Inner-city Leeds youth farm giving away fresh vegetables in Harehills harvest festival
Young volunteers are giving away an abundance of fresh vegetables they have grown themselves at an urban farm in Harehills.
The young people, aged nine to 17, have built the farm from scratch at Harehills charity Community Action to Create Hope (CATCH).
As well as teaching the volunteers lifelong farming skills, the aim of the Grow Together project is to provide fresh produce for the Harehills community, including potatoes, peas, carrots, onions, beetroot, and a range of salads, alongside recipes for healthy meals.
The project is supervised by Dr Ian Shaw, an associate professor of Global Security Challenges at the University of Leeds, who holds twice-weekly sessions with the young people about plant ecology, food growing and soil health.
Using their new skills, the volunteers have built dozens of raised beds and have planted, cared for, and harvested the produce - handing it out to the community from CATCH in Hovingham Avenue in a harvest festival last week.
Dr Shaw said: “Almost all of the volunteers are from BAME communities and some have not been in this country for very long. Many of the young people don’t have access to green space of any kind at their homes, which are often overcrowded.
“The educational farm provided a lifeline during the pandemic and working with plants outdoors helped them connect to nature.
"Many had no experience of gardening but they threw themselves into it. They were amazed at the taste of freshly picked peas.
"There is a lot of fast food in Harehills, so seeing their faces light up when they ate fresh produce they’d grown themselves was wonderful.”
Grow Together received support from NHS West Yorkshire and Harrogate Health Partnership’s green social prescribing fund to help construct two 36ft polytunnels and a wellbeing space.
The fund invests in nature-based interventions and activities to help support vulnerable people with mental health difficulties in recognition of the positive benefits of access to green spaces.
Volunteer Solomon Balica, aged 17, said: "Grow Together keeps young people busy and off the streets. Also it teaches volunteers new skills, such as growing their own food. We know the value of the food and can appreciate it more.
“I love gardening, looking after the food, looking after the vegetables. It makes me happy. Also, building new friendships with people I never knew before.
"I would recommend other communities do it. And maybe, in a few years, young people can grow their own food at home.”
CATCH was awarded with The Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service in June, the highest award a voluntary group can receive in the UK.
It was founded in 2010 by passionate volunteers to make the city a healthier, safer and more united place, particularly for young people from disadvantaged and diverse backgrounds.
CATCH centre manager Nicola Gomersall added: “I think what the young people have enjoyed is the working together for a common goal that they are all a part of.
"They have felt a togetherness and that it’s something that they wouldn’t always get in their everyday lives, as well as getting to be outdoors.
“It is important because it develops skills in young people that they wouldn’t normally get through formal education at school. Working with the University of Leeds has opened up bigger and better networks for the young people.
"Ian brought a completely different dynamic to the project, and the energy and the enthusiasm he brings to drive the project forward at CATCH is amazing."
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