CHESTER >> The Ruth L. Bennett Community Farm wound down its fall selling season by sending its new youth contingent to the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group's "It Takes a Region" conference in Jersey City, N.J.
Four city students who worked the farm during the summer – Ah'maj Jackson, Joseph "Joe Joe" Dukes, Khi'Jhane Hall and Jasmine Young – learned about urban farming practices and connected with other youth farmers during the three-day conference."
"One thing we're trying to do more of is going on field trips. I feel like it was good to make connections with some of those groups," said Farm Manager Natania Schaumburg during the farm's final sale day of the season Tuesday. "Before and during the growing season we can visit some of their spots to see how they're doing things. I feel like that's the most important takeaway of (the conference)."
Students got to see another urban community farm firsthand on the way to the conference, visiting a farm in Brooklyn, New York.
"I learned that having farms around in the communities helps people out a lot," said Dukes, referring to many areas lacking fresh produce outside of urban farming. Dukes worked at the farm during the summers of 2018 and 2019 and after school during the academic year. Farm management appointed him youth supervisor during summer 2019 when brought it in Jackson, Hall and Young as a contingent of youth workers.
"I enjoy … the farm stands every Thursday. I get to help with the community," said Dukes. "In the summertime we have youth groups that came every Tuesday … there were all types of kids that I got to interact with; it was all ages."
The Bennett Farm, located in Chester Housing Authority's Ruth L. Bennett Homes, has been in operation for roughly one decade. Initially formed as a community gardening project, it has evolved into a 2-acre community farm with weekly Thursday sale hours from June through October. The fall 2019 season concluded Tuesday due to the Thanksgiving holiday.
"We put these kids to work on this farm in Chester but that's not much else like it in Chester … it's hard for them to relate what they're doing here to their friends," said CHA Executive Director Steven Fischer. Attending the conference gave the Bennet Farm youth workers a chance to meet their peers working in urban farming throughout the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast region, he said.
The Bennett workers were the only group in attendance sponsored by a housing authorit0y, according to a CHA release. "Hopefully that encourages them to want to continue to pursue it… they undoubtedly got that out of this because they came back excited," Fischer said.
Along with panel and round-table discussions on farming science and economics, the conference featured youth-led seminars where the Bennett workers got to hear their peers' accomplishments.
"They had presentations about what they were doing, and they had their little slogans," said Assistant Farm Manager Malik Savage. "They were talking about growing, feeding the communities and trying to make the world a better place. It gives some hope for the future."
According to a CHA release, Schaumburg recently secured a three year grant from the United States Department of Agriculture for further programing for the farm. Funds will be used for youth activities such as conferences, visits to other farms and guest speakers.