By Molly Schintler, Communications Intern

At our 8th National Farm to Cafeteria Conference in June 2016, LaDonna Redmond gave keynote remarks focused on ending systemic oppression in the food system. In her address, she urged the audience to understand that “every community has the intellect to heal itself.” She explained that the role of individuals working within farm to cafeteria is to use our skillset to uncover the intellect in our communities so that people believe in themselves. What if this approach was seriously considered within farm to school and farm to early care and education work? What would it look like for youth to be leading the movement?

Many organizations throughout the country focus on youth leadership as a way to further farm to school efforts.  In our most recent Trending Topics: Youth Engagement through Farm to School Webinar, our network highlighted three organizations that put youth empowerment front and center in their work:

  • YES! Youth Empowered Solutions: Youth Empowered Solutions (YES!) is a nonprofit organization that empowers youth, in partnership with adults, to create community change.
  • Alameda County Office of Education’s Project EAT:  Project Eat works to end health inequities and close the achievement gap in school communities.
  • Vermont FEED’s Jr. Iron Chef VT: This statewide culinary competition challenges teams of middle and high school students to understand how they can effect change in the food system by creating healthy, local dishes that inspire school meal programs.

Mary Beth Louks-Sorrell, Executive Director for YES! highlighted that when youth are not included, “One fourth of the population is being ignored, instead of tapped for their potential to contribute to improving things.” Additionally, Mary Beth offered up a set of best practices to consider before starting work with youth, including asking these questions:

  • What will be the role of youth in your work?
  • What do you hope to achieve from the inclusion of youth
  • Why are you interested in the thoughts, ideas, input, and leadership of youth?
  • What are some ways you might envision the way you and your organization operates or the direction of the work changing once youth are involved?

Vermont FEED’s School Food Programs Coordinator, Marissa Watson commented on the importance of holding space for kids to participate, stating that, “school food change takes many players: students, food service, parents, and the community.”
Kate Casale from Alameda County’s Office of Education explained that including youth as leaders within farm to school work is a perfect opportunity to tap into their creativity and innate interest in justice. She also reminds us about the importance of letting youth tell their stories in their own words.

Jason, a seventeen year old from the program Bronx Youth Force explains, “If you had a problem in the Black community, and you brought in a group of White people to discuss how to solve it, almost nobody would take that panel seriously. In fact, there’d probably be a public outcry. It would be the same for women’s issues or gay issues. But every day, in local arenas all the way to the White House, adults sit around and decide what problems youth have and what youth need, without ever consulting us.”

Young people are the changes makers of tomorrow, and today. Their ideas, contributions and voices are invaluable to the work of growing more just and equitable food systems, and we should always be conscious to have a place for them at the table.

Appetite For Change is a North Minneapolis nonprofit organization that uses food as a tool to build health, wealth and social change. "Grow Food" is the culminating project of Appetite For Change's Summer 2016 Youth Employment & Training Program. Urban Youth wanted to share their message - the importance of actively choosing healthy foods - with their peers in a fun, accessible music format. Learn more about Appetite For Change here.

If you are interested in learning more about youth leadership within farm to school and the local food movement, we invited you to join us at the 9th National Farm to Cafeteria Conference in Cincinnati, Ohio in April 2018. An entire conference workshop track is dedicated to “Youth Leadership and Engagement” within the farm to cafeteria movement, and we’d love to have you be part of the conversation!

Photo Credits (from top to bottom): Vermont FEED and Alameda County Office of Education (middle and bottom).