High School Student Ella Fong Joins AFM Board of Directors
By Cynthia Whitty
The Ashland Farmers Market (AFM), which began in 2011, has become well known for empowering local teens by providing volunteer opportunities on Saturday mornings from June to October. Students from Ashland High School (AHS) first served as co-market managers with adult volunteers in June 2016. Now, AFM is experiencing another “first.” In January, Ashland teen Ella Fong became the first AHS student to serve on its board of directors.
Eric Brooks, student volunteer coordinator for the market, makes sure AFM has enough volunteers each week to set-up and break-down the market, assist the vendors, and help facilitate special events. “On market day, I’m there to make sure the teens all share equally in the work, know what is expected of them, and know their efforts are truly appreciated,” Brooks said. Pre-Covid, the market often had 25-30 teens volunteering on a Saturday.
It was Brooks who had the idea of having a high school student serve on the board. “I’m always looking for ways to give young people more opportunities, and that includes leadership roles,” Brooks noted. “I pitched the idea of having a teen on the board at a meeting late last year and all of the members were in favor.”
Serving on the board “is not going to be every 16 or 17 year-old’s cup of tea,” Brooks said. “But we’ve had quite a few teens over the years for whom volunteering has been a great experience. This is just one more way for them to share their energy and ideas so that we keep improving AFM.”
With one board meeting already under her belt, Brooks asked Fong, a junior this year, to share what it’s like being one of the decision makers for AFM. Here is that conversation.
Brooks: How did you first get involved with AFM?
I first started volunteering at the farmers market the summer going into my freshman year of high school. I remember learning from friends that the market was a great opportunity to earn community service hours, so I decided to give it a try. And I’m glad I did!
During the season I do an array of tasks while volunteering. Much of the set-up and clean-up time is spent constructing or deconstructing tents and helping vendors with their merchandise. Other routine tasks that I, along with the other volunteers have, are greeting market-comers, assisting the market manager, and helping the market run smoothly.
Brooks: What motivated you to join the board? Do you find it intimidating being the first and only person your age on the board?
As I learned more about the ins and outs of the market and planned AFM teen events, I realized how much I love being involved in AFM. I am very passionate about AFM teen involvement, and felt a need to continue to advocate for the importance of maintaining and growing this program in order to expand AFM’s teen involvement. Being an advocate for the teens of AFM and having the opportunity to pitch my ideas for upcoming market seasons motivated me to join the AFM board.
It definitely is intimidating to be the first teen AFM board member. At first, I felt a bit overwhelmed as there is still much to learn about running a successful season. But I am confident that the initial nerves will pass as I become more familiar with the inner workings of AFM.
Brooks: What would you like to accomplish as a board member?
My overall goal as a board member is to expand teen involvement at AFM and provide a voice for our age group on the board. I believe that community service is imperative for Ashland teens and also beneficial for the market.
Brooks: What does the AFM mean to you?
To me, AFM is about community and family. I have always seen AFM as an opportunity to give back to my community. Additionally, the community within the organization and the family-like atmosphere AFM volunteers have developed has been a huge part of my life the past few years and has made me feel deeply connected to the Ashland community.
I would encourage all teens who are considering volunteering at AFM to come on down! It is always a good time as you spend the day laughing with the other volunteers, enjoying good food, and helping out your community and local vendors. Truly, volunteering at AFM is one of the best decisions I have made, and the market will always hold significance in my life. I hope that after my tenure, other passionate teens will fill my place and continue to be a voice for the AFM teens and bring new, fresh ideas to the market.