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Growing Strong High School Internship: Mentoring teens while building a community

Summers at City Green are bursting with activity, thanks in part to the Growing Strong Internship Program, which is currently in its 15th year. Growing Strong interns are a core part of City Green’s summer staff. But for them, it's more than just a summer job. Interns receive hands-on mentoring, participate in food access and environmental justice workshops, and play an active role empowering their communities to access healthy foods.

Growing Strong interns are divided into three different crews. Farm crew, garden camp counselors, and farm camp counselors.

The Farm Crew helps manage City Green’s five-acre farm at the Eco Center in Clifton. Their responsibilities including picking and harvesting produce, packing vegetables for CSA farm shares, and distributing food to the local community at farmer’s markets in Clifton and Passaic.

Garden Camp Counselors run City Green’s Garden Camp program for children ages 6-10, located at Eastside Park in Paterson. Counselors facilitate a range of fun and educational activities for children including teaching them about gardening and healthy foods, arts and crafts, and spreading the joy of being outdoors.

The Farm Camp Counselors engage in a similar range of programming for children ages 5-8 at the Eco Center located in Clifton. These counselors can be found showing children how to feed the goats and chickens, participating in garden chores, and helping kids prepare healthy, nutritious meals.

We sat down with an intern from each crew to learn more about their backgrounds and the experiences they’re having at City Green.

Damien is a sophomore from Eastside High School in Paterson who works on the Farm Crew. He is 16-years-old and was inspired to join the crew because of his extended family’s experience farming in their home country, The Dominican Republic. He says they grew fruits like tamarind and guayaba, which are pretty different from the carrots and zucchini he’s growing in Clifton. But the hard work and satisfaction that comes with nurturing plants is quite similar.

Damien spends his time harvesting and packing fresh produce, setting up farmer’s markets, and selling the produce to the public. To do this, he’s had to learn the names of all the different vegetables City Green grows, and how to answer customers’ questions like how to cook certain vegetables and how they taste. His favorite vegetable: tomatoes. “Although I’m not sure they’re really a vegetable,” he said with a smile.

Damien explains that Hispanic people like his family cook with a lot of vegetables, and it’s important for them to have access to the foods they recognize. Especially for those participating in WIC or EBT, who get an extra 50% off.

“I'm proud of how hard we work,” he said. “It feels good to grab a vegetable out of the ground and dust the dirt off the roots. It’s a lot of work, but it’s very rewarding.”

Amira is a 17-year-old attending Clifton High School. She works on the Farm Camp Crew, facilitating children’s programming like coloring, harvesting, and preparing meals. She helps her team prepare a wide range of activities for the campers, including putting on a play where they wore flower hats and bee costumes to teach kids about pollination.

She also participates in food justice workshops where interns learn about food access and why food is a human right. “That experience opened my mind to how others can access healthy foods and what City Green does to provide those services,” she said.

Amira explained how working with children can be quite inspiring. “I think education is a big part of impacting the future. Children are the next generation. So if we teach them how to care about plants and nature, it will bring more value to the natural world.”

Amira is proud of herself for applying to the internship and contributing to both the mission of City Green and the health of her community. “City Green is amazing,” she said. “Everyone who works here is super nice and so helpful. If there’s a job or volunteer opening, you should look into it and interact with this organization because it's just really great. The vegetables are so yummy and everything is so pretty. Out of all the jobs I've had, this is the best one.”

Kenzie is a 15-year-old student at Passaic County Tech heading into her junior year. She came to City Green through her love of herbology and a growing interest in natural medicine. At home she tends a garden with her grandma, growing flowers like hyacinths, “Which are a little harder to grow, they’re kind of needy plants,” she explains. “But they smell so good I wish I had a perfume of that smell!”

Along with her grandma, Kenzie is inspired by an Aunt who lives in Texas and tends a big garden full of cucumbers, watermelon, peppers and tomatoes. These women passed on the gift of a green thumb to Kenzie, who continues the legacy working at the Garden Camp at Eastside Park.

Kenzie loves to share her knowledge of gardening with the kids, whether it's showing them how to water the plants or harvest fresh vegetables. She also facilitates crafts and cooking lessons like preparing crudités with fresh vegetables.

“The work I'm doing is impacting the community because we’re teaching kids skills they can take home. For example, composting can be easily done at home with a cardboard box and some dirt. Dig up some worms, toss in your scraps and then you have soil to make a little flower pot or garden bed. Which is very helpful if they can’t access fresh fruits and vegetables.”

Kenzie points out that because of historic redlining, minority communities were prevented from accessing fresh food. “It's important to break that mindset, because everybody should have the right to fresh and healthy food.”

Kenzie encourages people to come visit City Green to get more hands on with nature, go outside, take a nice walk, and learn about the outdoors. “Nature is really something that keeps giving to us,” she says.

Written by: Sam Anderson for City Green


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