International Students Benefit by Growing Food with Vermont Youth Conservation Corps [w/ Video]

From Vermont Youth Conservation Corps

Ali Al Jarah glides around the VYCC commercial kitchen like a seasoned chef.  He balances cooking pots and trays being wrapped for overnight storage.  It is like Ali has done this before, but this is new.  Very new.  Ali, a 16 year-old resident of Winooski, moved with his family from Iraq only seven months ago.  He wants to improve his English. “I am working to speak more English, but it is hard.” Ali is not one to give up, that much is clear.

At Winooski High School, over 30 different languages are spoken, and Ali has found a community there.  He’s also joined the VYCC community - Ali is participating in VYCC’s new after school internship for Winooski students.  Friday marked the halfway point in this six-week program, which is funded by the VYCC Annual Fund as well as a Community Based Learning grant from the Partnership for Change Education Reform Initiative.

Each afternoon, after donning VYCC uniforms in the VYCC schoolhouse, Ali and 27 peers eagerly meet outside for a stretch circle or cooperative game and a short group meeting to discuss the goals of the day.  So far, students have planted over 11,000 onions, and kale and cabbage in the fields behind the West Monitor Barn.  In the greenhouse, they have potted celery, peppers, celeriac and tomatoes.  Students also receive tutorial help as needed.

Food is a way to engage students in community-oriented activities and helps them learn more about each other.  This past Friday, students prepared food for a special evening presentation by leaders in the Conservation and Farm programs. In addition to sharing traditional dishes, students gain valuable skills such as communication, teamwork, leadership, and personal responsibility.

Farm Apprentice Caelyn Keenan observes, “Students who didn't speak to each other a few weeks ago are now comfortable in each other's company. We may not always have profound conversations, but the ease they have with one another is remarkable. I think hard work and food have a lot to do with this 'coming together.’”

They are also engaged in the issue of food security in our communities.  On June 7, students will plan and host the Friday Night Food Affair, a free community meal for residents of Richmond and surrounding towns.  To deepen their learning and make a positive impact in their hometown, the students will plan and host their own fall harvest community dinner in Winooski in September.