Teen Ag not your typical summer job
Rockport — When the Maine Coast Heritage trust began recruiting interested teens for their 2012 Teen Ag Crew they cast their net "far and wide," said MCHT Community Program Manager Heather Halsey. This year marks the third year of the Teen Ag program which offers a unique opportunity for teens to work the gardens at MCHT's 93-acre Erickson Fields Preserve in Rockport.
Halsey said the program began on April 26 after the application and hiring process was complete. Halsey said four students were selected out of a pool of nearly 30 applicants. She said the four students were selected based on interest in agriculture and assorted other criteria.
"There aren't a lot of [paid] jobs for teens that offer content," Halsey explained.
She said reading the applications was "fascinating," and said it was difficult to choose from the many qualified applicants.
"All the kids we ultimately chose felt that it was important to learn to grow food," she explained.
She said in addition to the full-time crew they've added two students part-time. The full-time crew works 32 hours a week in the summer exploring all aspects of farming for market. The crew typically ranges in age from 14-18, though this year they have one 13-year-old staffer. Because the work is in agriculture, labor laws vary from the norm, Halsey said.
An afternoon in late May provided a glimpse at the work of the Teen Ag Crew. As students arrived after school — some on foot, some by bus — Halsey gathered the group in a garden shed that doubles as a classroom. She had the day's work plan mapped out on an easel.
"Does anyone know what a parsnip is?" Halsey asked the group. She said that a flat of surplus parsnip seedlings had been donated after the high school plant sale.
The teens exchanged glances and shrugged their shoulders, Halsey began to explain the vegetable and asked the group where they would plant the crop.
"What would you do if you were here alone?" She asked.
"Check the Johnny's Seed Catalog!" Lazslo Steinhoff responded. Halsey handed him the catalog and he began to leaf through as other students looked on. After discussing the optimum planting conditions for parsnips the group reached a consensus — the conditions were reasonable to plant the seedlings. They gathered tools and split into two groups.
Chloe Isis is from Camden. She said her family once raised goats and sheep.
"I knew I wanted a job and I was very excited to find this one," she said, "I love being outside and I love farming."
Isis said her parents are excited about her participation with the Teen Ag Crew and said she already has learned a lot. Isis said her mom has even started gardening in one of the community garden beds at Erickson Fields Preserve.
Courtney Gautreau, 15, is also from Camden. She said her parents think the Teen Ag Crew is a "great opportunity" for her. She added that a number of her friends work in various capacities at Aldermere Farm, which is also managed by MCHT.
"[The job] looked really interesting, it looked like something I would do," Gautreau explained. She said she has never really done much farming but she has learned a great deal about planting and preparing garden space.
Steinhoff, 14, divides his time between Warren and Camden. He said his mom saw the Teen Ag Crew advertised in the newspaper.
"I thought it was a great way to learn and have fun," he explained.
Steinhoff said his mother keeps a garden primarily for flowers and his father is starting a garden this summer for the first time. Steinhoff said he looks forward to assisting his father with that endeavor, and growing their own food.
At 16, Trevor Fowles is the oldest member of the 2012 Teen Ag Crew. Fowles lives in Montville and said he is interested in the survival and sustainability aspect of producing food. He said the librarian at his school clued him in to the Teen Ag program.
"I really want to get a well-rounded education," Fowles explained." I couldn't even explain the amount of stuff I've learned already."
During their employment, the Teen Ag Crew learns to grow food as well as marketing and distribution practices for fresh food, packaging and land stewardship. Halsey said many of the program's goals "tie into land ethic." Much of the food grown by the Teen Ag Crew goes to organizations such as schools and food pantries. The crew also has several clients — caters and restaurants — that place advance orders. The crew, in turn, plans their plantings accordingly to provide the produce desired by their clients in season.
Halsey said the teens have a work plan each day — a process she leads in the beginning and gradually transitions into the hands of the teens. Halsey's background includes a PhD in school psychology and she operates her own small farm in Washington; 2012 is her second year managing the Teen Ag Crew.
"[The job] has allowed me to work outside and promote farming," Halsey explained, adding she enjoys the combination of teaching and work required to facilitate leading the Teen Ag Crew.
Halsey said much of the garden space is planned but some seedlings are acquired by chance. The high school donated leftover seedlings from the plant sale and the Teen Ag Crew was charged with deciding where those unplanned additions would best work in the gardens. Halsey said the crew also grows their own snacks to munch on during the days of field work during the summer.
Courier Publications reporter Jenna Lookner can be reached at 236-8511 or by email at email@example.com.