Developing food system leaders
At YouthGROW in Worcester, learning about food is much more than just understanding how to cook healthy meals. It’s also about developing job and leadership skills. Every spring, about 200 teenagers apply for the 10 open slots at this program of the Regional Environmental Council (REC). “This is a testament to the program and to how much it is needed,” says Grace Sliwoski, Director of Programs at REC.
The multi-year, multi-faceted program also teaches students how to grow their own food and where to find healthy food in their communities. Says Grace, “We are developing leaders in the food justice movement.”
The high schoolers who participate in YouthGROW are paid hourly to work at REC’s two urban agriculture sites during the summer. They also do service learning at local farms, participate in community service, and attend workshops as part of the year-round curriculum. Participants are also paid for their time when they attend food conferences; “This gives young people the opportunity to weigh in on these issues and provide a wider perspective on food,” says Grace.
YouthGROW produces about 4,000 pounds of produce annually, which is sold at REC’s mobile market. To increase sales and profitability, participants decided to make and sell a value-added product. After testing salsa, salad dressing, and pesto, they settled on a hot sauce using peppers they grow, as hot sauce was appealing to people from many cultural backgrounds. Drop It Like It’s Hot Sauce is sold from REC’s Mobile Market, at the Beaver Brook Park Farmers Market, and at REC’s office.