Five teens form the Algonquin Heights apartment complex in Plymouth are learning valuable lessons this summer by working the fields at Colchester Farm in Plympton.
PLYMOUTH – Not many teens know what rainbow chard is, let alone how to cook it.
Local high school junior Wil Araujo not only knows how to preapare and sauté the nutritious greens in olive oil and butter, he likes to finish it off with melted cheese.
The recipe is just one of the many lessons Will and four other young Algonquin Heights residents are learning this summer as they work as farm hands at Colchester Neighborhood Farm in Plympton.
Terra Cura and Healthy Plymouth partnered with New England Village to connect local youth with local organic produce at the farm and bring a mobile farmer’s market to the Algonquin apartment complex.
Araujo along with fellow Algonquin residents Alex Alebord, Aidan Pakniat, Asher Stein and Xavier Caseau, have been spending their summer Thursdays and Fridays at the farm on Brook Road, watering, cultivating and harvesting the 200-year-old farm.
New England Village has leased the eight-acre farm from the Barrow family since 2012 to support adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities with employement and training opportunities.
Terra Cura co-founder Jacqueline Millar put together the summer work program for the teens with a grant from South Shore Partners in Prevention, CHNA 23. The students work alongside farm manager Jim Lough and clients from New England Village who work on the farm part time as well.
Thursday mornings are busy, as Lough prepares the farm’s organic offerings for sale at the farmer’s market at Plimoth Plantation. Lough credits the teens with saving a popcorn and pumpkin patch that weeds threatened to overtake earlier in the summer. Their work cultivating out the weeds will ensure a healthy harvest and saved the farm approximately $3,000, Lough said.
They also built the trellis that supports the bottle-necked gourds Lough grows.
The students are earning $12 an hour for their labors, which Lough assigns at the start of the morning shift. Last Thursday’s chores started with cultivating long rows of recently sprouted carrots. The young work crew is well trained in harvesting the crops as well.
Thursday’s work also included preparations for a family farm fun field trip that the program planned to host Friday for residents of the Algonquin Heights community. Along with the mobile famer’s market, the trip is designed to give residents of the community a taste of farm-fresh healthy food and some quick recipes for using unfamiliar ingredients, like rainbow chard.
The program includes two workshops at Algonquin Heights to highlight recipes using produce from the farm. The workshops include discussion about the health benefits of eating local fruits and vegetables and how residents can grow their own in the Algonquin Heights community garden.
The students get to try most of the vegetables that are sold at the markets or in the farm stand store while at work. Each has his own favorite.
Pakniat likes the sun gold tomatoes. Stein and Caseau are partial to zucchini after sampling the zucchini bread Millar baked using fresh veggies and a farmer’s cookbook. “It’s important to know what to do with all this delicious stuff,” Millar said.
Araujo learned how to cook rainbow chard directly from Lough.
“Like the farmer said: Put olive oil on medium heat, slice the chard into pieces from the stem up, add garlic powder, a little salt and let it cook. After it’s done, pour out oil, put it on low heat, add some cheese, cover it and let it melt,” Araujo said. “It was pretty good. I’m tempted to try it with some tomatoes.”
The work sessions include a career development component. Millar said the five teens were selected for the program in part because of their interest in gardening. But guests have visited the teens to share stories about how they made careers in other professions – from social work to teaching.
Araujo said he has already learned the benefits of being outside and doing something productive on a nice summer day. And while agriculture may not be in his future, the teen will always know what it takes to grow fresh produce and why it is worth the effort.
“Originally I would have said, no,” Araujo said, when asked if he’d like to become a farmer, “but afterward I would say yeah. I know if I want something I could just grow it and it tastes better than going to the supermarket for it.”