WORCESTER, Mass. - This week, Worcester students are getting to experience the joys of agriculture as the Regional Environmental Council hosts field trips to its YouthGROW Farm in the Main South neighborhood.

What You Need To Know

  • The Regional Environmental Council is hosting field trips at its YouthGROW farm this week

  • Students learn the value of locally-grown produce through hands-on lessons

  • REC's Eliza Lawrence said the farm helps students who live in an urban setting connect with agriculture

  • YouthGROW also employs nearly 40 Worcester teens, helping them gain leadership skills

While there may not be much space in an urban environment like Worcester to grow a big, beautiful garden, the YouthGROW farm gives students the chance to get hands-on lessons from instructors like Eliza Lawrence, REC’s school gardens coordinator.

For most of the year, Lawrence’s work involves maintaining more than 30 school gardens across Worcester, so inviting students to REC to see their work firsthand is a welcome change of scenery.

“It’s really exciting when the kids get here and they see something that they do at their school but on a bigger scale,” Lawrence said. “There’s more infrastructure, there’s greenhouses, there’s low tunnels, there’s in ground planting, there’s so much more fruit, there’s raspberry patches and grapes.”

Students enjoyed hearing from YouthGROW instructors about their compost system, the various crops they grow, and the wildlife that frequently visits the farm.

“Honestly my favorite part of this field trip would have to be when we tried all different types of fruits and vegetables over there, especially the strawberries,” said student Madina Sirek.

Lawrence and the team at REC are all about finding ways to channel their passion for locally-grown organic food to students who may have never considered it as a possibility living in an urban setting.

“I feel like I hear so many of them say ‘my grandfather has a farm,’ or so many of them come from agrarian backgrounds,” Lawrence said. “Worcester is so diverse, whatever country they came from a lot of them actually recognize the farm or know a family member who owned a farm or spent childhoods or summers on farms. It’s really cool to see that connection and I think when you move to Worcester, say you’re in an apartment or you don’t have a backyard or your soil isn’t healthy, it’s hard to do those things.”

With plenty of hands-on activities, students can appreciate where their food comes from, how important it is to have locally-grown produce that’s easily available and deepen their understanding of the food system.

Lawrence and the Regional Environmental Council are hoping to expand the program into fall field trips, so the same students will be able to come back when the farm has a bounty of fully-grown fruits and veggies.

Some might even come back when they’re in high school to help out with the YouthGROW program, which employs close to 40 Worcester teens ages 14 to 18 who catch the gardening bug.

“We’re not expecting everyone to become a farmer, but they get the job for a summer job, something to do, and then they develop an actual love and a passion for it,” Lawrence said. “It’s cool to see the different ways people get into this work and then end up loving the work itself.”