July 6, 2011

Food-system activism cultivated in 70 high school students at first Youth Grow Summit

On the third and final day of Cornell's first Youth Grow Summit, organizer Christine Hadekel was confident that "seeds of inspiration" had fittingly been planted in the minds of the more than 70 high school students gathered on campus to learn more about sustainable and just community food systems.

The summit, which was hosted June 28-30 by the Department of Horticulture and the Cornell Garden-Based Learning Program in partnership with Cornell Cooperative Extension's 4-H Career Explorations Conference, included three days of workshops on leadership training, community organizing, food justice, gardening and farming methods, youth empowerment, seasonal cooking, school food, food system education, nutrition and health as well as hands-on gardening activism for young people from across New York state "who share a common passion for creating healthy and sustainable food systems," said Hadekel, the Youth Grow coordinator at the Garden-Based Learning Program.

"Our goal is to provide youth with the leadership skills, guidance and inspiration needed to build sustainable community food systems," she said.

When asked what change they would like to see in the food system today, Elizabeth Goodwin '12, a manager at Cornell's Dilmun Hill Student Farm, said that she wanted to see a younger generation of farmers rise up, like those involved with the "thriving" Dilmun Hill farm. She was one of several speakers in a June 30 closing session, titled "Young Changemakers Panel."

Fil Eden '10, a student activist while at Cornell now working for the Ithaca mayoral campaign of Svante Myrick '09, advocated for political involvement by Youth Grow participants. "Just because you're not a farmer doesn't mean you don't play a role in changing our food system," said Eden.

"It's local politicians who decide local politics," Eden said. "If you want to change our food system you're going to need to stand up … that's the way democracy works."

Goodwin advised the students in the audience to keep seeking out and connecting with new people. "The best things that have happened to me have been through meeting other people," she said.

Eden advised the Youth Grow students to put their efforts into something they love to do, explaining that "if your heart is not in something and you're working really hard on it, you will burn out."

Olivia Weber, an 11th-grader from Rochester who attended the summit, said that she most enjoyed meeting students who were also interested in sustainable farming and reforming the food system. "Nobody talks about those things in the suburbs," she said.

Gabriel Banford, a rising high school junior from Ithaca, added: "It feels really good to be around so many who are inspired and also believe they can make a difference in the food system and change the world," he shared with the whole group.

However, inspiration was not flowing only in one direction, noted graduate student Shane Bryan, a volunteer program assistant for Youth Grow. "I'm inspired," Bryan shared with the group, "to see that we are leaving the future in hands that are maybe more capable than the last generation."

Paul Bennetch '12 is a writer intern for the Cornell Chronicle.