Real Food Rising cultivates vegetables, and it also cultivates young leaders. The high-school-age participants, also known as “crew workers,” represent the diversity of the races and ethnicities present in Salt Lake City. They apply to work with Real Food Rising for many reasons, but those who apply to come back season after season do so because of the opportunities there are to give back and because of the way they are treated here.
We call it “community farming,” because it's just that: lots of people from various corners of the community coming together to grow food for others. We wouldn’t be anywhere near where we are today if it weren’t for so many stakeholders invested in the program.
On a piece of land framed by the Jordan River parkway, a parking lot, and a kids’ playground, youth and adults work side by side picking hot peppers in the blazing mid-summer sun. Their conversation is an easy one, as their hands fly back and forth between pepper plants and their harvest buckets. Topics range from movie recommendations to weekend plans, with the occasional pause to jointly consider if a certain pepper is big enough to harvest.
Real Food Rising’s urban farm is deceptively large. In partnership with Neighborhood House, RFR has turned one-and-a-half acres of forgotten land into a thriving farm that produces thousands of pounds of produce. Neighborhood House generously loans the land to Utahns Against Hunger’s Real Food Rising program. And over the course of the last year and a half, this land, which has been used to discard dirt for many construction projects so that basements can be dug, has been rejuvenated and restored. It’s taken a lot of compost, cover crop, sweat equity, and love–not to mention community support–to build this farm.
In early 2012, Real Food Rising was on the cusp of turning from an idea into something a bit more real; however, our land leads had fallen through. As luck would have it, I was telling our story in a class that Erica, an AmeriCorps VISTA at Neighborhood House, was attending. She approached me afterwards to say that NH had quite a bit of land, some of which they were using for their community garden, but that we could most likely utilize some of it.
So later in 2012, we farmed on what was probably just an eighth of an acre, in addition to a small piece of land belonging to Wasatch Community Gardens. In 2013, we added a handful of beds and began the long process of clearing the land–digging out stumps, removing the thistle, removing debris from the back acre–which is now what we call the "Back Forty."
We are a job-readiness program for youth and a production urban farm. So, we strive to teach the youth in our program how to work hard, take initiative, be committed, and why all of that is important.
On the farm, there is always more to do. Therefore, we teach youth about the urgency of moving quickly through a task and being thorough. Plus, we take the responsibility of being their first job experience seriously–and so we try to instill the idea that work can be fun.
We work for a large portion of our lives, and that we can do meaningful things at work while also enjoying ourselves, is a concept we want to share with crew workers.
A number of generous chefs have donated their time to teach our youth about how to prepare the food they grow in delicious and healthy ways. These talented chefs include Mike Showers (pictured above) from Nicholas and Co., Bo Schiers and Shane Baird from Wasatch Brew Pub and Squatters, and Jen Gilroy from Meditrina.
Real Food Rising looks to make an impact in the community by empowering youth, increasing food access, and educating the community. As a program of Utahns Against Hunger, we bring together the conversations about local/organic and food insecurity.
We train youth to be ambassadors to the community–the next environmental and anti-hunger leaders. They learn leadership and public speaking skills and then put them to the test by leading volunteers on the farm and speaking at events, both on our farm and in the community.
Our youth plant the seeds, care for the plants as they grow, and harvest the fruits. Then, they take it all to food pantries and soup kitchens to serve local, organic food to people experiencing food insecurity.
SLC Fruit Share is the brainchild of Bridget Stuchly of Salt Lake City’s Sustainability Office. She saw two community problems: food insecurity and excess fruit going to waste in the backyards of Salt Lake City residents. Stuchly decided to create a program to address those issues. Along with SLC Green, Green Urban Lunch Box, and Tree Utah, Real Food Rising mobilizes volunteers to harvest excess fruit in the community.
The harvests are split three ways: 1/3 to the homeowners, 1/3 among the pickers, and 1/3 to food pantries. We have an amazing amount of fruit in our valley, such as apricots, plums, cherries, peaches, apples, pears, grapes, and more!
In addition to the SLC Fruit Share, our outreach efforts also include Youth Farm Mobs where we go to other small farms to lend a hand when those farms need help. We also help at community gardens and this year, we offered Youth Farm Mobs to homeowners for a fee to help with their gardens. We started our farm mobbin’ season off in the beautiful backyard of the owner and founder of Resilient Body Nutrition, Kate Dowden (pictured above).
As you can see, there are so many people involved, and I’d like to take a second to thank even more: There’s Mele at Mololo’s offering to grow the starts for us in her greenhouse, and Neighborhood House offering us the land, and Aaron or Laura volunteering to teach classes on composting and nutrition, and still Dayna from TNT donating both machinery and her brother’s time to till up our back acre. And, of course, Michael Tallman for taking beautiful photos to help us illustrate our story. So many people.
For more information about Real Food Rising, including how to volunteer, donate, and/or register your fruit tree to be harvested, visit www.UAH.org/RealFoodRising
Real Food Rising will be hosting its Fall Celebration and Fundraiser at Rico’s Warehouse on Thursday, October 16. Tickets can be purchased here.
Editor’s note: This is the first time that 13% SALT has let the subject of a post tell his/her story in their own words. I really thought that Mike Evans, director of Real Food Rising, could tell a more intimate, personalized tale of how the program has evolved, which he did. This is also the longest post on the site, in terms of photography and word count. I hope you enjoy it.
Michael Tallman catches the light of both spontaneous and thoughtful moments with a creative eye and careful attention to detail. Michael specializes in documentary-style wedding photography. He recently relocated from Utah to Vermont with his wife, son, and two dogs. Visit his portfolio.