Queen City Farm is a slice of rural goodness nestled in the heart of Buffalo. Once a property whose only feature was a dilapidated house, is now an urban farm generating produce for neighbors in need. For students of Catholic Charities Workforce and Education Department, the farm serves as a mechanism to learn new skills and hone ones they already have.
Working the farm, which operates without any power tools, has been a collaboration between Catholic Charities and the farm's owners, Rod and Meghan McCallum, since 2013. The agency first came to the couple seeking to a work project for students at the farm.
"We welcomed the team of young people and have been working together ever since," said the McCallums. "The students come to the farm faithfully each week throughout the growing season. They are an integral part of everything we do on the farm. The students prepare the soil, plant a variety of seeds and seedlings, keep the garden beds free of weeds, and harvest fruits and vegetables."
Today, tending the farm is an option for students at Catholic Charities to participate in a work experience program. With funding through a grant, the program allows students to collect a stipend while gaining on-the-job experience and exploring career options, said Ken Jarosz, counselor with Catholic Charities Workforce and Education Department.
"The neat part, over the years, is that our students have basically taken over managing that farm. They're there every week," Jarosz said. "They provide the labor, harvest the vegetables, take care of the property, make sure we water it. These kids really just work their tails off."
Breanna Vuelo, a Tomorrow's Youth Today student, said her favorite part is being able to give back to the community. Queen City Farm offers bags of produce to neighbors for a flat $5 rate. However, if someone can't afford the $5, the bag is given away for free. The charitable nature of the farm is meaningful to Vuelo.
"We're doing it for a cause for people that can't afford it," Vuelo said. "I like helping those people and seeing what they can get out of it as well."
She also likes that the farm has opened up new hobbies for her.
"I get out and I'm working with the community and my friends from school," she said. "I never actually did gardening before, so this is my first time, and I actually really like it."
It's lessons like those that the McCallums enjoy providing for the students, hoping that the skills gleaned from Queen City Farm last beyond their time tending the plants.
"The best thing about the students coming to the farm is their enthusiasm and dedication to seeing a project completed well. Each week, we are encouraged by their hard work. We also love the program that they're a part of. It's so exciting that they are benefiting from coming to the farm as much as we benefit from them coming," they said. "We hope that they are able to learn that hard work really does pay off in tangible ways. We also hope that the experience benefits them in the future, not only for employment purposes, but also for their future homes and families."
For Vuelo, she's been able to do just that.
"I did learn some skills. Working with different personalities, that's one big one. Learning how to cope with those personalities," she said. "It's a dirty job, but I like nature, so I learn how to just be calm with it and it also helps me with outside problems, like a therapy. So when I get another job, I can take those skills and bring it to the other job."
Catholic Charities Department of Workforce and Education provides services to youth and adults in Erie and Niagara counties, including employment and job readiness, high school equivalency preparation, tutoring, internships. For more information, call 716-893-3500 or visit ccwny.org/workforce.