Every Saturday morning, Long Island City health coach Michelle Cady makes it her mission to hustle over to the Youthmarket Farm Stand on Centre Blvd. But it isn’t just the quality of the market’s leafy greens that make Cady such a loyal customer; it’s the staff.
“They have high school students running it and they have been super,” Cady said.
Youthmarket Farm Stands are a series of farmer’s-market style produce stands across the city of New York. Local farmers provide the fruits, vegetables, eggs and other food items that are delivered by truck before 9 am. But it is up to the handful of teens at each stand to unload the truck, assemble the stand, arrange produce, check inventory, work the cash register and provide cooking demonstrations.
A manager will watch over the teens but will leave the majority the work required to run each stand to be done by the high school students ranging from the ages of 16 to 20. The teens that man each of Youthmarket’s 15 locations are from the neighborhoods they serve.
Some are referred to Youthmarket after completing and six-week-long summer internship at the Learn it, Grow it, Eat it Youthmarket in the South Bronx, where they are required to work in community gardens and teach elementary school children. Others are referred to Youthmarket through other youth leadership organizations like Global Kids or charities such as Bowery Mission.
The teens are also responsible for educating customers and passersby alike about a new topic each week. Agriculture and healthy eating are popular topics. Where the food comes from and why it is important for others to buy local are some of the many lessons they themselves learn while working at the Youthmarket.
According to Kori Petrovic, Youthmaket program coordinator, teens are taught business skills, independence, agriculture and healthier eating habits.
“You might have a kid that is not eating any fresh produce and at the end of the season they are taking bags of fresh produce with them,” Petrovic said.
Youthmarket Farm Stands start to pop up in the Bronx, Queens, Manhattan and Brooklyn on the first Saturday after the fourth of July and stay open until the Saturday before Thanksgiving. With the end of each season usually means the end of an experience for the young farm stand workers.
Petrovic said that since the work is only a seasonal job the kids will usually find work somewhere else in November. But despite a low retention rate among the youth workers, Youthmarket is growing and always looking for new locations to set up one of their distinct green awnings.
When the stands close at 2:30 p.m. the staff makes a note of their final inventory. All of the food that has not been sold that day is donated to nearby charities like churches, homeless shelters or soup kitchens, according to Petrovic.