Connection to the land and connection to each other is enriching for both child and community development, says Will Conklin, Executive Director of Greenagers. Started in 2007, the organization previously focused predominantly on volunteer-led trail-building work. Now, Greenagers provides employment opportunities for teens and young adults in the fields of conservation, sustainable farming, environmental leadership, and the trades. In a typical summer, Greenagers employs 80 young people throughout Berkshire County, Columbia County, and Northwest Connecticut.
Will’s approach to Greenagers was inspired by his own experience with Landmark Volunteers leading crews of young people across the Northeast, where he observed “youth relating to each other over a positive experience and developing valuable skills to take into adulthood.” Will sought to adapt the model in community, making it accessible to those unable to afford or travel for such service-learning programs. Will says this place-based opportunity to “work in their own backyard” has cultivated a sense of pride that inspires the youth participants to return every season and alumni to keep in touch.
In February 2019, Greenagers acquired a 100-acre property in South Egremont formerly known as the Kellogg Conservation Center owned by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. Its original benefactor and namesake Mary Margaret Kellogg had the foresight to preserve the land and historical farmstead as an educational site. Now called the April Hill Conservation and Education Center, Greenagers has bold plans to expand its land-based education programs on the site, including a farm that showcases regenerative farming practices like silvopasture, agroforestry, and permaculture alongside annual vegetable production and grass-based livestock production.
COVID has brought new opportunities to Greenagers’s doorsteps. To address a clear and present need to support working families and offer a safe, educational, and enriching setting for students during the pandemic, Greenagers partnered with local organizations to develop the Community Learning in the Berkshires (CLuB) program. 115 students, grouped by age, are offered both academic support and outdoor experiences like hiking in the woods, building shelters, pressing cider, and pickling vegetables. Likewise, Greenagers seized the opportunity to expand its food justice initiative, Front Lawn Food, to increase access to fresh food with raised bed vegetable gardens. In an average year, Greenagers sells 20 beds and donates another 20 to an income-qualifying family. This year they installed 100 beds.
The resounding message of Greenagers’s work is collaboration--with each other, with nature, and with community. Will considers our region’s local currency as a way of affirming one’s commitment to this principle and aims to teach the next generation about economic self-reliance. Will believes such a multi-generational commitment to collaboration is within reach, and that it will be realized "by teaching resilience and creativity along the way."