Where Youth Run the Farm, Food Scarce Communities Thrive
Updated: Aug 6
When Corey Wilkins was growing up in the South Bronx, he saw a future destined in drugs or gangs. At the age of 21, he was in an alternative high school and was fairly certain he would end up in jail. Then he started working at GrowNYC’s Youth-run Farmstand Program—seasonal youth-run Farmstands, part of the environmental non-profit's network of food access retail sites, along with Greenmarkets and Fresh Food Box.
Wilkins began working at the Youth Farmstand program four days a week—one day selling at the farmstand, one day doing education in local community gardens, another day at the local elementary school teaching kids about healthy eating and nutrition education, and the last day planning for the market.
Five years later, Wilkins, is now an Assistant Youth Farmstand Manager, supervising young people himself. While he had no experience with farming or selling produce, the program opened his eyes not only to regional agriculture, but to the importance of nutrition education and healthy eating. “Before I started the program it was not at all an area of interest,” recalled Wilkins. “It really developed from being in the program. When you see people who don't want anything to do with the farmstand start to come back week after week for food, that transformation is really meaningful.”
The Youth Farmstand program began in 2006 as a “Youth Market” in the Bedford Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn. The community was eager for a farmer’s market but at the time the neighborhood could not support a big Greenmarket with 5-10 farmers. Rather than give up, GrownNYC got creative.
“We said let’s get some neighborhood kids involved, bring in some wholesale local produce from our Hunts Market Food Hub and make a small market for your neighborhood," explained Kori Petrovic, who has been the Youth Farmstand program manager for the past seven years. The kids ran it. That's how the idea was born.”
Today, GrowNYC runs a dozen Youth Farmstands in food-scarce neighborhoods across Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan and the Bronx. The markets offer regional produce as well as local bread, eggs, grains (flour, spelt wheat berries, polenta), honey, maple syrup, hot sauce and salsas at wholesale prices (more affordable than traditional Greenmarket prices).
The markets are run by youth ages 16-20, with referrals coming from community partners who recruit and hire on behalf of GrowNYC. The program, which pays $15 an hour, typically employs between 50 and 70 youth, though this year the numbers are smaller because of COVID, with about 30 youth employees. This year for the first time, youths participating in the program will spend one day each week at the GrowNYC Governors Island Teaching Garden to learn, hands-on, about gardening and nutrition.
The added income the program provides to youth is significant, especially when so many families are faced with unemployment. But it’s also about youth empowerment and growing self-esteem. “Our youth employees get great work experience and build their careers and that income is so crucial for young people to feel empowered and to put them on a path of success.” says GrowNYC’s Assistant Director Cheryl Huber.
The program also offers job training and an education. “Our youth learn customer service and the importance of regional agriculture,” said Petrovic. “They learn about farmers and their growing methods, but the program also includes resume writing workshops and interview training.”
In low income neighborhoods, where rates of obesity and diabetes are high, the program makes a significant impact on the choices youth make. “They start in the beginning of the season and they themselves don't want to try the vegetables. By the end of the season they are taking bags of produce home, coming together and sharing recipes of what they cooked with their families, and experimenting with their own cooking and traditional dishes.”
In hands-on nutrition workshops, teens learn about the amount of sugar in their soda and drinks. “It’s amazing to see how they reduce their intake of sugar or cut it out completely,” said Petrovic. “And then we see how excited they are to share that with the customers and their friends and family. They become ambassadors for healthy eating.”
In the time of COVID, the fresh food made available at Youth Farmstands is more crucial than ever. According to Food Bank of New York, more than 1.2 million New York City residents, or 14.4 percent, are food insecure. New York City’s food insecurity rate is 12 percent higher than the national rate, and 21 percent higher than the New York State rate. But these rates are even higher now, making these markets even more critical. "Before the coronavirus, we thought somewhere around a million people were food insecure and needed food," said Mayor Bill de Blasio in a press conference in May. "Now we think that number is 2 million or more."
Corey Wilkins at the Youth Farmstand he manages in the South Bronx
Wilkins says he hopes to continue to do community-based work in agriculture and sustainability. “This program has a lot to do with how I grew as an adult,” he says. “Things could be very different to me. I was turning 21 in the South Bronx and could have easily gotten on the wrong path. But my time with GrowNYC opened my eyes. It feels good to help people in my community who I know are not eating well, to change that. Being successful in that endeavor kept me with GrowNYC. It’s a field where I feel like I can make a difference in people’s lives.”
GrowNYC Farmstand Where/When Community Partner
Norwood E Gun Hill Road and Dekalb Ave. (Bnx)
Year-round, Thurs from 8:30am to 4pm
Eastchester E 229th Street and Schieffelin Avenue (Bnx L+M Development Partners
Thurs, 7/16- 11/19, 9:30am to 3pm
Gouverneur Health Madison St. btw Clinton and Jefferson (Mhtn) NYC Health + Hospitals /Gotham Health, Gouverneur
Thurs, 7/16- 11/19, 9am to 2pm
Cypress Hills Fulton St. between Richmond and Logan (Bklyn) Cypress Hills Local Development Cooperation Fri, 7/17- 11/20, 10am to 5pm
Brownsville Pitkin Pitkin Ave. btw Thomas Boyland & Amboy (Bklyn)
Sat, 7/18-11/21, 9am to 2pm
Ditmars Park Steinway btw Ditmars Blvd and 23rd Ave (Qns) Council Member Costa Constantinides and Global Kids
Sat, 7/18-11/21, 9:30am to 2pm
Flatbush Junction Flatbush Ave and Nostrand Ave (Bklyn) Council Member Farah Louis and Elite Learners, Inc.
Sat, 7/18-11/21, 9am to 2pm
Kensington McDonald Avenue and Albemarle Rd (Bklyn) Council Member Brad Lander
Sat, 7/18-11/21, 8:30am to 3pm
PS 57 15th St. and 3rd Ave (Mhtn) PS 57
Wed, 7/22-11/25, 9:30am to 4pm
Lower East Side Grand St. between Pitt and Willett (Mhtn)
Thurs, 7/30-11/19, 8am to 3pm
Ridgewood Cypress Ave btw Myrtle and Putnam Aves. (Qns) Myrtle BID
Sat, 7/25-11/21, 8:30am to 3pm
Woodhull Broadway on Corning of Flushing Ave (Bklyn) Woodhull Hospital/Bed-Stuy Restoration Project
Wed, 7/29 - 11/25, 9am to 2pm
*Cash, SNAP/EBT, P-EBT, Debit/Credit, and Farmers Market Nutrition Program checks accepted at this farmers market. Health Bucks now year-round! SNAP/EBT/P-EBT users – for every $5 you spend, get a $2 bonus.
Visit GrowNYC's Farmstands Webpage for more information on the program.
Keep Farmers Farming, Shop Your Local Greenmarket!
COVID Guidelines - Market Safety for Shoppers at all GrowNYC Food Access Sites
We encourage all shoppers to adhere to the following safety protocols to protect themselves, their fellow shoppers, and our Producers and their employees.
Wear a face covering inside the market space
Maintain a 6' distance between yourself, Greenmarket staff, farm stand employees, and other customers
Try to keep your market shopping trip as quick as possible
Do not bring your dogs or bikes into the market space
Limit your party to 1-2 people and split up to finish shopping quickly
If you are sick, stay home
Do not pick up any products or produce at the farm stands, ask an employee to help you
If you sneeze or cough, do so only into a tissue (and immediately dispose of it) or into the crease of your elbow
Thoroughly wash your hands often with soap for at least 20 seconds
If hand washing is not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer
Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth
Wash all produce thoroughly before using it
Regularly wash your reusable produce bags
Be patient, and kind--we're all in this together