Changemaker Voices: Devon Turner of Grow Dat Youth Farm

Eat The Change

Grow Dat Youth Farm is an education nonprofit which cultivates the leadership potential of New Orleans area young adults, ages 15-24, through tiered leadership programming in the context of organic urban agriculture. Specifically, Grow Dat’s mission is to nurture a diverse group of young leaders through the meaningful work of growing food. Through experiential learning, youth reconnect to the land, explore how sustainable farming supports healthy ecosystems, educate and inspire their peers and neighbors, and build power to create personal and environmental change in their community.

Since 2010, Grow Dat has grown from a garden plot to a 7-acre farm with 3 acres of cultivated fields. Students and volunteers have harvested more than 200,000 pounds of food, donated more than 60,000 pounds to individuals and charitable organizations, and educated thousands of additional youth through field trips. The organization’s five leadership programs have provided more than 400 youth with stipends, leadership and technical skills, and deep knowledge of food systems.

Note: Photographs taken before the COVID-19 pandemic. Grow Dat Youth Farm is now adhering to all appropriate safety protocols.

What is your role at Grow Dat Youth Farm?

Executive Director

How would you describe your community? What makes it unique?

Our community includes a range of people throughout the beautiful city of New Orleans -- young adults who participate in our leadership programs, social justice organizations we partner with on food donations and programming, city residents and families who are Community Shared Agriculture members, school partners, and a host of other people dedicated to strengthening their local food systems. We share that passion while reflecting a variety of demographics, and that’s so important. To have relevant and meaningful conversations about change, growth, and accountability, the diversity of our community is necessary!

How is the concept of change important to your work? What kind of change does Grow Dat Youth Farm hope to bring about?

The concept of change is integral to our work! We recognize the gaps in fresh food access, access to land for food cultivation, and the ability for communities to control their food systems. Because we have that understanding, we have a responsibility to cultivate change on a number of levels which speak to immediate and long-term actions. And we believe that change has to happen on the individual, community, cultural, and policy or institutional levels. We are (1) doing the work of informing young people on local food systems, the histories of food production, and their impact on modern food systems, (2) teaching them how to grow their own food, and (3) cultivating their leadership skills so they can build teams and collaborate with others to improve our food systems. We are working to address root causes, and we certainly still have work to do to more strongly advocate systemic change, but we’re up to that challenge.

What has Grow Dat Youth Farm been up to since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic?

I am so proud of what we accomplished last spring and summer and the visioning that is happening right now. Last spring, our team worked hard to keep our leadership programming and food operations going during the pandemic. Not only did we pivot to continue supporting our young leaders and their families, we exceeded our food production goals by 5,000 pounds. Programming and food production thankfully started again this past fall. Since then, we’ve been doing everything we need to keep everyone safe and employed. And now that Grow Dat is 10 years old, we are visioning the next 10 years!

What are your biggest challenges right now?

All things pandemic.

What is inspiring you right now?

Everyone speaking to the need for systemic change. Our food systems are the culmination of hundreds of years of at times exploitive and oppressive practices and relationships. Folks have been tired of band-aid responses that don’t get to the root of food systems that don’t meet their needs. The folks envisioning new, responsive, sustainable, equitable food systems are my sheroes and heroes. Without glorifying struggles, their energy is real and inspiring. And that

intergenerational work, that kind of inclusive outreach, is what we need to move forward.

If you were a plant or a fungi, what would you be?

At this moment in time, I’d be a pansy. Their whimsy has brought me such joy over the past few weeks!

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