Monday classes are a vital part of the Hidden Villa residential intern program. These day-long classes better inform us about the many facets our work at Hidden Villa and the ways we are helping to create a more just and sustainable future. Two of our recent classes focused on organic farming practices and social justice. They challenged me to think about the ways in which our work connects to larger food systems and the ways that food justice sits at an intersection with an understanding of social justice.
Additionally, I was able to attend a food justice panel in San Jose that highlighted organizations and leaders in the food justice and food access movement. These leaders are helping teach local residents how to plant home gardens, supporting farmers, teaching agriculture and food justice courses at the university and overseeing a community garden initiative. The conversation ranged from culturally preferred foods to food hubs as an alternative access point, from the price of food to community-building through food education. This conversation directly connected to the Monday classes that I’d experienced at Hidden Villa.
As I listened to these participants speak. I reflected on my location in the food system. My time at Hidden Villa has given me the opportunity to reconnect to food as something that is a part of our ecosystem, our environment, and not just something that is consumed. I am learning the ways in which local, organic, sustainable food plays into food justice. At Hidden Villa food justice means supporting neighboring farmers make a living wage, eating foods that haven’t been sprayed with pesticides, supporting farmers that use farming practices that nurture the earth and soil by using crop rotation, attracting helpful pests and repelling harmful pests, growing crop covers to regenerate the top soil, and being conscious of water consumption.
I’m so proud to say that I work here at Hidden Villa and that we are participating in the food system and addressing food justice, if only in our particular way; producing food and asking young people to consider the choices that they make and the ways in which these choices affect our future, our bodies, our minds, our environment, and our communities. Hopefully in having such conversations it allows us all to start to reformulate our values or beliefs in order to change our actions, recognizing that change in the food system first starts with our understanding and connection to the food we eat.
“As assistant counselors in training, we are ambassadors of the Hidden Villa legacy who strive to both learn from and teach about our experiences at Hidden Villa, not only to other campers, but to our friends, families and communities." -Assistant Counselors in Training Mission Statement 2013 Three weeks ago I met Hidden Villa’s Assistant Counselors in Training (ACT) participating in the first session of their training course. These young people, the majority of whom have attended Hidden Villa camp for nine or more years, emphasized that, “Hidden Villa is not just a summer place, but a place where people can find themselves.” In the training they are learning, sharing and reflecting on their deeply impactful experiences in hopes of creating the same value for future campers.
As I listen to these mature, young adults speak about their experiences I’m encouraged by their ability to consider the life lessons they’ve learned throughout the years at Hidden Villa. “We’re here to learn to be mentors and through the process we’ll be able to develop our leadership skills.” Leadership, as they explain, entails developing the skills to have a healthy dialogue, learning to be professional, and recognizing how our attitudes affect others. They recognize the importance of having a safe space where they can share, learn, and grow. “Sharing is nourishing. If you have an idea and want to make change, you can inspire others. Then, you’ll start a movement of awesomeness.” They also realize that they are leaders for one another, “If someone is not getting it, we can mentor one another.” What a beautiful understanding of the mutual learning processes at play!
Often, these conversations about both leadership and mentorship are happening at school, but the youth don’t feel they are often able practice these skills in real life situations. “As ACT’s we are getting ready for actual jobs. This is an internship where you get experience supervising kids, animals, being responsible for other individuals.” As they discuss their thoughts, I see their energy and excitement rise. They are a group of teenagers that recognize their role in the local and global community and are eager to go out and make change.
Sofía Pablo-Hoshino is a San Francisco native and the newest Development Intern at Hidden Villa. She enjoys knitting, long conversations about life, and cilantro on any and all foods. She also recently harvested her first beet, ever!
In the early morning of April 20th the farm was buzzing with teens practicing their speeches, setting up for the big day and making sure the last touches were in place. The Interfaith Experience was a completely youth-led event from start to finish that brought diverse perspectives together and gave youth opportunities to teach about tolerance. This inaugural "Duveneck Forum" provided the community with a space to come together for a collaborative discussion on non-violent communication, empathy and common ground between faiths.
Twenty youth representing a myriad of faiths came together in early January to begin discussion of an event that would invite youth and adults of different religions to come, share, and educate about their faith. For three months the youth were involved with every aspect of creating the forum from recruiting new teen leaders, scheduling the logistics of the day, to designing and publicizing the event itself. After months of dedication and commitment the teens were ready for their debut; As the leadership council, they guided the 90 participants of this new community through a day of informative discussions and workshops.
The day began with an opening circle where David Duveneck, grandson of Hidden Villa's founders, spoke about the values that were instilled by his grandparents and the legacy of social justice here at Hidden Villa. This insightful moment tied together the mission of Hidden Villa and the intention behind the inaugural "Duveneck Forum." The day featured the teens, giving them the opportunity to speak about their faith, facilitate discussion with the community, and co-lead workshops that used art, nature, meditation, and dance as teaching tools to continue dialogue.
This Duveneck Forum provided an opportunity to empower and foster growth in future leaders. Every one of these teens exemplified leadership and through intentional mentorship were able to develop a forum that was both informative and fun. They will now have this as an experience to build their resume for college and future job viability.
It is this unique synthesis of college preparedness and professional development that was the ultimate success for Hidden Villa's Youth Development Program. Giving youth the opportunity to plan and coordinate an event is a strategic way of empowering youth as resources for their own growth. When youth buy-in to their own education and have opportunities to formulate parts of it in line with their interests, the end result is a catalyst that sparks growth. This is the legacy that the Duveneck’s believed in and worked so hard to provide: a safe place for the community to come together and learn through experience. It is this type of experiential learning and on-going mentorship that the Youth Development program uses to foster caring and compassionate leaders prepared to be successful, contributing members in their communities and in the world around them.
The Summit and Everest High School youth who came to Hidden Villa this past month were surprised by what goes into running a small-scale nonprofit farm and wilderness preserve. They showed up here in their finest summer fashions with a concrete list of things they would and wouldn't do only to quickly realize that the shorts and Air Jordan’s they wore might have been a bad choice for a dirty day mulling the farm. This example is just one kind of experiential learning that is a key part of Youth Development programs. We provide the space within the program for youth to experience and make the choices that work best for them. I cherish these transitions and am grateful we have such an awe-inspiring vehicle to facilitate this kind of growth within the youth.
The opportunity to work with any group for a month is rare for Youth Development, however through our program "Forest to Farm to Food" we are able to work with Summit and Everest schools for a two month period called an intercession. This is one of the most rewarding times for us as youth workers because it enables us to solidify our relationships and commitment to empowering their own growth and goals. The proof is the relationships that survive long past their time here on the farm. One example is Julian who has been with Hidden Villa since he was seven, growing through our residential summer camp program, and coming to the intercessions here at Hidden Villa for the past two years. This year as a junior he was unable to participate in the intercession due to his involvement in SAT prep classes but founds ways to navigate around this hurdle by coming in the afternoons to volunteer with the CSA and Animal Husbandry crew. He is a leader among his peers and it showed when he worked with this year’s intersession crew on chores demonstrating his knowledge of the farm and animals. He told me Hidden Villa gave him the confidence to work alone on chores and feel comfortable teaching others.
This is the type of connection that defines Hidden Villa; Empowering youth and investing our time in them ripples out to the community and continues the legacy that the Duveneck’s started almost 70 years ago. These are the kind of relationships we are asking for you to invest in that foster confidence and leadership with youth and work towards the goals of a more just and sustainable future. Through your contributions, Youth Development is able to reach youth from a broad range of socioeconomic and racial backgrounds giving them the means to be their own advocates in their schools, communities, and the world around them.
One day last week we walked into Summit Prep, a charter school and one of our Youth Development partners. We knew that there would be swarms of 9th, 10th and 12th graders rushing in to find out about coming out to the ranch for one of our month-long social and environmental justice and sustainability programs: “From Forest to Farm to Food”. Lugging a projector, lap top and screen up the steps to sign in at the front desk, I was suddenly bowled over by a loud, “Sam!” I turned to find a student from last year’s program looking completely astonished to see me. “What are you doing here?! Hi!! Is Bill here? What are you doing?” Questions and comments poured out of her and I found that I was just as happy to see her too. This feeling only grew as the bell rang and students filled the halls, more familiar faces from last year joining our growing crowd. “Whaaat?? Sweet, this totally makes my day,” another remarked, his tone the usual I’ve-just-woken-up drawl, “Oh man, that’s so cool you guys are here.” Two other students from last year’s group ran up for hugs and hollered “we love coming out now and volunteering with the animals and weekend programs for kids.” At times like this it is so clear why we do the work we do with youth.
We deeply admire the many classroom teachers and other YD providers with whom we collaborate daily. These are amazing folks who have dedicated a large portion of their lives and energy to helping change youth trajectories to positive directions. The daily work that many of them have in the classrooms and programs of planning and delivering the coursework and keeping 30-35 teens interested and moving towards their goals is quite a task!
So this is where we in the Youth Development Department at Hidden Villa come in. Our staff, farm, and wilderness are incredible resources for leveling the learning playing field by giving youth hands-on experiences outside their usual environment . Watching the eyes of a youth for the first time who is holding a banana slug or a newborn lamb or making soup from harvested organic vegetables is something that everyone should be able to witness. We are finding that creativity is also one of our biggest assets. As we build up our core programming and extend the network of schools and youth organizations we partner with, we are doing so with the express goal of being flexible enough to meet students, teachers, and classrooms at the level they need. But what does that actually look like?
It can sometimes take the form of tailored curriculum, like last week’s programs with Environmental Science classes on California biomes, Natural Resources and Carbon and Nitrogen cycles. These International Baccalaureate level classes from Sequoia High are learning about the complex interplay of biotic (living) and abiotic (nonliving) factors that make life on earth possible. As their teacher wrote to us after:
At other times our adaptability takes on a different form, and we seek direction from the students themselves. Each year we work with the Redwood Environmental Academy of Leadership (REAL) at Redwood High to provide retreats and workshops to empower student leadership and teach valuable life skills to these underserved youth. This begins each September with our first in-class program, one that always finishes with the same activity. We ask them to anonymously write down a goal for themselves for the year. “Where do you want to be in May and what do you want to have gained by then?” is our prompt, with no caveat that it be about grades or even school. They write such goals as: “To be more direct and honest to people’s faces” and “To graduate and be able to go on to nursing school” and “To be nicer to my Mom”. As the bell rings and each person heads outside, they leave these pieces of paper on a big sheet by the door, everyone’s hopes gathered in one place. It is not just a demonstration …we use these notes to focus all of our later workshops with these students, their input directing the kind of hands-on activities and support we offer throughout the year.
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