Skip to content

Harvesting Life Lessons

Originally appears in the Spring 2015 issue

Since she was 14-years-old, Rayna Joyce has been rising early on summer mornings to plant lettuce and pull weeds with two dozen other teens who are learning as they grow. They are a part of the Youth Farm Project (YFP) that blends schools, community organizations, and farms into a nonprofit enterprise that’s starting its sixth growing season in 2015.

What began as a school garden is now a farm with ten acres of production land and a hands-on outdoor classroom where students grow food for the community. Last year, YFP harvested 11,500 pounds of organic vegetables, fed 3,000 people, and educated 100 teenagers. All of this was done with only one full-time manager and a handful of part-time paid staff.

Even better, teens emerge from the program with a clear understanding of our nation’s food system and how they can be part of healthier solutions. They learn about food equity, racism, and communication skills – while also having fun.

YFP leaders will be the first to tell you that their path wasn’t linear and they certainly weren’t well organized at the start. They shared ideas, tears, and hugs, felt panic, and persevered.

Let’s look at eight lessons they learned that could guide other educators planning to dig into a similar project:

Please enter subscriber password to continue reading  full article.

To view the photo-rich magazine version, click here.


If you are not already a subscriber, please subscribe to read the full article

Carrie Koplinka-Loehr is a freelance writer in Lansing, New York, who has a Masters degree in science education.



The Food Project:, and in particular the 396-page Summer Youth Program, Volume 3: Implementation Manual, explains goals, games, activities, and logistics. Download for free:

Growing Food and Justice for All Initiative has a helpful online glossary:

Massachusetts Avenue Project, Buffalo, NY, has a Growing Green Program: youth development and urban agriculture focused on healthy food access and improving communities.

Real Food Wheel (producers, consumers, earth, and communities):

The Youth Farm Project,, has a blog, photos, and annual reports.