develop valuable, transferable skills that will enhance confidence and competence as they prepare to enter the competitive workforce through a full year’s experience at ALT’s two urban farms.
Throughout the program year, the YUF participants provided support at the West Broad Farmers Market, assisting with set-up and break-down, running the welcome table, token booth and YUF Cafe, helping in large community events, giving farm tours, leading and assisting with food demonstrations, selling their local food products, and shadowing and assisting individual vendors. The YUF program participants provided support at ALT’s urban farms: West Broad Market Garden, a half-acre Certified Naturally Grown farm located in the Hancock Corridor, one of Athens’ poorest neighborhoods and Williams Farm, a five-acre Certified Naturally Grown farm.
During the semester, the students participated in a series of lessons on entrepreneurship, and wrote business plans for earth-friendly products that could be sold at our farmer’s market. Topics included food-justice, sustainable agriculture practices, culinary skills, the history of southern food, nutrition, professional development and entrepreneurship. They participated in a 10-day course over the span of 10 weeks with the Center for Non-Violent Communication to learn about positive communication techniques as well as an eight-week professional development series, where they learned about leadership, stress management finances/money management and cooperation.
Students worked alongside Culinary Arts Director Emmanuel Stone and FoodCorps service members in The Athens Career Academy certified kitchen to learn about food safety, nutrition, affordable grocery shopping and cooking, culinary techniques, southern food traditions and food product development and marketing.
The students participated in an initiative led by the Clarke County Department of Nutrition to bring more local, healthy foods into school cafeterias. Two groups of students created a recipe using farm ingredients under school nutrition guidelines, and competed during the third annual School Lunch Challenge for a chance for their recipe to be featured in a school lunch meal. The winners had the opportunity to have lunch with restaurant owner and local food supporter Peter Dale at his restaurant The National.
At the end of the summer, students presented what they learned in an end-of-program event, where they served food products they had created and gave speeches about their accomplishments in the YUF program to over 40 community members.
Athens Land Trust is committed to the continuance of the Young Urban Farmer Program, which is still running, and hopefully will continue to for many years. ALT is currently exploring multiple ways to restructure the YUF program into an income-producing, self-sustaining program. The most promising avenue to achieve this goal is through partnering with local businesses to build a fee-for-service model into the YUF program. ALT currently implements this structure on a smaller scale through the YUF Food Project, where YUF develop and prepare value-added products to sell to local restaurants and at the YUF Cafe Stand each Saturday during the WBFM season. In addition, the program currently receives support from Athens Clarke County CDBG funds, as well as other various grants and foundations.