They say you reap what you sow, but few people take it to heart more than the Food Project’s Seed Crew.
The group of 26 youths aged 14-17 spent more than six weeks in July and August getting their hands dirty in Lincoln doing the hard work of farming. They were paid a stipend but also earned valuable knowledge about sustainable food systems, personal development, and serving at hunger relief organizations.
The Food Project hires teens from diverse cultural, racial, economic, and geographic backgrounds to work on Seed Crews at their farms in Lincoln, Boston, Beverly, Wenham, and Lynn. The crews work in the fields and take part in workshops on issues including sustainable agriculture, food access, and social justice. The teenagers also spend one day a week at a local hunger relief organization preparing and serving the produce they’re grown.
Seed Crew members can progress after their first summer to the Dirt Crew, which designs and executes a self-directed project to address food access issues in a community during the academic year. Root Crew members have more responsibility running the Food Project’s farms and markets in a yearlong program where they also serve as peer leaders for the Seed Crew and teach others in the community about food justice and food systems. They play important roles in the organization’s mission to promote access to fresh and affordable produce by building raised-bed gardens for residents and organizations, offering garden-based educational programming, and providing opportunities for people to use SNAP/EBT benefits to purchase fresh food.
On a midweek day in August, workers in bright green Seed Crew T-shirts were harvesting bright orange carrots from the brown soil in one section of the Food Project’s 30-acre site near Route 126 and Baker Bridge Road. Nearby, a melon patch was protected by flash tape (twisted Mylar tape that flashes silver and red in the breeze to scare off birds).
Another weedy patch of land nearby was lying fallow. Last summer, it held a potato crop that was devastated by Colorado potato beetles. Because the Food Project uses only organic farming methods, pesticides are not an option, so Seed Crew workers are sometimes assigned to don gloves, pick the beetles off the plants and squash them, explained supervisor Angel Araiza. Crew members undoubtedly find digging up bright orange carrots of all shapes and sizes more satisfying.
“I like the outdoors and gardening and also social justice—both of those things brought me out here,” said Seed Drew member Ben S. of Winchester (the Food Project does not release the last names of teenage volunteers to protect their privacy).
The field work is not easy. Seed Crews weed, harvest and do other outdoor tasks even if it’s raining. Very hot days are tough on the crops as well as the workers because they have move fast to wash, transport and and store the fruits and vegetables in a walk-in cooler.
“On hot days, we have a lot of moving parts—we have to get the field heat out of the crops as fast as possible,” Araiza explained on an unusually cool August morning. “Any time we can get a day like this, it’s a blessing.”