Mia Bartlett, a career specialist with YouthSource, a program of the Oregon Human Development Corp., was walking her dog one day near Tigard. It wandered off, and she found it in what looked like an overgrown garden full of blackberries and rotting trees behind Durham Elementary School. She was struck by the thought that the small quarter-acre plot would be an ideal place for her teenage clients to start a garden.
In 2010, after a successful Kickstarter campaign, the donation of the land from the Tigard School District and additional funding from the U.S. Department of Labor’s WorkSystems, Inc., the Supa Fresh Youth Farm was off and running. Its stated purpose is to train underserved teens in workforce skills, entrepreneurship, organic sustainable agriculture, nutrition and life skills.
Bartlett said that when the 16- to 21-year-old students start the program, they often have no idea what it means to have a job. Many subsist on a diet of fast food—the closest they’ve come to fresh food is the tomatoes on a pizza, and they think of potatoes only as French fries, never having seen one growing in the ground.
But after tilling and fertilizing soil, planting seeds and watching them grow, she said many students have come to appreciate not only what their labor can accomplish, but how good “real” food tastes. They often take these skills home, shopping and cooking for their families.
With 90 percent of its students motivated to graduate from high school and ready to move into the workplace, Supa Fresh Youth Farm is helping improve its community as a whole.