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Former foster youth regenerate farm, healing the land and themselves

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Posted at 3:20 PM, Apr 12, 2021

PITTSBURG, Calif. — Underneath a blanket of powerlines, a stretch of forgotten land is coming back to life.

“Being outside and out in nature is just always calming and peaceful for me. It’s like a happy place in a way," said Ariana Singh-Adams, an apprentice at Family Harvest Farm in Pittsburg, California.

Apprentices are healing the land with regenerative farming, rebuilding the soil while reducing carbon emissions.

For many of the workers, it’s their first time on a farm. Ranging from 18 to 24 years old, they are transitioning out of the foster system. Along with a paycheck, they get a sense of consistency.

In foster care since she was 14, Singh-Adams was moved from home to home.

“Change was really hard for me and adjusting at that age," said Singh-Adams. “As a kid, you don’t understand a lot of these things. And when you’re put in a situation where you’re taken away from your family, it’s hard.”

Created by the John Muir Land Trust through donations, the urban farm supports transitional foster youth and connects the community with organic food. The hands-on job-readiness program teaches marketable skills and prepares young adults for life outside the foster care system.

“For a lot of them, it’s their first job. So, we offer things like communication, making sure you’re showing up to work on time," said Hannah Hodgson, program manager for Family Harvest Farm. "They’re maybe a community that is not so often heard of.”

“The one thing about being in foster care is the powerlessness you feel, and that’s mostly because you don’t have any control. Everybody makes decisions for you," said farm manager Mary Cherry.

A former foster youth herself, Cherry spent years counting down the days until she would be free of the system.

“But then once I did, it was like, 'we’ll help you with rent for three months, and then that’s it, we’re not going to tell you how to do it.' And I ended up homeless, for years," said Cherry.

Her story is common. Roughly 70 percent of former foster youth end up homeless within 18 months of aging out of the system.

"With foster kids, they just kind of get thrown out into the world with no support at all. Sometimes they have programs that help support them, but it’s not a family," said Cherry.

At 24, Cherry began working on a farm.

"It changed my world. It gave me meaning and purpose and hope and power," she said.

She uprooted her life to manage Family Harvest Farm.

"Not everybody wants to farm like I did," said Cherry. "But everybody does want to be part of a community, whether they realize it or not.”

When Singh-Adams finishes the program, she plans to continue working in the farm industry.

“When I came here, it felt like I finally found my community. I found my roots," she said.

As apprentices regenerate the land, they reclaim their story.

"We’re healing the land and in turn healing ourselves," said Cherry.

The farm relies on donations to help with items like seeds, equipment, and soil amendments.