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Guelph Youth Farm set to open on St. Joseph's Health Centre land

Small urban farm gives young people valuable job skills

A new urban food production project that gives young people valuable work experience is set to officially launch on Friday.

The large growing space for the Guelph Youth Farm is on land that once held a hospital, and is still owned by St. Joseph’s Health Centre on Westmount Road. The veggies are growing in large containers for now. The plan is to grow and sell organic produce, grown by youth.

Guelph Youth Farm was started by the The SEED, a community food project of the Guelph Community Health Centre, and its many partners. And it has been largely planted by youth and their expert guides. About 10 people were getting the space ready for the launch on Wednesday morning, planting additional seedlings, building a large, sturdy structure to hold a sign, and painting poles for the climbing plants.

Keisha Whitecrow, 19, was a member of the preparatory crew. She said she has been enjoying the small-scale urban farming experience.

“It feels like a job that has purpose,” she said, while painting stakes for trellises. “It gives me a good reason to get up in the morning.”

The other participants, she said, are people from all over the community, and of all different types. And they are learning to like each other and work together.

“We’re all very comfortable around each other,” she said. “This is a feel good job. It brings people together. It’s not too hard, and lots of fun.”

Cameron Bell is the assistant manager on the project. The young people on the site Wednesday, he said, are part of The SEED’s Local Food Jobs Program. The youth are 18 to 25, out of school and out of work.

Youth have been paid $13 per hour for their 25-hour work week during the eight-week program, which ends Friday. But it is expected that about 1,800 young people will participate in the project over time. A core group of 20 youth will train other youth in actively supporting the farm, while hundreds of others will take part in training workshops and events.  

“They’ve done eight weeks, a combination of work at the farm, some workshops, and visits to other food-based businesses in the area, to be exposed to other operations, learn a little bit more about farming, and to get some work experience,” Bell said. "We've also been helping them to write resumes, doing mock interviews, and other things that will prepare them for employment in the future."

He said the logistics of actually marketing the produce is still being worked out. A number of restaurants have been involved in the organization of the garden, and there may be marketing opportunities through them, as well as using the Garden Fresh Box program to distribute the vegetables. 

The farm is about a quarter of an acre. There is a fair bit of land around it and good sunshine. Officials are hopeful it will grow, and become a kind of urban farming learning centre. The project is supported through a coalition of local businesses, public institutions, and not-for-profit organizations.

“The Farm is the product of an exciting collaboration of new local partners who are joining forces to support youth in Guelph,” said Gavin Dandy, directing coordinator of Guelph Community Health Centre’s SEED project, in a press release. “The farm is growing fresh food and incubating a new generation of youth leaders.”

Lead partners in the pilot project include The SEED, Everdale teaching farm, and St. Joseph’s Health Centre Guelph.