Profile: Gunnar Liden

Gunnar Liden

Executive director of the Youth Farm and Market Project

After college, Gunnar Liden wanted to work with youth. Becoming involved in the local food community turned out to be an added benefit.

Liden, executive director of the Youth Farm and Market Project (YFMP), started working for YFMP two days after finishing college in 1999.

“Youth Farm was really my intro to farming,” he said. “My background is in youth development and youth work, and a lot of my growing and food knowledge came through the program.”

YFMP provides year-round, food-intensive development programming for 500 Minneapolis and St. Paul youths ages 9 to 18. The program builds youth leadership through planting, growing, preparing and selling food.

YFMP staff and youth operate five urban farms in Minneapolis and St. Paul, including the program’s original plot in the Lyndale neighborhood.

In Lyndale, youth grow onions, tomatoes, carrots, potatoes, raspberries and lettuce. Food is then distributed to 15 “Family Share” members in a manner similar to the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs common at farmers markets.

Liden is more focused on youth development than food production. “If we can’t do high quality youth work it doesn’t matter how good we are at growing food,” he said.

He said his experience with YFMP has opened his eyes to food’s power as a community organizing and engagement tool.

“Food production allows youth to take a real role as an active participant in their neighborhoods and community,” Liden said. “Youth are seen as recipients of things, but growing food and those sorts of effort put them in the role of positive contributor.”