Youth play a valuable role in energizing communities. Anim Steel, program director at the Food Project, discusses the transformative power of food in engaging youth.
How does your work engage young people around food and sustainability?
Anim Steel: One of the things our organization is trying to accomplish is to create a new generation of leaders for our communities and for a sustainable food system. We work at a national level and a local level. In Boston, we hire teenagers from different backgrounds to work in the summer and during the school year. We grow food for residents of the city and suburbs. On a national level, we provide leadership opportunities that give young people access to mentors, special training, and each other.
One of the most important things about our work is that ask we ask youth to contribute something to the community. This is rare these days, but it used to be that young people grew up on a farm and would help support their family or the community.
How much food is produced, and where does it go?
Anim Steel: Each year we grow about a quarter million pounds of sustainably raised produce. About 40 percent of that is going to our CSA (community-supported agriculture), which means that members of the community buy a share for a box of produce each week. We also send about 40 percent of the food to shelters in the area, eleven different homeless shelters or hunger relief agencies. The rest of our food goes to a farmers market here in Boston.
How is food a catalyst for personal transformation and social change?
Anim Steel: I see a lot of the youth enlarging their circle of belonging and exploring where they fit in the world. The teenagers we hire in Boston come from different neighborhoods, from the suburbs, city, or inner city. For instance, we have young people in indigenous communities who grow food for the elders on the reservation, but they also work in the city and in the suburbs.
Many of these youth would never have had a chance to meet each other before. They work together to produce food for people who need and want it, and that creates a bond that wouldn’t have existed before. They feel responsible to someone else. They have to work together to live up to their responsibility.
Young people make me hopeful. I see many of them who are not content with the way the world is today. They’re working toward the world they want to create. I think food can be a vehicle for social change, that it can bring people together in a way that very few other activities can.More: Anim Steel, Creating Community, Edible Education, Food and Community, Food Justice, Growing Food, Local Food, Taking a Stand, Youth