We are in the final week of our youth farm program here at Felege Hiywot Center, and our youth farmers have been working hard to keep the gardens tidy and productive. Each day has been filled with hard work, discussion and stimulating activities, and we’re looking forward to the busy weeks ahead.

With so many brassicas it is important to train the youth farmers to tell them apart. Our north farm is filled with collard greens, swiss chard, broccoli, brussels sprouts and cauliflower. At first glance they all appear very similar. With time and experience the youth farmers can notice the subtle differences in how these brassicas develop. Teaching our youth farmers to identify various plants and plant parts is IMG_20160715_144557101_HDRa necessary  part of gardening education. They also learned to identify common weeds (crabgrass, lamb’s quarters, dandelions, ground ivy, bermuda grass) in a workshop with our farm assistant Krista.

Krista has also led the youth farmers in bug identification workshops using insects from around the farm like dragonflies, spiders, butterflies and moths, even the incessant cabbage moths that wreak havoc on our cabbage and collards. Right now we’re battling flea beetles that love to chew holes in eggplant leaves. We think it is very important to teach our youth farmers about different insects as well as their various roles in farming. This is why we are particularly excited to have a beehive on the farm this year. The hive was donated by a longtime friend of FHC. Our youth farmers have learned about the importance of bees in pollination, and the bees have been so productive and successful that they have hatched a new queen and swarmed. This was quite an amazing sight for us all to see. The bees flew in a large formation like a cloud over the farm before settling into a tight swarm on a shrub after about twenty minutes. We called our friends from Paramount School of Excellence to send a beekeeper to capture the swarm.

Our youth farmers have also been busy with some other activities like pottery and photography. We visit Art with a Heart at 37 Place weekly IMG_20160714_134438485for the youth farmers to complete sculpting and pottery projects like wind chimes, garden markers and wall planters. They’ve enjoyed the opportunity to get creative and make some handmade keepsakes. We have also been hosting photographer Paul Best to teach photography workshops with the youth farmers. They will use real cameras to create a photography collection that expresses something about themselves. While we like to focus on science and gardening in our youth farm program we think it is important to encourage creative thinking and expression.

One of our biggest projects for the season is the construction of Unity Park- a property on Roosevelt Avenue and Caroline Street where our youth have designed and planned a public space. The project is part of Keep Indianapolis Beautiful’s and IPL’s Project Greenspace. We are thrilled to be constructing a space for gardening as well as gathering in Martindale-Brightwood. The park will feature raised vegetable beds as well as native plants, a fire pit and a small shelter. In order to develop the plan for Unity Park our youth leaders studied placemaking as a way of making community spaces that are attractive and functional. They also interviewed some long-time residents of Martindale-Brightwood to get a better perspective of Martindale-Brightwood’s history and character. We have worked alongside Keep Indianapolis Beautiful as well as Design Bank to see this project through different stages.

IMG_6003We are so thankful for our group of interns from IUPUI’s Center for Earth and Environmental Science led by Dr. Victoria Schmalhofer. Victoria and the interns have created lessons for the youth field trips we host daily. They teach hands-on lessons about insects, geology and cycles in nature. In one lesson they use a Native American story and group activity with yarn to teach about the links between humans and  the environment. Our youth farm leaders have also had the opportunity to lead activities and workshops for the field trips we host.

Our spring crops have been very productive. We are happy that we can send some of our youth farmers with produce to the Market at Hague each Saturday morning in addition to selling at Angie’s List during lunchtime on Thursdays. We also host a farm stand each Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in which anyone can come buy produce and see the farm. You can have a chat with some of our youth farmers and they will pick whatever produce you’d like. Thanks to a small seed grant from Seed Savers Exchange we have been able to experiment with some heirloom varieties this season like Red Russian Kale and Rat-tailed Radishes. We are looking forward to heirloom tomatoes, squash, okra and melons in the coming months. Although our youth farm program will end we will invite some of the workers to join us during school breaks and Saturdays to finish out the harvesting season and take part in activities and projects throughout the school year.