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Garden City Youth Harvest

Updated: May 17, 2022

October 11-12, 2021 - Missoula, MT

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Seniors purchasing produce from youth.
Mobile market (Photo courtesy of Garden City Harvest)

Missoula’s Youth Harvest Mobile Market

Pulling off a portable farmers’ market is no small task, yet for these youth and their coach, Tami McDaniel of Garden City Harvest’s Youth Harvest Project (YHP), it has become a weekly, cherished ritual. Once the 15-passenger van was loaded with PEAS-farm produce, we drove to Willard, an alternative high school for those students who do not thrive in the normal public-school environment, to pick up the young crew. Four teens climbed aboard, glad to be done with school for the day. They were off to hold their final market for the year. A fifth joined us later at Glengarra Place, the senior residence where they first set up their farmers’ market.

Posie, Thomas, Draven, and Lily chatted as Tami crossed town to our first destination. Out of the van, like clockwork, each youth jumped to their assigned task. One was in charge of the cash drawer, the other the produce display, a third for the customer interface, and a backup was overseeing things to cover for gaps. The senior residents were anxious to start shopping. Many came with special coupons from Montana to buy from local farmers’ markets. Others paid cash. The prices were simple and rock bottom: 50 cents or 25 cents. Produce was divided by table according to its cost. A table cloth and woven reed baskets with chalkboard decorated signs made the storefront display quite inviting.

The signal was given, and the shoppers lined up to select basic favorites: onions, potatoes, carrots, beets, tomatoes, etc. Surprises were the collards, winter squash, and a variety of hot peppers. Each shopper had a bag for the produce. Lily helped seniors complete a survey about their shopping experience with the aim to improve next years’ market. She also distributed a flyer about the upcoming Winter Veggie Sale and Pumpkin Party at PEAS Farm.

Farmers working on the PEAS farm
PEAS Farm (Photo courtesy of Garden City Harvest)


PEAS Farm is a ten-acre farm that started as the University of Montana’s student farm co-managed with Garden City Harvest. PEAS farm (Program in Ecological Agriculture and Society), located two miles from the university, was primarily designed for students enrolled in Environmental Studies to balance their academic, social and agricultural studies with hands-on work with nature, soil, and plants. It has been producing thousands of pounds of food for the community each year since 1999. Garden City Harvest was born to support PEAS farm and establish neighborhood community gardens.

Tami prepping for the mobile market

Connecting with Seniors

When asked why she enjoys running the market, Posie said, “It helps me feel really connected with the world, the farm, and myself. It’s so real world; it’s so simple - picking vegetables and selling them! It’s so direct - direct communication with people. This close contact is almost forgotten in our society.” Betty smiled as she selected her produce: “I like the kids - and of course the produce is so fresh and good! Wonderful!” Another woman quipped: “It’s here! The price is right! And I get to talk with people under 60!” She and the other residents, as a token of their gratitude, put on a little thank you party for the crew: apple pie, ice cream, and coffee! I could tell there was a real bond that has developed over these market weekly affairs.

As they packed up, Lily reflected, “To be of service makes me feel really great! Every school should have the opportunity to do this farm job!” At the next high-rise senior complex, the youth again repeated the process. An older gentleman, who introduced himself as Bud Weiser, commented. “You can’t be obnoxious because you are youth!” That’s the unique cross-generational bond that is formed by this simple exchange of farm produce. He also regretted that there were so few coming to the market. The need to shift to a later time that conflicts with the resident’s dinner schedule has not helped. Some seniors just don't know what to do with the food, or they can't cook it. “Things are by no means perfect.” Tami said. “Every year there are new challenges to address.” She summarized, “Our intention is to help people interested in eating healthier. We encourage the interaction of our youth with older people. We want to increase access of underserved populations like these seniors to healthy food.”

Youth working on a farm
Youth working on the farm

Working at Orchard Farm

The next afternoon, the youth assembled at Orchard Farm, a farm in the Garden City Harvest network which had requested special help with fall cleanup. An inclusive circle was formed under the shed pavilion to welcome the youth, to introduce each other with our preferred pronouns, and then to review what was planned for the evening. The youth got to volunteer for what tasks they wanted to be a part of.

Without coaxing, the youth and adult coaches were out clearing the field of frosted, brown eggplants, marigolds, and sunflowers. These were deposited on a huge compost pile at the side of the property. As we finished up, Posie came up to me with her bib overalls adorned with the remaining flowers she had just picked. Posie told me, “The farm has really given me a new perspective. I know that agriculture is in my future.” As a senior, this last gathering was a melancholy moment. She was to bid her friends farewell, yet she looks forward to working on a farm after she graduates.

The Orchard Farm

Garden City Opportunities

This year, Garden City Harvest celebrated its 25th year of connecting people with local food. Their motto, “Grow, Feed, Inspire” plays out in nearly a dozen programs for school children, youth, university students, teachers, and farm interns. Jean Zosel, Executive Director summarized, “It’s all about building relationships, one person at a time.” Tami McDaniel has been coaching and empowering youth employed by Youth Harvest Project for four years. She has loved every minute of it. This job has been the fulfillment of her dreams and the culmination of many other jobs and experiences.

Youth Development Program

Willard High School has been so supportive of this youth development program, which starts in March and ends at the end of October. Each youth employee of Youth Harvest is paid minimum wage for hours worked. Youth Harvest Project is organized into three seasons: spring, summer, and fall. Youth applicants for the Youth Harvest Project are interviewed and hired based on their interest and willingness to meet the requirements of the job. In March, school lets out for them at noon, so that they spend three to four hours working each day at various farms in the area. Spring work includes, weeding, bed preparation, seeding, and transplanting.

Once school ends in mid-June, the youth switch to a morning schedule, starting at 8 am. Crew members work a couple of long days each week, averaging 25 hours of work each week. “That’s a real stretch for many of these youth who are not used to working hard outdoors in the hot sun for so long,” said Tami. They share a meal with the university students who work half days at PEAS Farm. The students are mostly undergraduates enrolled in Environmental Studies or Ecology. “That’s a really positive exchange!” Tami said. “They learn to cook and be a part of the greater farm community. We want them to learn what a real job is like. It’s about consistency, commitment, and excellence in doing the work.”

Youth learning to farm (Photo courtesy of Garden City Harvest)

In the fall when crew members return to school, Youth Harvest Project shifts to an after-school schedule. Market days are Mondays and Thursdays, serving four senior homes whose residents have limited access to fresh, local organic produce. At the end of the evening, produce is weighed and recorded. Good record keeping is part of their business training. Tuesday work is dedicated to farm and food-oriented service projects.

Tami explained, “While there are some leadership elements to the work we do, it is not a primary focus for YHP. Our three areas of emphasis are personal development, job readiness, and building social skills / community connection. Ultimately, we are trying to build resiliency in our young people. We do have a crew-lead position available to crew members who have shown success with YHP.”

“Tied to this, while the farms and gardens provide the structure and framework for personal growth and job skills development, our goal isn't necessarily to grow farmers. Our hope is that youth will take their experiences: teamwork, positive communication, problem solving, building efficiency and strong work ethic, working through discomfort, giving and receiving feedback, setting and achieving goals, being respectful and responsible, sense of pride and purpose, good self-care and healthy choices, etc., into whatever endeavors that they seek in their futures. As a youth development program, we are growing humans through farming more so than growing farmers. It's a bonus when our young people discover a love of farming and imagine this as part of their future.”

Youth planting seeds (Photo courtesy of Garden City Harvest)

Overcoming Challenges

Not every mobile market runs this smoothly. There’s a lot of behind-the-scenes work to train and support each of the youth in the program. After the youth return home, Tami’s coordinator, Marit Olson, and she spend time discussing each participant in the program and determining how best to support them in their goals.

Tami and her coordinator put a lot of work and intention into training their crew during their first month. She explained, “In this line of work, we go through group stages: forming, storming and norming. The first few weeks are the forming period, and what we often feel is a "honeymoon" period, when our young employees are showing their best. Everything in these first weeks is new and uncertain and with this, they put their best foot forward as we conduct teambuilding workshops, train them in Mobile Market and begin to learn a variety of farm tasks.”

“Mid-season is when we hit the "storming" stage, when youth start to gain comfort with staff and peers. It is common and healthy that they begin to challenge boundaries and expectations and to slip up on standards. Storming is also a manifestation of fatigue. It's exhausting to be our best selves for an extended period of time and it makes sense that the rest of us starts to surface at some point. This is when/where we get to do the real work!”

“Not all the youth stay with us the entire season. Some leave for higher-paying jobs. Some have left because of debilitating anxiety that surfaced on the job, others have left because of health conditions. In years past, transportation, family systems, mental health, and other life-barriers have interfered with retention and success.”

Prepping produce

A Solid Track Record

At the end of the day, I asked Tami, how did you recruit such “cream-of-the-crop” students? She smiled at me and said, “Thanks! You saw the "norming" phase, in which the crew has gained confidence, competence and ownership of their work. We are so pleased to see how much progress these youth make over just one season.” Because of this four-year track record of positive feedback from the youth participants, there’s often a long waiting list of youth applicants for this unique early job experience, and youth development program. “We are really lucky that Willard High School recognizes farming as a legitimate means to develop youth,” Tami said.

Author: Farmer Karl

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Additional resources: “Growing a Garden City” by Jeremy N. Smith © 2020

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