Youth Leaders Growing at Iroquois Urban Farm
Youth transforming their communities through food, farming, and the land.
It’s the mission of The Food Literacy Project (FLP), a Louisville-based non-profit organization specializing in farm-based education and leadership development, and it is exactly what is happening at Iroquois Urban Farm.
This farm, located in South Louisville and bound by Taylor Boulevard and Bicknell and Hazelwood Avenues, is beginning its fourth growing season. This farm started as a collaborative farm-to-hospital project that would employ a local farmer to grow vegetables for patient meals at nearby Sts. Mary and Elizabeth Hospital. The space would then also provide a second location for The Food Literacy Project to host farm-based education for youth and their families in South Louisville, an area of town in which FLP has cultivated partnerships for nearly a decade. However, a change in priorities within the hospital’s system in the Summer of 2018 meant a divestment from the farm, and the farmer who had been working the land chose to step away from the project as well. This left FLP with some big questions about how to continue on the land and how to continue the growth of a community space for promoting health, food access, and outdoor green space.
The Youth Community Agriculture Program (YCAP) is a teen employment program run by FLP since 2012. The program began as a summer employment opportunity through the Mayor’s Summerworks program. Summer YCAP gives local youth experience with planting, cultivating, harvesting, cooking, and marketing fresh vegetables during their employment. Participants spend their time maintaining vegetable farm fields at Iroquois Urban Farm and Oxmoor Farm, creating their own recipes, and exploring their local food system through field trips, workshops, and guest speakers. They also have the opportunity to develop culinary skills working with local chefs in their kitchens, develop entrepreneurial skills working with local business leaders, and develop leadership skills working with representatives from around the state of Kentucky. Summer YCAP crew members also market and sell the produce they cultivate at the South Points Farmers Market and the Gray St. Farmers Market.
When the changes of leadership at Iroquois Urban Farm occurred in 2018, there were 12 teens working in Summer YCAP. Two teens were standouts in the cohort – one was in her third summer as a part of the YCAP crew, and another had recently moved to Louisville from Thailand and was passionate about farm work. Both had just graduated from high school and were looking for work beyond the summer. The timing seemed ripe to expand YCAP into something beyond just summer employment, and the organization decided to dig in and hire the two teens to continue the growing operation at Iroquois Urban Farm into the Fall. The teens worked tirelessly, using a broadfork to prep soil for a daikon cover crop, clearing rubble from the urban soil, and amending the soil to improve the nutrient load for Spring planting.
And boy was it successful! While both teens that worked in the Fall of 2018 moved on to other work before the Spring, the momentum had begun. Three teens joined the farm in the Spring of 2019 to assist in planting, prepping beds, and community outreach efforts. Summer YCAP brought 12 youth to the farm for the height of the growing season, and 7 of those teens continued their work into the Fall of 2019 as the organization’s first cohort of Community Food Leaders.
The Community Food Leaders assist with the planting, cultivating, harvesting, marketing and selling vegetables grown at Iroquois Urban Farm. They also assist with the implementation of direct education programs, promoting and advocating for improved food access, raising awareness of the SNAP education project, and supporting fresh food resources such as urban farms and gardens and local farmers’ markets in their own community. They also participate in cooking demonstrations and canvassing outreach efforts in target neighborhoods, distributing information about opportunities offered by FLP, such as the South Points Farmers Market and family engagement activities and events. CFL’s offer support to the Field-to-Fork clubs, serving as teaching assistants in those programs and being role models to younger students who are learning about healthy eating.
In February, 7 youth will return to Iroquois Urban Farm to begin a new growing season. The evolution of Iroquois Urban Farm has brought about a beautiful space for these teens to continue their own growth into food justice leaders in their communities, alongside the rows of veggies they plant and cultivate.
For more information, or if you or a teen you know are interested in participating or volunteering with the program, visit www.foodliteracyproject.org.