Youth L.E.A.D. (YL) is the first food justice organization founded in South Florida. YL educates, empowers, and employs low-income teens of color to adopt healthier and sustainable eating habits while working to increase access to healthy foods and green spaces in their communities. The program was designed to empower youth as changemakers who address the root causes of health disparities and climate change in their own communities by supporting and maintaining local, sustainable, healthy food systems. In the process, youth also earn job and life skills along with a stipend and a weekly supply of local produce. The organization provides a 12-week afterschool training, followed by a four-month paid apprenticeship program, during which time youth work at farmers' markets or community gardens. Apprentices also conduct participatory research regarding food access and community outreach to promote these food resources. Local chefs conduct healthy food demonstrations for YL's farmers markets and afterschool programs. This year, YL youth graduates also designed a two-hour peer education workshop, which analyzes the health, environmental, and social impacts of the industrial food system. The educators, who are also graduates of the apprenticeship program, will deliver this workshop to other teens throughoutMiami-Dade County to recruit and educate youth on food justice issues and solutions.
Since its inception in 2010, YL has trained more than 200 teens through its full 12-week training, employed over 25 training graduates, and reached more than 4,600 people through workshops, food demonstrations, and outreach. Youth participants show an average increase of 40% from pre to post-test in knolwedge concerning nutrition, health, and environment, and many youth reported to an external evaluator that they drastically changed their thinking and eating habits based on the program. In addition to the youth programming, YL also helps promote partnering farmers markets and gardens through social media, advertising and marketing, and community outreach. The youth apprentices conducted over 600 surveys among residents, creating local baseline data on food access, and reached over 4,000 residents with promotional messages about local food resources. When code enforcement was shutting down farmers markets in 2011, the YL Founder and Director quickly organized local agencies, organizations, and supporters to form a workgroup that designed and presented a draft farmers' market ordinance to the City Council. The ordinance was unanimously adopted and is now used as a model for neighboring cities as well. YL continues to accomplish incredible results with very minimal resources amidst a daunting conservative political climate during an economic recession. Despite many challenges, including a lack of funding, consistent office space or adequate staff numbers, YL survives.
Youth L.E.A.D. Founder and Director, Erin Healy, holds a M.P.H. from Tulane University and a B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. Originally from R.I., she moved to Miami four years ago after having worked as a Public Health Manager in West Africa for two years and running youth development and health education programs in Brooklyn and Philadelphia for three years. Erin led outdoor and school garden-based environmental and science education programs for two years before founding Youth L.E.A.D. - the first “food justice” organization in South Florida - in early 2010. She was named one of "20 Emerging Leaders under 40" by The Miami Herald and was selected as Miami-Dade County Public School's first Farm to School Manager in 2011. YL was nominated as a finalist in the Green Education category of the Miami Chamber of Commerce's Sustainability awards, and the Director has been interviewed by the Miami New Times, Miami Times, Hot 105, Magic 102.7, CBS, and Edible South Florida. Several committed volunteers, two part-time staff, and a newly formed board of directors work hard to support YL financially and programmatically. The organization, which is currently fiscally sponsored, is submitting its 501c(3) application this fall and will kick off several income-generating activities including cooking classes, fundraisers, and a monthly membership program this month.
The Fearless Changemaker
Erin Healy holds a M.P.H. from Tulane University and a B.A. from University of Pennsylvania. Originally from Rhode Island, she moved to Miami four years ago after having worked as a Public Health Manager in West Africa for two years and having run youth development and health education programs in Brooklyn and Philadelphia. Erin led environmental and science education programs at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden for two years before founding Youth L.E.A.D. — the first “food justice” organization in South Florida, in early 2010. She was one of the first members of the South Florida Food Policy Council and worked with several partners on a farmers market ordinance, which was unanimously passed by the City of Miami and City of Opa Locka in 2012. She served as Miami Dade County Public Schools Farm to School Manager and was selected as one of “20 emerging leaders under 40” by The Miami Herald in 2011. Erin now works full-time as the Director of Youth L.E.A.D., an organization that educates, empowers, and employs youth from underserved neighborhoods to adopt healthier habits while increasing access to healthy foods and green spaces in their communities. Visit www.youthleadmiami.org to learn more.