VYCC Youth Crews Fight Food Insecurity

Every Thursday afternoon from July to September, two vans with trailers depart the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps (VYCC) campus in Richmond, headed to medical centers across the state. In those trailers are what’s known as Health Care Shares, boxes of fresh, local produce recommended by doctors for their patients. The Health Care Share (HCS) program, a collaboration between YVCC, Central Vermont Medical Center, and our Co-op, provides Vermont families experiencing food insecurity, diet-related illness, and other health risks, with the nutritious food they might not otherwise have access to.

The HCS program also involves the hard work and collaboration of VYCC’s staff and youth crews, who work on the farm in Richmond, receiving a high-quality educational experience while helping to increase food security for their fellow Vermonters. We spoke with three youth crew members. The following are edited excerpts of those conversation.

Youth corps members Sean Soukone, 18, from Winooski, VT, Zane Faour, 17,  from Richmond, VT, and Molly Perry, 20, from Mansfield, MA.

Is this the first time you’ve spent a summer here?

Sean

This is actually my third time doing it.

Zane

It’s my first summer here. I heard about it through a friend.

Molly

My first summer.

What brought you here?

Sean

Honestly, I kind of stumbled upon it by accident. It started with a science class, my friend told me he had gone to a farm with a class, and he told me about the job opportunity here for the summer. I was curious about agriculture a little bit, and he was like, ‘you might like this job.’ Just like that, this is my third summer here.

I really like this place. I was always an indoors guy, but this place really changed my perspective. Look at the view out here, the mountains. Also, I get to meet people from all over the place, from some places I’ve never heard of before. I’ve met people from Kenya, North Carolina, all over Vermont and the U.S. I’ve met so many people here.

Zane

I had never farmed before. My mom has a garden at our house, and I thought it would be really interesting to learn more about farm work.

Molly

I’ve always wanted to do a youth conservation corps or Peace Corps type of thing for the longest time. My mom was a really big inspiration for me. She made me really want to do it. I love the whole Health Care Share project and what YVCC is doing for communities in Vermont. I think it’s really special.

What do you feel makes it special?

Molly

I think it’s really special because I personally really enjoy the fact that they are doing any kind of alternative approach to…I think that sometimes our medicine and health care system has become a huge business. I like the idea of replacing prescription medication for diet-related illnesses with a prescription to a Health Care Share. It’s an amazing thing, and I think it should be a thing that spreads. There’s something so beautiful about it, and there’s also something about being able to impact low-income communities that don’t have that access and giving them something they might not necessarily be able to have.

Do you have an interest in having a job in farming or agriculture in the future?

Sean

People say I’m good at it, but I’m not sure I want to do it as a career. It’s more like a hobby. That’s why I come here every summer. This is like my summer hobby.

Zane

Maybe not as a career, maybe more as a hobby type of thing. I had also heard this thing about farming being used as a form of protest in the Middle East, and I thought that was really interesting. That helped drive me into an interest in farming. I definitely think that learning how to grow food sustainably is something that is important and might somehow come into my life later.

Molly

My long term goal, when I’m older and settled down, I want to have a farm. I’ve been working on a farm since I’ve been in high school and I went out to California and had an internship with a farmer out there in Sonoma for a while, so farming has always been a really strong passion of mine. I really like the aspect of community that food and farming brings together, and I think YVCC is a perfect example of that. There’s so many people of all different ages, all working together on this farm.

What’s that community like here?

Molly

My crew is really close to each other. You spend all day together, so it’s kind of a byproduct of spending all that time with them. I feel like I have a really good relationship with everyone, in general, which is good since there’s 50 or 60 of us. I feel like I really know everyone, it’s really nice.

Zane

Everybody here is really nice, they are all hard workers and are all really easy to get along with. It’s definitely a good community. We’ve all become good friends.

Sean

We bond since we’re with each other for like eight weeks. We have fun together. We get along pretty well. It’s a unique community. That’s why I’m always back here. It’s the people that bring me back. There’s always someone new. I have made so many friends with the people here, this place has changed my life, for real. It really changed me for the better.

Do you have a typical day or does it vary?

Zane

An average day consists of a lot of weeding. At the beginning of the summer, it was a lot of transplanting, but now we’re doing a lot of weeding and harvesting.

Sean

It can switch at any moment. It can be the same thing for the whole week or out of the blue. We have to switch to cleaning the vegetables or harvesting them or hand weeding the vegetables. There are a lot of projects I haven’t even done yet, like harvesting the tomatoes in the greenhouses. I haven’t done that yet.

Molly

Today, we are packing the Health Care Shares, so it’s harvesting stuff in the morning, and then everything gets washed and packed to get them ready. After that, we have lunch all together, which I really like, and then we come back and are usually out in the field. A lot of it is maintenance. The later part of the afternoon, everyone will get together and pack, or an individual group will pack the shares.

What’s the packing like?

Molly

All the vegetables get washed in the wash station and get moved into a cooler inside the farm stand. Then, on Wednesday, we take everything out and pack it all. It’s actually really fun. Usually, there’s music playing. It’s kind of chaotic sometimes, but everyone is in an assembly line, and you just go down the line and put the stuff in.

What do you think of the Health Care Share program?

Zane

It’s a really good program. It gives healthy food to people who might not have access to it, and I think that’s really important.

Do you get a sense of the impact it has on those people?

Sean

I get a lot of people saying thank you, for growing the vegetables and stuff like that. It feels good. All this hard work is worth it at the end of the day because you are growing vegetables and you’re making families happy from getting the vegetables.

Molly

One thing that I have brought up, I think that sometimes we do all this work and we don’t get so see the communities that are affected or meet the people we deliver shares to. I know what it’s doing, what the impact is, but I think it would make it feel even more like ‘this is worthwhile and this is why I’m doing this,’ if we could directly see the impact.

What’s your favorite part of being here?

Zane

The learning opportunity. I’ve never farmed before, and it’s definitely a useful skill to know how to grow your own food.

It’s been a real education?

Zane

Yes, absolutely.

Sean

I have learned a lot, like how to grow vegetables, how to transplant them. I did not know any of that stuff. When I first came here, I didn’t know what I was doing, but I could do it now. I could have a garden at home.

Molly

From the staff here but also from the people I’m working with, my peers, I have learned so much. Everyone is knowledgeable in their own field of farming, so it’s been really interesting to talk and discuss with each other different ideas and thoughts about how to do different things. It’s been really interesting to get knowledge about different areas from people I work with directly. I feel like I’ve learned so much about the land we’re working on.

Learn more about the Health Care Share program by checking out our interview with the program’s coordinator here.