A group of seven high school students are enjoying the opportunity to grow, harvest and sell vegetables and honey this summer through Roots to Harvest’s Urban Youth Farm Program in Thunder Bay.
“It’s good labour and a nice workout,” says Kiaren Wapoose, a Hammarskjold High School student from Eabametoong who was working at the vegetable market stand on Aug. 6. “It’s gone alright — I find it a little stress relieving working with other people.”
Wapoose says he likes working with the potato plants at the farm but has also worked twice with the honeybees.
“Mainly for me it was just I needed a job and this seemed like a good thing to have on your resume,” Wapoose says. “Plus it’s just nice work in general.”
Marshy DuBois, a Superior Collegiate and Vocational Institute student from Thunder Bay who was also working at the vegetable market stand on Aug. 6, says her role has been “amazing.”
“We’ve had so much to do,” DuBois says. “Every day there is just more and more to do because the vegetables are growing like crazy.”
DuBois says she liked working with the vegetables because it is a lifeskill that many people do not know.
“I loved working with the bees,” DuBois says. “It’s definitely my favourite job. It was scary at first because there were bees flying around but then you realize they are really friendly.”
Mason Quarrell, supervisor with the Urban Youth Farm Program, says the students are taught about agriculture during the program.
“While they’re working here they get a nice paycheque but they also get school credits for their high school,” Quarrell says. “They get to learn skills they can take on to further work in other positions.”
Quarrell says the students get a “lot of awesome opportunities” at the Urban Farm.
“How many opportunities do you get to go into a bee hive and harvest the honey and sell it at market,” Quarrell says. “They get to learn how to harvest and plant all these different types of vegetables, back in the kitchen they get to learn how to make our granola and they get to help out with a lot of the other programs we’re working with.”
Quarrell says the students were not able to go out to the farms and homesteads as they usually do in the Thunder Bay area due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Normally we have around 14 high school students with us but this year we had to cut it down to seven,” Quarrell says. “Our market system has been a lot different — we’ve had to adhere to a lot of the requirements given to us by the (Thunder Bay District) Health Unit.”
Janna Van Blyderveen, grower with Roots to Harvest, says the Aug. 6 market day was the fourth one held this year.
“We had a really warm summer so everything grew really quickly so we had to start our markets a week earlier just so we didn’t waste any produce,” Van Blyderveen says. “It’s fun to work with youth because you see their perspective — they’re young and it keeps us young as well.”
Van Blyderveen says the Urban Farm has a drip irrigation system that provides an even thorough watering for the plants.
“And it reduces mildew that usually we get a lot on the zucchinis,” Van Blyderveen says. “Since they don’t have that overhead watering, it reduces the amount of mildew growth.”
Roots to Harvest usually runs another program at the Lillie St. Urban Garden but this year it is being run by Roots to Harvest staff and former program participants.