On Saturday, the St. Pete Youth Farm will celebrate Earth Day 2021 with a community workday and market at their location at 1664 12th St. South in St. Petersburg.

Spectrum Bay News 9 spent Thursday morning visiting with Carla Bristol, the collaboration manager of the St. Pete Youth Farm, to learn more about the project and what’s going on with it. 

Here are some excerpts from our interview.

Carla Bristol: We officially kicked off in 2019, but it was as the result of the Walmart closing and two grocery stores closing within a four-year period just 10 blocks from here. 

When those two (stores) closed, so many community leaders got together to determine what are we going to do about it, and how do we still provide access to fresh fruits and vegetables for this community, and this was a result: a youth-led initiative known as St. Pete Youth Farm. 

BN9: So what’s a normal week here like?

Carla Bristol: This is an initiative of the South Side CRA (Community Redevelopment Agency) so young people that participate and get paid live inside the South St Pete CRA, but we do encourage all young people to come out and spend time with us. An average week is a 10-hour week for our young people. Mondays, we have ‘Mental Health Mondays’ believe it or not, so about 40 percent of what we do is agriculture based and another 60 percent is all youth development. So everything from leadership, entrepreneurship, working on their mental health, their mindfulness with mindful meditation with art – so it’s a little bit of everything, ultimately culminating in them being full-fledged entrepreneurs, selling the food that we grow directly back into the community. We’re constantly saying that this location should be a place where people come to engage in community, culture and discover … you’re sitting in a place where we're growing food.

BN9: So how many kids are involved with the Farm right now?

Carla Bristol: Up to now we’ve hired over 30 some odd young people. We have around 15 young people actively participating at this time. All high-school aged teens. Some young people bring their siblings. We love it. Some high school aged teens bring their friends from school. I love that. That’s exactly how it should be. They should feel that this is a place where they feel safe. They can get a little bit of discipline (laughs), but they’re having a good time and they’re in an environment where they’re learning in a fun way. 

BN9: And you have instructors?

Carla Bristol: We have multiple instructors. Over time we’ve had Gwendolyn Reese teaching about African American history, we’ve had Clayton Sizemore doing mindful meditation. We have Zaneta Ellison doing the therapy portion. Nomad (art bus). You name it, we have it.  So many of our instructors that come in are basically sharing their time with us and with our young people.

Carla Bristol, the collaboration manager of the St. Pete Youth Farm (Spectrum Bay News 9/Mitch Perry)

BN9: How did the funding come together? It was announced last fall that USFSP received a $25,000 grant from the Ford Motor Company’s College Community Challenge that the St Pete Youth Farm is involved with. What’s going on with that?

Carla Bristol: The initial funding that kicked the project off came from the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg and the city of St. Petersburg - the South St. Peta CRA funding. The capital dollars (came from the) city of St. Petersburg. This land belonged to the city of St. Petersburg. It’s why the youth are from this area of South St. Pete known as the South St Pete CRA 4thStreet to 49thStreet.

The grant with the Ford Foundation came later and we’re still working on making that happen and bringing that to fruition. It’s the Fresh and Local Greenhouse Project that we’re doing with USF and we’re still waiting to get our covering structure so that we can put the hydroponic system together inside and start growing food, not just what we’re doing here with the raised beds - we have over 30 raised beds. We’re planning to grow food hydroponically. We’re planning to grow microgreens. So depending on how much space you have at home, this will be a learning facility where you can come and learn all the different ways that you can grow food based on your space, and based on your interests, right? Some kids are going to love the technology aspect of utilizing hydroponics. Others simply love getting their hands in the dirt. We have a major compost site here that we are composting because we have such a large area of growth here, so we are literally regenerating the soil and diverting food waste right here at the Youth Farm.

BN9: Part of building this program up was that the youth involved would be getting compensated, correct?

Carla Bristol: Our youth are paid $10-$12 an hour based on their experience level with the program. So our young people that have been with us since 2019, they’re making $12 an hour. As they came in after that and so on and so forth, because just like in the regular business or work world, you will learn that experience is how you get compensated. So we’re really trying to create what we call job-keeping skills here at St Pete Youth Farm so when a young person leaves here and goes somewhere else, they already have all the business acumen needed to be successful in whatever they decide to do. 

BN9: What else should people know?

Carla Bristol: If you want to volunteer, come volunteer with us, go to our website, stpeteyouthfarm.org. That’s where you will find the most up to date information about what we’re doing, information about events.

Also, I really want people to know – I meant what I said - if you’re a young person (who) doesn’t live in the area, or doesn’t have time for a full-time job, which is a 10-hour a week job, please, still bring them. Volunteer hours is another good thing, and you’re putting your young person in an environment where they’re learning and they’re each learning from each other so we still encourage you to come out. On the last Saturday of the month we typically have some sort of workday event. This month it’s our Earth Day celebration, but every single month typically we have the fourth Saturday of the month. And there’s other opportunities to volunteer. Go to our website and sign up!