By Carolina Diaz, 2023 SOYL Facilitator Vancouver

The impact of SOYL, which stands for Sustainable Opportunities for Youth Leadership, is easy to measure in the number of participants in the program or the kilograms of food harvested and distributed. However, it is harder to quantify the lives that have been genuinely touched, the inspiration with which the youth leave and the depth of the connections they have made. This year I was honoured with the opportunity of leading the SOYL program for the Vancouver location. It was a small cohort of 14 participants, 6 of which were neurodivergent, 2 of which were indigenous. 

SOYL Vancouver youth tending to the garden beds

Working together as a team to tackle those summer weeds!

SOYL centers around educating its members on growing their own food, urban farming and the systems that nourish our cities. We worked in the farms under the sun and the rain, harvested food to sell during the Fresh Roots markets in Coquitlam and Vancouver, as well as for CSA boxes (Community Supported Agriculture). I hosted and co-hosted a broad spectrum of workshops. Some of them were centred around farming, plant anatomy, and imagining sustainable cities and cycles. Others touched on sensitive topics, such as mental health, racism, privilege, colonialism’s impact on indigenous populations, and self-development. My higher aim was to keep these discussions motivating, safe and empowering. 

Highlights from our smudging workshop with the SOYL Vancouver youth

More highlights from the SOYL Vancouver smudging workshop

Youth on SOYL are at a pivotal point in their lives. Aimed towards high school-aged youth, this distinct stage of life, developmental psychology shows this is when we start developing an increased awareness of all other humans around us, as well as self-awareness of how we are perceived. There is an urge to classify our person and others, to explore our tastes and discover who we are and who we want to be. Thus, it was rewarding for me to see that our participants felt safe enough to open their hearts and share stories, to show up as their queerest selves, to grow in responsibility and agency but also goof around and Irish dance during our lunch breaks. 

SOYL Vancouver youth doing a drawing activity at Norquay Park

A big theme for me this year has been seeds. Seeds represent transformation, they mean disturbance and growth. 2023 has been a year of seeds for me. My family and I finished our immigration process into Canada, acquiring citizenship (I am Ecuadorian-Canadian now); I have graduated from the University of British Columbia with a major in International Relations and a minor in Environment and Society; I made new friendships and connections; and I moved houses around 4 times (two of which were during SOYL! But we powered through!)

Many youth this year were especially creative and great at drawing!

Now that the program has wrapped up and the youth have moved on with their lives, my only wish is that the program was a positive experience in their lives; a seed, that drives them to be leaders in and servants of their communities, spreading positivity and love for food wherever they go.

The youth brainstormed potential logos for SOYL in honour of the 10th anniversary of the schoolyard farms

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