FortWhyte Farms helps youth plant seeds of sustainability
Social enterprise nurtures youth, food and community
Jaden Cassidy, 19, is wrapping up his fourth summer at FortWhyte Farms. He's a crew leader this year, taking on more responsibility for making sure the vegetable crops grow bountiful and the animals are happy and healthy.
"There's more to do, but thankfully I still get to do some weeding on 30 C days," he says, cracking a smile under his signature sun hat.
Cassidy is part of FortWhyte Farms, a social enterprise that nurtures youth, food and community. The farm partners with high schools and youth organizations to offer hands-on learning experiences and, eventually, employment.
Students seed, plant, weed and water the crops, collect eggs, feed livestock and work in the kitchen to prepare the bounty for the Community Shared Agriculture, or CSA, program and weekly market. The farm is part of FortWhyte Alive's extensive mandate to build sustainable relationships.
It's Arizona Marinko's second summer at the farm, and the 19-year-old with the irrepressible smile says she can't imagine being anywhere else.
"The people here at the farm are so good. I get to learn so much about vegetables because when you see them at the store, sometimes you just don't realize where your food comes from," she said.
Marinko's favourite place at the farm might be the medicine garden, she said. The circular space is partially covered by a canopy, features comfy benches and is surrounded by garden boxes bursting with hyssop, sage, echinacea, black-eyed susans and a host of other native plants.
"It's a safe place, where we come to talk and learn," she said.
Farm program manager Jenna Drabble said young people build skills and confidence through the four stages of farm program. They begin by visiting the farm weekly as part of the school year. In the second stage, they are eligible to secure a paying job at the farm.
Over the next two years, they gain leadership experience through paid positions, often hosting workshops, managing special events and helping with day camps.
"We do our best to bridge youth to future employment or education opportunities beyond the farm." Drabble said.
One of the important fund-raisers of the year for FortWhyte Farms is the Harvest Dinner, an annual event that typically sees hundreds of supporters gather at the farm, under a tent to enjoy fellowship and food.
This year, it's been reimagined as Harvest at Home, an event that was shared virtually yesterday with CBC Manitoba Radio Noon host Marjorie Dowhos.