A 1.5-acre farm that sits on land once occupied by Washington state’s first racially integrated public housing development is producing food, flowers and opportunities for teens of color to dig into history as well as the soil.

For a third year, the Black Farmers Collective has partnered with iUrban Teen to create an urban farming experience for youth at Yes Farm, which grows crops and hosts community-building events and educational programming.

Perched along I-5, the farm bursts with flowers, beehives, vegetables and a medicinal plant garden. When the teens are on the scene, the air fills with laughter, wheelbarrow races, and jokes in between farm tasks and workshops. Each participating student receives a $100 stipend.

Farm manager Hannah Wilson, 24, who’s worked at Yes Farm for a year, is passionate about educating youth.

 “Historically, Black folks haven’t had the same access to green space or land ownership, so I really try to ground the youth in the fact that we’re on Indigenous land,” Wilson said. “And I want them to know that Black farmers used to have this major part in America and now less than 2% of farmland is owned by Black farmers.” 

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The Yes farmland once contained Yesler Terrace, the first racially integrated public housing development in the United States. Completed in 1941, the homes had large gardens and spacious yards. But the area changed with the construction of I-5, gentrification and new apartment developments, and has since been redeveloped.

“Once folks had to move out of those spaces we saw that there was a high need for folks who had been gardening for decades,” Wilson said. “Many are immigrants who came from a farming background so giving them space to have ownership over that has been a really beautiful experience.” 

The goal of the farm is to “make this a space that’s for them, not just accepting them, but one that’s built for Black and brown youth and whatever other marginalized background they may come from.” 

Terrell Engmann and Jordan Jackson, both 22, co-founders of Basilica Bio, a mobile education organization focused on creating change in communities of color through science, discussed the history of environmental justice and restoration with students earlier in August.

 “It’s about us wanting to learn and then share that knowledge, ” Engmann said. “We focus on how we can empower our community and how the environment plays a role in health equity.” 

Mahogany Wade, 15, who previously has helped an aunt tend a home garden, says she liked being surrounded by Black and brown students, farm specialists and guest speakers, and appreciated efforts to protect the environment for future generations. “My momma always raised me to think about others and don’t be selfish,” Wade said.

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“We’re a community of Black people working together for our environment and that will show people that we really do stand up for what we believe in,” Wade said. She looks forward to returning to the farm to see the results of their hard work in the produce, plants and flowers. 

Bees buzzed around the vibrant sunflowers as teens watered the plants, tasted edible flowers and shoveled fresh compost into the soil. The teens also harvested vegetables, and learned about plant parts and food cycles during the three-day program.

“I want these youth to take away that they have a place in the environmental field, they have a connection with the land wherever they go and that after this program they’re leaders and educators and can bring other people into it,” Wilson said. 

Volunteers are welcome on open farm days, Tuesday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., through December.