The LEAF Project (Leadership Education And Farming) is a farm-based youth employment program. Launched by Heidi Witmer in 2013, the project envisions a community in which our youth, as well as all members of our region, are connected to the food that nourishes them, the land on which it grows, and to each other. To achieve this, LEAF provides paid internships to youth, ages 14-18, to work alongside farmers and chefs in the greater Carlisle region. These internships are meant to engage and inspire youth through the meaningful work of building a healthy local food system. Youth work, collaborate, and learn together, motivating personal and social change while increasing knowledge about and access to locally raised food in our community.
Currently, LEAF provides paid internships to 12 youth for a seven week summer program. During the program, youth experience all aspects of the local food system. They spend a good chunk of time planting and cultivating crops at their host farm, owned by fourth generation farmer Bert Myers. The youth then deliver some of their own produce to local restaurants, donate it to hunger relief programs, learn how to cook it from seasoned local chefs, and then engage the community in cooking demonstrations and workshops about the differences between locally grown and processed foods. During the program all youth keep writing journals, in which they document their experiences and growth during the program.
The LEAF program is a Carlisle area gem. At a time when hard manual work is not attributed to youth, the LEAF staff is proving both to the kids and to the community that not only are they capable, but that they can enjoy it. By combining a paid summer job with agriculture, education, and leadership training, the LEAF Project allows its participants to be productive during their summer breaks. Furthermore, the youth leave the program as environmental and healthy-eating ambassadors to their own families and their communities – improving the health of the region one child at a time.