Northshore Magazine

November 2014

Northshore magazine showcases the best that the North Shore of Boston, MA has to offer.

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Page 99 of 259

Committed to Compassion James Harrison is acting executive director of the North Shore chapter. The program's founder, Ward Cheney, believed "by growing food and working with others, we act on our desire to learn, to serve, and to be pro- ductive." Drawing on his experience as a farmer, organizer, educator, and activ- ist, he envisioned The Food Project as a national model for transforming urban and suburban young people and their communities. Today, it is exactly that. As an educator with a background in agriculture, Harrison has much in com- mon with Cheney and is uniquely quali- fied for his position. He brings to the work an understanding of sustainable farm- ing techniques as well as an empathetic nature that lends itself well to effective communication—a key component of the program. Creating a "safe" environment in which youth can express themselves, explore social issues, and get to know one another is part and parcel to The Food Project's mission. A unique aspect of the program is that young people who would normally never meet come together and truly bond as a result of their time in the field, in workshops, and in the community at large. "The key to the program's suc- cess," says Harrison, "is having as diverse a group as possible." "Youth-driven food enterprises" expose participants to a series of complex ideas that start unfolding as soon as they enter the program as Seed Crew members—a paid position for which they must formally apply. While part of the summer Seed Crew, youth work in the fields for eight hours each weekday, learning through hands-on experience how to plant, weed, and harvest fruit, vegetable, and herb crops. They spend afternoons participat- ing in a series of workshops covering issues related to personal development, sustain- able agriculture, nutrition, food security, the food system, diversity, and social justice. Each Wednesday, they prepare and serve the food they've harvested to clients at a local hunger relief organization, and at least once during the summer, they staff one of the "affordable farmers' markets," which serve low-income communities. Enterprise ne 98 November 2014 That hands-on experience allows them the time and space to grapple with the concepts they have been introduced to in the workshops. "There's something about working in the field," muses Harrison, "that lends itself to great discussions. You have time to think." Planting, tending, and harvesting crops also provides a con- nection to land and introduces youth to the health benefits of eating fresh food. "It helps them understand that what they eat has an effect on the environment," notes Harrison. Ultimately, graduates from the Seed Crew go on to join the D.I.R.T. Crew—dy- namic, intelligent, responsible teenag- ers—at which time they step up to take on a serious leadership role. Up until that point, they have been under the guidance of crew and assistant leaders. Now, they themselves lead groups of farm volun- teers, help recruit new candidates for the Seed Crew, and undertake a major com- munity project of their own design. "They [also] provide support to food access activities by running farmers' markets, building raised-bed gardens for low- income families, and working at hunger relief organizations," explains Harrison. The last leg of The Food Project journey "There's something about working in the field that lends itself to great discussions. You have time to think. It helps them understand that what they eat has an effect on the environment."

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