Dillon's Story; 4-Years Working at MAP

By Dillon Hill

My name is Dillon Hill.  I’m going to tell you my story about working at MAP, because I’ve never written down what I’ve done while I’ve been here.  I am an eighteen year old senior at Fredrick Law Olmsted.  I have worked at the Massachusetts Avenue Project since I was fourteen, so that’s roughly four years now.  MAP was my first job, and I was employed through the Mayor Summer Internship Program.

The first year at MAP, I learned about urban agriculture, the food system, the difference between organic and conventional produce, local sustainability, the aquaponics system, the greenhouse and the building blocks of work that MAP does.  I enjoyed that first summer working at MAP.  As my first summer came to an end, I found out that MAP also hired youth to work for the duration of the school year.  So I attended an interview and wrote something down about why I wanted to work during the school year.  I was nervous about the interview, having no experience at working, but I applied, and was later accepted.  I was relieved to be working somewhere I had some prior experience.

Throughout the school year I learned more about what MAP does and about our farm.  As I learned more about agriculture and our community, I started to develop an appreciation for our urban farm.  I spent many of my work hours on the farm with the other youth and the adult staff.  I learned from the Farm Manager, Jesse; the Farm & Markets Assistant, Katie; and the Mobile Market Coordinator, Tyler; about the various activities and projects that went on at the farm.  I found that the work was enjoyable, my coworkers were funny, and that the adult staff could teach me a lot about the farm.  That school year, I helped Jesse and Katie put up the fence that would later keep the chickens corralled.

As the school year ended I was told that if I were to work in the summer again I could work as the Compost Specialist.  Being a Compost Specialist meant that I would help the staff with making and maintaining the compost supply that was necessary for our farm.  As Compost Specialist, I learned how to make compost, what good compost looked like, and the ins and outs of some other farm chores or tasks.

As the summer of my sophomore year ended, I again applied to work at MAP during the school year.  This school year was memorable because that was the year that the Youth Advisors Council (YAC) started up.  YAC was originally just four students, two from MAP and two from Tapestry High School.  We focused on improving school lunches and enhancing school bus passes.  As January neared, I was informed that there was a student who had stopped attending meetings and that if I was interested I could join.  At the time, I was working with our newly hired Youth Education Director, Rebekah, attending meetings of the Western New York Environmental Alliance Environmental Justice Working Group.  I learned that the Environmental Justice Working Group was interested in fighting fracking in Western New York.  Rebekah and I did not get much out of the meetings, so I was offered the chance to join YAC.  I accepted and started attending meetings discussing ways that we could accomplish our new goals.

As a group, YAC decided we should host an event designed to gather student involvement and new members.  We named the event “Just Lead”, we sent out flyers, invitations to schools and made posters.  I think that the event gathered twenty or so students, fifteen of which were from MAP.  We asked those students to state an issue they found in their school, brainstorm solutions to that issue, and then we went over our two main issues with them.  Through this process we got some great ideas and upon reviewing the information we received, we realized that students thought that school lunches were lacking.  We found that the students in attendance had a greater interest in improving school lunches, than they did in enhancing the bus passes.  We also began to focus more on improving lunches within the Buffalo Public Schools, since Tapestry was a charter school I believe their interest in our work faded.

As the school year moved along, I was informed by Rebekah that there was a new council being formed called the Buffalo-Erie Food Policy Council.  The steering committee was deciding who would make up the council, which was supposed to include one seat for youth.  I decided that the one youth seat was not enough to express youth perspectives on a council filled with adults.  So I wrote the council requesting that youth be given two seats on the council, to allow them to properly voice themselves.

As another school year ended, I was told that I and another co-worker would have the chance to visit Washington, D.C. in the upcoming summer.  We were given the chance to participate in the Close Up D.C. program. Close Up takes students of color to Washington, D.C., to see how the government functions.  The trip was for a week in June, after all the exams had ended.  There were roughly 15 students from Buffalo who attended this event.  Through this trip I became good friends with Lamar Rice, the other MAP student who went on the trip.  During this trip we were taken on tours of various places in D.C., we participated in debates, we were given lessons about politics, and we developed our public speaking and leadership skills.  This trip helped me develop an interest in travel and a better idea of what laws and policies were.

That summer I worked at MAP again, getting to know my coworkers, and developing my interest in the environment.  That summer went by really fast, and by the time I knew it, the school year portion of MAP had begun.  The following October, I found out that the steering committee of the Food Policy Council had listened to my plea, and added a second youth seat to the Council.  I was appointed as one of the youth on the Food Policy Council, along with Lamar.  The Council started having regular meetings to determine what we wanted to do.  In November the Youth Advisors Council and the Food Policy Council (FPC) partnered up to host a meeting, YAC hoping to sway some students in to joining and the FPC announcing that it was created.

Through that meeting, the membership of YAC increased from just Lamar and I, to over 12 students from around Buffalo.  With the addition of these new students, we decided that YAC should develop our goal and increase its membership.  We came up with the idea of enhancing our school lunches by getting salad bars in all Buffalo Public Schools.  In March we decided we would go to a BPS Board of Education meeting and pass out salad to those who wanted any and to the board members.  At the end of the school year we had salad bars in a majority of all Buffalo Public Schools high schools.

During the summer of 2014, I was allowed to work at MAP again and I applied for a new specialist position.  I applied for the Farm Specialist position, which allowed me to spend my work hours on the farm instead of going through the normal summer program.  I worked closely with Jesse, Katie, Harry (who was our Summer Cooking Instructor), and Jake (an alumni of MAP who was interning for the summer).  The summer proceeded relaxingly well and I enjoyed the change of pace and work I did.  That summer was probably my most enjoyable one at MAP and I looked forward to working my senior year at MAP.

Probably the first thing I did during this school year was attended the Peoples Climate March, an environmental protest that wanted to increase awareness of the issue of global climate change.  The event happened on September 21st, in New York City, just days before the United Nations was to have a meeting concerning climate change.  This event showed me other groups who were interested in the environment.  As October began, YAC held another meeting, informing all its members that almost all Public Schools had salad bars at least three times a week.  This accomplishment was reassuring and helped the council fulfill one of our goals.

In November, MAP took me and two other youth to Saratoga Springs for the North Eastern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (NESAWG) conference.  We learned what was going on regionally and what other organizations were doing regarding agriculture.  During this conference we came in to contact with people from Massachusetts, Connecticut, and a woman from the Valentine Foundation.  We talked it over and decided that MAP would organize a trip to visit these organizations that do similar work to us.

As winter started, I began planning out the trip to visit the other organizations and decided that we would be able to go on this trip during spring break.  I looked up hotels and bus prices, I started to make a budget, and get estimates of the trip cost.  The Valentine Foundation agreed to talk about funding our trip.  As they talked it over, I spent my time writing out schedules for our days and picking places we could eat and sleep.  As the budget grew, I decided that it would be easier to only visit one place.  I picked Connecticut as we would be able to attend a youth hosted event talking about similar work that YAC and MAP does.  As the date for the trip approached, I emailed the foundation that was considering funding us, and only about a week before the trip was to occur I received an email telling me that we were approved and that she had meant to tell me earlier.  I thanked her and told her we would see her in Connecticut.

The trip went on without a hitch; we had a good time and learned about other similar work happening in Connecticut.

That’s all I have done so far and it’s been a blast.  I’ve enjoyed my time at MAP and I have learned a lot.

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