When a Footpath Friend suggested Farm Day, or as he called it Tomato Festival, we thought it was a great idea. Bringing inner city kids out to an organic farm to see the crops, meet the farmers, pick the tomatoes, basil, onions and greens for the meal and then to cook pasta sauce with them in the barn would be an enriching outdoor experience for inner city youth. Wait, it gets better – they wouldn’t cook with just anyone. Footpath’s Friend & nationally acclaimed chef, Chris Hodgson, and his executive chef Chris Johnson, would help the kids prepare the meal, and then serve them at a beautifully set table at Maplestar Farm in Auburn Township.
As we watched the youth tentatively get off the bus and awkwardly stand around us, I suddenly felt a little nervous. So, I started talking and welcomed them to the farm and made introductions to Farmers Jake and Dawn Tretheway, as well as the well-known chefs. We slowly started moving as a group to look at the crops. We listened to the farmer tell us what he’d planted and then he stopped us at the tomato greenhouses where I learned that there is a species of tomato that naturally grows purple. I asked questions and the kids started to relax and ask questions, too.
Next we picked onions and lettuce, but it wasn’t until we got to the sweet corn that all the tension released. The farmer showed us how to break off a corn cob and then handed it to a kid to eat. He closed his eyes and took a bite- straight from the stalk to his mouth- and smiled while saying, “It’s so good.” One girl looked at another and said, “You pick one. Do it, eat it.” She did and agreed it was delicious. By the time the third girl decided to give it a try the first kid was done with his ear of corn and grinning. We snapped some fun pictures with corn cobs. First mission accomplished! They’d relaxed, learned a lot and were truly enjoying the farm.
The team then moved back to the barn where the chefs already had meatballs and pasta cooking. The youth helped wash and chop the tomatoes and onions for the pasta sauce. They learned how to peel and smash garlic cloves. Second mission accomplished! Their interest was peaked and the experience was happening in full force. But then I realized that the farmer and one young man (we’ll call J) were driving away in the golf cart. I wondered where they were going, but smiled to myself. Clearly, a connection had been made and this was exactly what I had hoped for. They were gone for about a half hour and when they came back J, a senior in high school in Cleveland, came back to tell me he’d just picked 130 ears of corn with Farmer Jake so that we all could take 6 ears home with us!
Chris Hodgson then asked us to take our seats. We all pulled up a chair to one long table- the youth, the volunteers, the farmers, the chefs and the farmhands (college-aged girls who were there for an internship.) We came together to talk, relax and enjoy the food we’d just picked and prepared. The food was incredible thanks to our youth and chefs!
The kids thanked us as they boarded their bus. Even though it was a smaller group than we’d expected, the experience was positive for those that attended and extra special for one teen and a farmer. Farmer Jake and J quickly formed a bond, and J hopes to come back and work at the farm this fall.
Footpath Foundation thanks Chris Hodgson, Catie Hodgson, Chris Johnson, Farmers Jake and Dawn and the Boys and Girls Club of Cleveland. By working together and donating their time and resources we provided a great outdoor experience for inner city youth. These types of opportunities give kids a better appreciation for a world outside their current situation. Footpath Foundation will continue to help kids stay on a positive path by offering outdoor experiences they wouldn’t otherwise have. We hope you’ll join us! Like us on Facebook, follow us on Instagram & Twitter or check out our website for more information.
-Mary Macias, Co-founder