Associate Director, Youth Farm
In five different neighborhoods across the Twin Cities, there are small plots of land that grow food. But these plots—run by Youth Farm—grow more than just vegetables. They grow leaders. They grow food as a tool to change the world.
Amanda Stoelb is Youth Farm’s Associate Director, and has worked at Youth Farm since 2004—helping build youth leadership through planting, growing, preparing, and selling food.
“At Youth Farm, we work with youth ages 9-24 and use food as tool for youth development, leadership development, and community development,” Amanda explained. “With our younger farmers, we focus on hard skills such as how to use a knife or plant a seed. The high school farmers in our summer program lead small groups of younger participants as mentors and instructors. The older youth have already built their hard food skills such as knowing how to grow a tomato or when to use vinegar in a recipe. The next step for them is to learn how to become planners and leaders.”
Youth Farm brings together diverse participants who otherwise wouldn’t interact in their schools or neighborhoods. They are given a recipe and they make it together. They learn how to accomplish something in relationship with others, so food becomes a powerful tool for building relational skills.
Food Skills = Life Skills
At the center of Youth Farm’s program is teaching food skills. For Amanda, food skills are about knowing where to access nutritious food and whole ingredients. It also means having the skills to prepare that food in a way that fits your life. “The specifics can vary based on a person’s life circumstances,” Amanda said. “For me, food skills include being adaptable and using the food that I have at home, applying basic techniques like sautéing and chopping, and knowing what flavors taste good together to create a meal.”
Adaptability, Amanda says, is one of the most important food and life skills she’s learned through her job. “Whether you’re creating a farm plan or planning a meal, you’ve got to be flexible,” Amanda told us. “This is especially true in Minnesota where spring might come in April or maybe even in June. I’ve also learned how to make food from scratch using whole ingredients, which is a really valuable skill.”
Learning Every Day
Amanda acknowledges that she comes from a background where she never had to worry about her own food security. She’s been able to eat the way that she wants because of her privilege, but also because she’s developed food skills—especially adaptability. “Right now, kale is the only thing planted in my garden that is surviving the bunnies. My broccoli is gone, and my tomatoes are looking rough—so kale is what I’ve got. I’m not going to eat kale for every meal, but I know how to prepare it and what proteins taste good with it. Because I have that knowledge, I don’t need to think too much about planning a meal until I get home. That’s an example of how I use food skills in my own life,” Amanda explained.
Although she’s mastered a good amount food skills, Amanda still learns every day from the youth that she works with. “Every day, I learn from the young people I work with, whether it’s learning how someone’s mother cuts an onion or what our youth farmers eat at home,” she said. “Everyone has something to offer when it comes to food. So much community building happens when you sit down around a table and share a meal.”