Last spring, Aldermere Farm hired four local teenagers for its inaugural teen social entrepreneurial project that focuses on growing produce for local food pantries. Four months and  6,000 pounds of vegetables later, the teenagers have delivered their efforts to local food banks and the statewide Good Shepherd Food Bank.

The teens, characterized by Nancy Perry, Food Resources Director at Good Shepherd, as “amazing” are Megan Wyllie, of Warren and a student at Medomak Valley High School; Julienna Brooks, of Union, and a student of the Watershed School; and Cailand Sweeting, of Rockport, and Adrian Jaques, of Hope, students at Camden Hills Regional High School.

Each of them took a passion for agriculture and a good work ethic to the fields of Erickson Fields Preserve, on Route 90 in Rockport, and accomplished a monumental task, according to Ron Howard, general manager at Aldermere Farm. Both Aldermere Farm and the Erickson Fields Preserve are owned and managed by Maine Coast Heritage Trust, a statewide land conservation organization. Aldermere’s staff is charged with managing both properties and engaging the community in agricultural-related activities.

“Our work is more than just protecting important pieces of land,” said Howard. “We not only work hard to be good responsible landowners, but we look for ways to be part of, and to help build, community.”

Early in the fundraising effort to preserve the Erickson Fields, the community told Maine Coast and the Maine Farmland trusts that acquisition priorities should include developing programs that expose younger generations to agriculture. The Teen Ag Crew was born from the desire to engage area teens, offer them good jobs where they could learn life skills, and incorporate a social entrepreneurial model that enabled them to learn business planning while contributing to their communities.

Early on, students conducted market research with food banks to determine the need and food preferences of clients. A management plan with a budget, along with growing and harvesting plans, were created and implemented, along with a mission statement: “While growing high-quality food products and allowing Erickson Fields to be more well-known, we will expand, improve and educate ourselves and our community.”

The crew grew most of the vegetables in a third of an acre located in the back fields, as well as in 15 of the raised beds located in the community garden area. They worked part-time in the spring and fall and full-time throughout the summer.

“The 5,000 pounds of donated food gives us 3,846 meals,” said Perry of the Good Shepherd Food Bank, late in the summer.

Most of the food was donated to the Area Interfaith Outreach food bank, in Rockland; Camden Area Christian Food Bank, Camden; Hospitality House, Rockport; and the Good Shepherd Food Bank, in Lewiston. Some also went to the Camden Hills Regional High School for its lunch program.

Other Erickson projects include community garden plots for local residents; and a Kids Can Grow program, whereby families received materials to build raised beds so children can grow food for their own family; and gardening programs developed jointly with Youthlinks and Five Towns Communities That Care.

The Teen Ag program was supported by generous individual donations. Aldermere also collaborates with volunteers, the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, Youthlinks, Communities that Care, the local Parent Teachers Association, and classes in the elementary and high schools.

For more information, contact Sarah Post, 236-2739 or email spost@mcht.org; visit aldermere.org or on Facebook at Aldermere Farm.