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Leadership class celebrates Youth Farm renovations

Ashley Morales

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The Leadership St. Pete Class of 2024 proudly unveiled their class project Wednesday, May 29 with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the St. Pete Youth Farm. Photos: Ashley Morales.

Leadership St. Pete celebrated  “Sprouting Success” Wednesday morning as the 37 members of the Class of 2024 unveiled their community project at St. Pete Youth Farm.

The event marked the culmination of months of hard work and dedication by the class members to support the farm’s mission of fostering leadership, entrepreneurship and wellness among teens in south St. Pete.

Now in its 56th year, Leadership St. Pete (LSP) is one of the nation’s oldest leadership programs, operating as a division of the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce and its nonprofit foundation. The goal of the six-month course is to identify, recruit and develop leaders to represent the city’s diversity – and take on future leadership roles in the community. The experience culminates in an annual civic engagement and community service project, which many participants say is the highlight of their experience.

“I always get emotional when I talk about it because LSP was a truly transformational time in my life,” said Rep. Lindsay Cross, who participated in the LSP Class of 2015 and spoke at the ribbon cutting Wednesday. “This is a testament to what you can do by having big ideas, even if you start small.”

Members of Leadership St. Pete’s 2024 class said they’re proud of the hard work they put into turning an “open spot of dirt” into a safe, clean and functional community gathering space.

This year’s LSP cohort began work at St. Pete Youth Farm in March, working to improve the facility’s multi-use areas by leveling the ground, adding pavers, artificial grass and landscaping, building and buying seating, and adding shade and rain protection. They also purchased a new outdoor grill, opening up possibilities for cooking different types of food.

The new additions are helping St. Pete Youth Farm get the most out of its approximately one-acre lot, making the spaces more accessible and comfortable for the nonprofit’s community programming and classes.

Carla Bristol, Collaboration Manager at St. Pete Youth Farm, said applying to become the beneficiary of the LSP class project was a competitive process.

“This space was already being used in other ways, but we really invited them to reimagine the space and we believe that what the Leadership St. Pete Class of 2024 did for us was elevate everything,” Bristol told the Catalyst. “They made it far more functional and safer. We have this idea that in South St. Pete we have the best of everything, and they’ve really delivered on that.”

The St. Pete Youth Farm offers anyone the chance to access locally grown produce and even learn how to grow their own food. Local teens – 14 and older – are employed and paid for their hard work. They also help provide nutritious food to friends, family and the greater community. Bristol said teaching self-sustainability skills is crucial in the South St. Pete CRA, which she refers to as an “opportunity zone.”

In addition to urban farming skills, St. Pete Youth Farm offers teens courses in financial literacy and mental health and wellness.

“I like to call the area nutrition insecure, but we have the opportunity to provide that, so it can’t very wel  be a ‘food desert,” Bristol said. “We have a lot of African Americans growing food in different ways right here in this area, so I like to say that we are addressing the nutrition needs of our community, and that’s part of what we do here every day.”

“Urban farming is a big part of it, and that’s important, but [Bristol] pours into our young folk’s lives,” said Mayor Ken Welch during the ribbon cutting ceremony. “It’s not just education; it’s really those life skills that St. Pete Youth Farm provides for our young people, and I know they’re going to be successful based on what you’re doing here.”

Leadership St. Pete’s service project invested just over $50,000 into St. Pete Youth Farm; each class raises money through securing donations, applying for grants and hosting fundraising events. The project was completed just before the farm’s 5th anniversary.

Past LSP class projects include creating a “conscious collaboration” incubator at the Allendale Equity & Justice Center in 2023, improving the outdoor space at the Clam Bayou Marine Education Center in 2022 and upgrading the Mustard Seed Inn, an addiction treatment center in the Grand Central District, in 2021.

Leadership St. Pete is currently seeking nominations for the 2025 nonprofit beneficiary. Nominations can be made online here.

 

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