By Caroline Maretz
After two weeks at Seattle Youth Garden Works (SYGW), I’ve grown to really admire the structure of the program. It begins with the recruitment of crew members aged 15-22, who are in some capacity at a disadvantage obtaining alternative employment in the work force. SYGW seeks these individuals out, interviews them and then starts them on a track of employment that can last—in theory—indefinitely. Crew members are trained in the spring, work throughout the summer on the farm and in the kitchen and then continue training throughout the school year with workshops and skills development. At the end of that year they can then become crew leaders and repeat another year only with more responsibility, and after a few years of that they can become program directors, continuing to move up the chain of command. This pursuance of continued employment and promotion combines with a strategy of stipend deductions (for being late, absent, disruptive etc.) to ensure a strong work ethic and daily enthusiasm in a crew. This leaves me daily in awe of the positive attitude and effort in a group of people who would have otherwise struggled finding work at all, yet somehow when assembled together combine to make the best work environment I’ve yet to experience.
My satisfaction can be attributed to some other factors as well. For starters, I only spend two days in the office each week. While at first that seemed strange to me, it’s forced me to really make the most of my time working on various projects and planning/stocking up for the next day’s meal. Then, three days a week I get to work on the farm and cook with the crew. Not only does this mean sunshine and activity, but I also am learning an incredible amount. Victoria—our culinary specialist—as well as Lauren—our nutrition specialist—teach me each and every day some new, applicable advice on cooking, organic eating and a balanced diet. Then there’s Anthony, who know anything and everything about every plant and plant related process ever. I could take notes on everything he says all summer and still have tons to learn. Everything I learn is surprising, but useful to my daily life as I come home at night to make dinner with my new culinary and nutritional knowledge, and even try—and fail—to apply the $1/meal budgeting rule to myself (no surprise there). Going forward I can only hope the program continues as well as it has so far.
By Caroline Maretz