Buffalo Youth Grow Food and Fortune

June 13, 2017 Updated: June 13, 2017

Buffalo youth are cultivating a better city thanks to a project that turns empty lots into full bellies and teaches young people how to grow a buck or two.

The Massachusetts Avenue Project (MAP) is a local nonprofit that hosts a summer youth program that teaches young people how to grow, cook, and sell fresh and nutritious food.

It’s also showing them how to change their city, said Katherine Pfohl, MAP’s farm manager.

“The biggest thing is we try to let our teenagers know is that they do have a voice. And they can change how a bigger system works. A lot of our work is about empowerment,” said Pfohl.

MAP’s Growing Green Youth Program gives young people the chance the grow their own garden, work on a local area farm, as well as cook for a group of 50 people.

They also do a turn on MAP’s mobile food cart, selling produce to people that may not have easy access to affordable and healthy food.

For many young people, the program is their first job, and of the around 40 that will join the program, nearly half may stay on to work with MAP throughout the school year.

The summer program is a broad training that touches on everything. Those that apply to stay on with MAP may work in one of three areas: growing and planning farms and gardens; citizenship and organizing, where they work to do things like get healthier food in local corner stores and schools; and nutrition and enterprise, where they will learn about how to run a small business.

There are a lot of benefits to the programs, said Pfohl. “We are connecting young people to their food and helping them think about our food system. I also think having youth employment opportunities is important, having a place where teens can learn what is like to have a job.”

And in a city with a 64 percent graduation rate, the programs’ participants stand out with a 98 percent graduation rate and 98 percent going on to college. Last year three of the participants earned full-ride scholarships.

“For most of the teens, it is the first person in their family that has gone on to college,” said Pfohl.

The Growing Green Youth Program is still hiring youth for this summer’s six-week program.