Cultivating youth work experiences

Students working on the farm Published March 25, 2024

College of Lake County (CLC) and the Lake County Forest Preserves (LCFP) have joined in a partnership to revitalize the Green Youth Farm, renamed Greenbelt Farm.

The strategic partnership aims to foster sustainable farming, environmental education and community engagement. Together, the agencies aspire to create a thriving space that not only contributes to the local ecosystem but also serves as a dynamic educational hub for area teenagers.

This 1.25-acre sustainable farm is nestled within Greenbelt Forest Preserve in North Chicago. It’s the second farm in CLC’s local food portfolio, joining the Grayslake Campus Farm. These two farms lay the groundwork for the future Urban Farm Center at CLC’s Lakeshore Campus in Waukegan, planned to break ground in early 2025.

“This farm has been here for 20 years, starting as a partnership with the Chicago Botanic Garden and the Lake County Forest Preserves,” said Eliza Fournier, CLC Urban Farm director. “This site is so close to the Grayslake and Lakeshore Campuses, so it makes good sense for a Lake County institution to connect with this project.”

“The program has been a tremendous success over the years, addressing an array of life lessons and life skills,” said Rebekah Snyder, LCFP director of community engagement and partnerships. “Working on the sustainable farm provides an experience that uplifts the lives of students and, in turn, their communities.”

Last summer on a small scale, CLC and LCFP hosted a handful of student farmers for meaningful paid jobs in partnership with the Lake County Summer Youth Employment Program. The students’ wages are generously funded by the Lake County Board. This year, the program plans to expand so 15 students can participate in a 6-week paid work experience.

“The work can get hard at times, but it's mostly relaxing,” said Waukegan resident Gadiel Martinez, 15, who worked on the farm last summer. "You kind of forget about it, and you just get zoned in on what you're doing.”

For most of the youth farmers, this is their first work opportunity. They not only acquire farming-specific skills such as planting, growing and harvesting, but also develop soft skills including punctuality, a positive attitude, conflict resolution and effective communication.

In addition to providing job opportunities to area youth, Greenbelt Farm is a resource for Lake County residents interested in gaining insights into local food and agriculture. The farm offers spring and fall internships to young adults exploring potential career paths within local food systems, including growing and marketing, health careers and culinary pathways. The farm will welcome community organizations and schools for field trips and tours. Produce from the farm will be available at local grocers, pantries and via a farmstand at CLC’s Lakeshore Campus in Waukegan (stay tuned for more information on exact times and dates).

“Working on the farm is a unique chance to do something that many community members haven't had the chance to do before,” Fournier said. “You are growing food to give back to the community while getting paid work experience.”

Youth farmer Anthony Martinez, 15, from Waukegan said, “I would recommend it because you get to be outside, meet new people and have a work opportunity. Plus, you get paid for it.”

This project is made possible with generous financial support by local Lake County family foundations and by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois.

For more information about working at the Greenbelt Farm this summer, connect with Jon’nah Williams at or apply online through the Lake County Workforce Board.

About the Lake County Forest Preserves

Founded in 1958, the Lake County Forest Preserves is the principal guardian of Lake County’s natural and cultural resources. More than 31,000 acres are preserved as open space for the public to enjoy, with 64 unique sites connected by 209 miles of trail. With more biodiversity than any other county in Illinois, the Forest Preserves works on a landscape scale to restore our diverse native habitats – including woodlands, prairie, savanna, wetlands, lakes and streams – to ecological health. Grants and donations are made to its charitable partner, the Preservation Foundation, and support projects and programs that might otherwise go unfunded or take many years to complete. Learn more about the Lake County Forest Preserves at