Building Local Youth Leadership
Grow Dat, a grantee of Cricket Island Foundation (CIF) since 2014, is nurturing a diverse group of young leaders through growing food and developing youth leadership skills. The New Orleans-based organization is situated on a seven-acre site in City Park with a two-and-a-half-acre sustainable farm. The farm grows and harvests an average of 50,000 pounds of fresh produce each year. Eighty percent is sold via Grow Dat’s CSA program and the remainder is distributed through its Shared Harvest program and to youth participants and families.
“This experience has taught me so much….I know what I want for my future self, and I am going to keep pursuing that.” - Paige Parent, Youth Leader
Meet Two Youth Leaders
Paige Parent is a 17-year-old New Orleans native who was born two weeks before Hurricane Katrina devastated the City in August 2005. Paige’s family had to move to Houston, returning to New Orleans 16 months later. This fall, after graduating from Warren Easton Charter High School, Paige will be a freshman at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette on a full scholarship. She plans to major in environmental science.
Cooley Carriere is an 18-year New Orleans native who, like Paige, is a high school senior. He attends New Harmony High. Cooley’s family hails from New Orleans, although members of Cooley’s extended family have also migrated throughout the South over the past few years. Cooley plans to travel after graduation, saying he feels confident about exploring new places independently and wants to explore opportunities in the arts.
Learning to Lead
Cooley and Paige can both vividly recall their first days on the farm, which consisted of weeding and getting to know their cohort of 12 other crew leaders and Grow Dat staff. They quickly acclimated to the long days outside, performing basic farm tasks, and began participating in workshops on food justice, community leadership, and sustainable agriculture.
Grow Dat has taught Paige and Cooley how to work as a team; they have learned to communicate their needs and collaborate with others to achieve common goals. Cooley is working on a Seed Project, a nine-month collaboration of a small group of Grow Dat youth leadership program alumni. The Seed Project team is building birdhouses, a natural way to nurture the wild birds that eat crop-destroying insects.
Paige now teaches newcomers about Grow Dat’s guidelines and standards, focusing on how youth members are expected to engage with the Grow Dat community, as well as the fundamentals of farming.
“These guidelines that we have, they help you learn the rules of being a professional while also understanding the rules of being in a community.” -Cooley Carriere, Youth Leader
Paige and Cooley gained knowledge of health and nutrition and the opportunities for community self-sufficiency created through sustainable farming. They also learned about food deserts, which are areas where access to affordable, healthy food options is restricted or nonexistent because there are no nearby grocery stores.
Paige recalls that when she began to do research on how many food deserts are in New Orleans, she realized that she lives in one. Paige told us, “I never really realized it because I thought that it was normal.”
Paige is proud of her farming knowledge, and how people in her community ask her to teach them to grow fruits and vegetables.
“Whenever people see me now, because they know that I farm, they say, ‘Come teach me how to grow this, come teach me how to grow that.” - Paige Parent, Youth Leader
Paige is equally proud of how she has grown in her ability to lead workshops. She has evolved from feeling uncomfortable in front of strangers to knowing how to adjust her content to ensure that workshop participants will interact with her and with each other.
Grow Dat requires young people to interview for each new position within the organization. Although Paige initially remembers this as a nerve-racking process, she’s learned how to advocate for herself, which has helped her navigate the college application process.
In addition to having the tools and resources to grow food properly, Cooley is motivated to help communities that are similar to the ones that benefit from Grow Dat. He is taking much more than the sustainable farming knowledge from his experience.
“Grow Dat has not only made me think differently about what I’ll be doing after high school but helped me discover what I want to do.” - Cooley Carriere, Youth Leader
He has already started bringing his knowledge of farming and working as a team to other youth-led community gardens in the city. “We are helping other communities similar to Grow Dat to make a change too.”