August 10th marked a magnificent occasion for the youth-powered Farm – the graduation of 26 amazing summer interns. During their six-week experience, 9th and 10th graders from local Southwest Philadelphia high schools immerse themselves in the world of farming, growing personally and professionally, and cultivating a deeper relationship with the land, their culture, and their community.
“When I think of leaders, I think of Malcolm, Dr. King, Julius and Alexander, not me. Not 5’1”-look-like-a-fourteen-year-old me. But now when I hear “leader” I look up,” said Tykia, a veteran of the Farm at Bartram’s Garden who is entering her senior year at John Bartram’s High.
Often their first paid job experience, interns participate in an intensive group building orientation followed by four weeks of rotations where they experience the Farm, selling at Market, community outreach and preparing healthy meals for each other. Their final week is dedicated to extending their learning and sharing their new skills and growth with their community during a Presentation of Learning (POL).
The Farm at Bartram’s Garden increases access to fresh, affordable food that honors African American, West African, and Southeast Asian food traditions. The Farm produces over 15,000 pounds of fresh produce every year, of which 90% is shared with the Southwest Philadelphia community through weekly markets. In addition, 45 local families grow vegetables in their own community garden plots. Through the PHS City Harvest Program, the Farm also distributes over 80,000 vegetable transplants to over 140 farms and gardens around Philadelphia, and it hosts one of the most diverse and largest orchards in the City thanks to a robust partnership with the Philadelphia Orchard Project.
Maitreyi Roy, executive director of Bartram’s Garden says, “the Farm’s focus on cultural exchange and building community through food has been so important, especially for young people, as Bartram’s Garden takes a greater role in its community’s celebrations, learning, healing, and relaxation.”
The program centers its teachings on food sovereignty, social justice, and how those elements relate to our food ways. As part of this curriculum, the students learn everything from plant identification, working within teams, and public speaking. During the weekly experiences, youth learn hard work on the farm, prepare the harvest for weekly markets at our Lindbergh Blvd. entrance and Clark Park, and plan and prepare daily meals for each other. Students also participated in the 7th annual Youth Growers Market at Rittenhouse Square with eight other young farming organizations.
During the community-focused graduation ceremony, Rasheed declared emotionally, “What we harvest is OURS!” The audience clapped, snapped and exclaimed in support to the newly-graduated Southwest Philadelphia resident.
The daily activities for the students are a challenge, but a worthy one. Students have said that they leave the program as a different people, compared to how they came in. Co-director of the farm, Chris Bolden Newsome, elaborates on the day to day of the program. “Every year our summer crew presents with a unique set of gifts and challenges. In addition to their natural agriculture field work, culinary and public speaking courses, our students engaged in deep learning about their ancestral history and Black culture from West Africa to the Northern Migration. We have organized this learning into a weekly class called New Freedom School, modeled loosely on Mama Fannie Lou Hamer’s Mississippi Freedom Schools of the 1960’s.The beauty of the New Freedom Schools is that each year’s class alters the curriculum with the knowledge they bring and the questions they ask.“
For Damir, the program gave him “a new perspective on life.” Seven said, “I used to be a stranger to the land, now it’s my friend.” Rasheed said he was able to grow “emotionally, physically, and professionally,” through the program, and added that while working on the diaspora garden, an area of the farm where crops not typical to a Northeast farm are grown for the local immigrant population, he learned he “had a connection to the food, from the people who brought it over to our neighborhood.”
The Farm goes beyond its border through “The Legacy Crew,” a smaller and selected cohort summer interns who interviewed build relationships with the local neighbors. Through storytelling, song, puppet shows, and group work, The Legacy Crew went into local schools to teach children about the difference between “sometimes” and “anytime” foods, and how your community and culture inform decisions about the foods you prepare and eat.
Tykia’s speech continued, “This is my secret garden!” She grew here, “This program has broken down my barriers, it gave me my first friend, a mentor, a teacher, and my first love. That once afraid and cautious girl is strong and confident now.”
Ty Holmberg, Co-Director of the Farm at Bartram’s Garden, addressed the crowd and explained a core belief of the program is to help facilitate the learning of their cultural history, that they come from their ancestors ” from kings and queens” and they can carry that pride.
Along with accolades, cheers, and support from the community, the students were each given growth attribute awards ranging from resourcefulness and transformation to adaptability and teamwork.
The capstone of the event was Sabria declaring, “We’re finally finding our voices.” We expect these voices to be heard throughout Southwest Philadelphia and beyond, and new voices will be nurtured at The Farm at Bartram’s Garden every year to come.
Photography by Alan Brian Nilsen
Support Bartram’s Garden’s agricultural and community-building work by joining as a member at the Farmer level. For $50 you receive free tours and free and discounted programs for one person through September 30, 2018, plus a $5 voucher towards the purchase of farm stand produce!