Melanie Long, 17, is a senior at De La Salle High School and an intern at Grow Dat Youth Farm (150 Zachary Taylor Drive, City Park; www.growdatyouthfarm.org), a nonprofit farm and youth development organization. The program hires high school students as team members and teaches them about farming, nutrition, teamwork and leadership. Grow Dat donates a portion of its harvest to hunger relief charities, and the rest is sold at farmers markets or brought home by Grow Dat students to share with their families and neighbors. On Nov. 3, Grow Dat holds its first plant and produce sale (10 a.m. to 2 p.m.) and a fundraiser party (noon to 5 p.m.) with food trucks, music and harvest games (think sack races).
What did you think about farming when you first started here?
Long: I was miserable. It was horrible. It was dirty, and I had to clip my fingernails because of all the dirt getting under them. But after a while, I'd be out here early on those Saturday mornings seeing the sun rise and seeing the cypress trees glowing, and you remember that you have this sense of purpose, that you're part of something bigger than yourself. It's giving back to the community but in a different way than normal community service. What would any society be without food?
What have you learned here beyond food and farming?
L: I've become a lot more self-directed and learned how to push through something tough. At school, I had a really hard physics class, and I thought I'd have to go to summer school for the first time because of it. But I got up early to work on it, got extra help and I passed. I was used to getting up early and working through things anyway because of the farm. If it was a year earlier, I probably would have just slacked off.
What's it like providing others with food you helped produce?
L: It's gratifying to see it being used and being appreciated. I usually give (produce) to my grandma, and then I'll go over to see her the next day and it's all in this soup on the table and it turns out really good. That's the fruit of your labors, literally. — IAN MCNULTY