Nuestras Raíces Farm: A Summer Classroom for Local Youth

Planting and harvesting vegetables.

Feeding cows and chickens.

Packaging boxes of freshly picked food to take to local people in need.

Tending the land.

That’s how 50 youth from Greater Springfield spent three days per week this summer working at Nuestras Raíces Farm in Holyoke. Along the way, they learned about farming, food systems, and the importance of sustaining the earth. Daily nature walks along the Connecticut River were eye-openers, too.

Heriberto Flores, president and CEO of Partners for Community, made it happen along with the New England Farm Workers Council, a program providing employment and training for people working to overcome poverty. A grant from the COVID-19 Response Fund provided funding for program staff and youths’ wages.

In past years, Partners for Community used state and federal grants to provide summer employment for 400 Greater Springfield youth ages 14-17. The job sites ranged from retailers to grocery stores to pharmacies and doctors’ offices—all to give young people skills that could prepare them for future careers.

With COVID-19 threatening local businesses and workplaces, the summer job program was turned on its head. Flores saw that virtual learning was becoming overwhelming for many young people and their families, so he found a way for some of the young people to learn outdoors through jobs at the farm.

Said Flores, “It’s a different world for them, since many of the kids live in urban areas…They love the process of learning about the environment and the bees and how everything is interconnected. Now they are looking at a bee from a different perspective—to respect that little bee, because we need them to pollinate flowers.”

He continued, “And you know you’re doing something right when the parents are giving you compliments! They told us, ‘Keep doing what you’re doing. They [youth] come back from the farm so tired they don’t even go out—they just want to take a shower and go to sleep. Thank you.’”

Got a minute? Watch below to see the youth learn about bees. Video courtesy of Partners for Community [original was edited].