Mission Thrive Summer helps local youth to “grow”

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Jonathan Edwards, a recent graduate of The Baltimore School for the Arts credits a city summer program with helping him to grow and mature into a responsible young man as he prepares to start college at Shenandoah University in Virginia.

“I’ve been in the program for three years,” said Jonathan. “You get to meet new people, learn new things, and visit places you’ve never been to before. Being in this program has also taught me to open up to different people, which has prepared me for college. That’s important, because in college you have to get used to being around different people, and living with roommates.”

(Ursula V. Battle)

The 17-year-old added, “This summer program has also taught me about how important it is to be professional and punctual. This summer experience has been life-changing for me.”

Jonathan is one of 27 students between the ages of 14-18 who participated in Mission Thrive Summer, a program that offers Baltimore City high school students the opportunity to participate in farming, cooking, fitness and food/health related jobs. Mission Thrive Summer is operated in direct partnership with the Institute for Integrative Health and Civic Works’ Real Food Farm.

Throughout the summer, the students rotated working at Real Food Farm. The participants prepared meals for each other and their families, and participated in leadership and professional development workshops. Real Food Farm is Civic Works’ innovative urban agricultural enterprise engaged in growing fresh produce on eight acres in and around Clifton Park in northeast Baltimore.

The goal of the five-week program is to develop leadership and job skills. Core activities included farming, cooking and healthy eating, mindfulness and physical activity, and leadership development.

In addition to spending the summer learning new skills, participants earn a stipend. They worked 25 hours per week and earned up to $200 per week, depending on their attendance and participation.

After the success of the program last year, Jonathan was among the students who returned and were given additional leadership opportunities. Known as “Peer Crew Leaders,” these students provide mentorship to other students and offer feedback on the operation of the program.

“I make sure the Crew Members are motivated and try to set a great example for them,” said Jonathan. “I keep them on track.”

Real Food Farm works toward a just and sustainable food system by improving neighborhood access to healthy food, providing experience-based education, and developing an economically viable, environmentally responsible local agriculture sector. Real Food Farm has grown more than 60,000 lbs. of food and educated over 3,000 people.

“This was my first year,” said 16-year-old Michael Dennis. “This program has been very helpful. It taught me ways to help my family and my community by making healthier meals for me, and my family. I now know how to manage a small garden, the importance of constantly weeding, how to mulch, when and when not to plant, and culinary skills, such as how to properly use a knife.”

The Baltimore City College junior added, “I plan to come back next year. The food we helped to grow here helps the community. It’s good to know that I was a part of that.”

Chrissy Goldberg serves as the Food and Farm Director at Civic Works.

“There are so many issues that face our city and the world, and one is food injustice,” said Goldberg. “Lots of corner stores sell chips, sodas, candy and other unhealthy foods. This program helps the students to understand how important it is to eat healthy. Mission Thrive Summer also teaches them about where fruits and vegetables come from, and how they are being grown right here in the city. The program provides education around those things so that the students can help themselves and their communities.”

Keishan Dempsey, 16, also participated in the program.

“My experience has been very positive and fun,” said The Baltimore City College sophomore. “I really had a really nice time. When I first started the program, I didn’t know what mulching was. Now, I know what mulching is, how to mulch, and how it helps to keep the weeds away. The program also taught me that I was at a workplace, and that I had to be professional. My dream is to become a chef, so the culinary skills I learned were very valuable. I can take that knowledge with me.”

He added, “We went on hiking trails, visited other farms, and canoeing. We also went to Whole Foods, and learned about how to get a job there. This experience was great.”

The program started June 27, 2016, and concluded July 29, 2016. For more information about Mission Thrive Summer, visit www.realfoodfarm.org.