Youth leaders

We met with this season's six crew leaders this afternoon.  Jen arrives early to get paperwork set out and greet everyone while Ted, Kiya, and I scramble to finish off a few projects before the meeting.  They trickle in early, all in good spirits, so ready to jump back in to the farm.

Kiya and David have been here since April as extended season crew leaders, meaning they get to work alongside the interns and participate in all the spring preparations that most of the crew never sees.  You met Kiya here, and will surely see her more throughout the season.  It's David's twenty-first birthday today, and he leaves as soon as he could to go to Portland for a show with his mom.  He's the oldest person we've probably ever had on the crew, since these new extended positions don't have age restrictions.  He's a very centered, mild-mannered, positive person, and he tends to dance with his hands as he talks.  He's tall, with long straight brown hair that he pulls back into a ponytail or braids, and rides his bike to the farm.

Joaquin approaches me before the meeting as I'm pulling drip tape into the overflow greenhouse with UO interns Mo and Huiyang.  "Do you need any help?" he asks with a smile.  I smile back, not at all surprised by his willingness to jump in, relieved by the thought of him back on the farm to help keep everyone's energy high, struck by how much he's grown and matured in these past three years.  He's now seventeen, a junior in high school, but he started volunteering alongside the youth crew back when he was only fourteen.  His determination and work ethic got him easily on the crew two years ago, and he's back for his second year as a crew leader this year.  As a leader, his style evolved a lot last season as he realized that being the "bad cop" wasn't always as effective as he hoped.  He's learning.  I think it's an incredibly healthy process for him to go through at this age, to learn how to lead all types of people in an inclusive way.

Edith and Madison are sitting around the picnic tables, bright and smiling with some nervousness.  It's their first year as crew leaders.  Edith is only sixteen, bleached short hair tied with a black silk headband, small-bodied but strong, soft spoken and very quick to learn.  Madison is a year older, athletic, outgoing, strong-willed, and with a huge smile.  When we talk about roles for tomorrow, they're both relieved when we suggest they take a back seat until they get back in a groove.  Being thrown into leading for the first time is intimidating, and I laugh inside to realize how much of the same issues I've faced in my position here.

Phela bounces up last, long hair dyed bright red over the winter, almost bursting with excitement to be back when she sits down next to me.  She was a clear choice for the crew two years ago since her family has a small farm, and she naturally rose to be a leader that first year when one of the official crew leaders quit mid season.  She's a dancer, into robotics, wants to be an engineer, and is now taking classes at the community college in preparation for OSU.  She's agreed to help manage the Thursday farm stand every week, which means I'll get to spend more time with her this year since I run set-up and break-down.  Her laugh is loud and contagious.

Six familiar faces, a year older, about to bring such a burst of experience and energy to the farm.  The beginning of the crew's season is when I first realized how special this farm is, and how fun it can be to work alongside teenagers.  With so many leaders this year, I'll do my best to step back and give them room to grow in their roles, learn from each other, continue becoming themselves more fully.

** Note: I use a pseudonym for any youth farmer under age eighteen.