A few weeks ago, nineteen-year-old Cooper walked through a mulched row of the vegetable plot with his gaze wandering. “This field used to be half the size,” he observed, pointing to the western end where fruit trees now grow and the ocean backdrop remains the same. “And the mustard weed was tough to manage, but I don’t see it anymore”.
It’s been four years since Cooper was a member of the Teen Ag crew in one of its early seasons, and the program and plot have grown since then. In 2013, he had just finished his freshman year at Freeport High School and was excited to have a summer job outside. He grew up loving to be outdoors working on projects, which he credits to his father raising him on a small homestead with chickens and vegetables. Coming to Wolfe’s Neck Farm for that summer in high school solidified his affinity for farming and environmental work, and increased his knowledge about vegetable production and handling livestock.
“There’s a lot of value in growing your own food,” he explains, reflecting on how he believes our society has made it easier to rely on big businesses as the primary source of food for the everyday consumer. Cooper felt fortunate to experience this phenomenon of growing food in the Teen Ag program, and thinks there should be more opportunities like this for students. Taking a hands-on approach gave him a deeper understanding for where our food comes from, as evidenced in his enthusiasm for being a much more conscious consumer now as a result of the Teen Ag program. He truly understands the amount of effort it takes to grow a head of broccoli, and feels more personally connected to what he’s eating when he knows where it came from.
Now, Cooper is continuing down a path of outdoor and environmental work: Four years after his summer in the Teen Ag vegetable plot, he is currently working for the Americorps Student Conservation Association, doing trail work and teaching environmental studies to elementary school students. He’ll be attending Sterling College in Vermont this year, a school focused on environmental stewardship through hands-on participation, where he plans to study Sustainable Forestry.
With promising future plans to look forward to, Cooper is not one to forget the stepping stones that led him down this path. He remembers the summer of 2013 as working as a team with other motivated crew members, and memories of laughing trying to corral sheep and learning from mistakes. Wolfe’s Neck Farm will always serve as a reminder to him that we should not take where we work for granted; he would sometimes complain about the heat or the weeds, but would quickly return to reality where he was outside, doing what he loved, and overlooking the ocean.
It is especially fulfilling for him to return to the same spot four years later and see how much growth has happened at the farm. “This is much more of a well-oiled machine,” he acknowledged, compared to the Teen Ag he remembers, which was in its infancy in their second year of the program. These changes are very apparent to him: “There’s a new barn, a clear focus on education, and year round growing is not just a dream, but it’s happening.”
To learn more about how our Teen Ag Program has grown and its impact on the community, click here to visit the program’s webpage.