To Get His Job, He Just Worked Until Somebody Noticed

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The New York Times
By: Robbie Brown
June 13, 2011

ATLANTA -- Some teenagers search for jobs by asking their parents' friends. Others submit résumé after résumé online. And then there is Cameron Stephens's approach: work until they pay you.

Mr. Stephens, 17, a shy high school student in Atlanta, just started showing up at the job he wanted -- at a local farmers' market. He had never picked a vegetable, having always lived within city limits. He did not know what "organic" meant. But he drove by the weekly East Atlanta Village Farmers Market last summer and thought it "seemed like a cool place to work."

Instead of applying for a job, he took a bold strategy: he just started doing the work, without most farmers even knowing who he was. For two weeks, he set up tents, unloaded tomatoes and onions and shrugged off questions about what he was doing, until a supervisor confronted him.

"Finally, I just asked him, 'Do you want a job here or what?' " recalled Judith Winfrey, an owner of Love is Love Farm, a small vegetable farm in Atlanta. By then, Mr. Stephens had proved his work ethic and dedication and was brought aboard as an intern.

That led to more jobs. This summer, though nearly all of his classmates are unemployed, Mr. Stephens is working at two weekly farmers' markets, planting vegetables at Mrs. Winfrey's farm and busing tables at a restaurant.

The work is sometimes degrading -- he has dressed in full-body costumes as a tomato, a strawberry and a carrot to advertise the market. And it is always hot: 90 degrees is a moderate day here in the summer.

But he has earned enough money -- $60 a day -- to buy himself a television, a laptop computer and a bright yellow motor scooter that he drives to his jobs. His advice to less fortunate job-seeking teens? Find a mentor.

"Once I found Judith, she just told people about me and I got work at other farmers' markets," he said. "Now I have four jobs."

Farming may be a trendy gig. But for Mr. Stephens, a self-described pizza and fried chicken kind of guy, it was as foreign as being an astronaut. The farm-to-table purists gave him grief for bringing a box of Popeye's to the market. And it took weeks before he could distinguish kale from kohlrabi, let alone eat either.

"It makes you appreciate where food comes from," he said, having recently been given fresh bacon and cheese croissants, boiled Georgia peanuts and milk and honey ice cream.

He is treated like a beloved younger brother at the market, a weekly gathering of two dozen produce vendors. He is razzed for being so shy but praised for his hard work and punctuality. He is saving his wages to buy a motor scooter for his mother, who is a single parent.

"Most friends are sitting around the house, going to the mall, getting money from their parents," Mr. Stephens said. "Sometimes I'm burning up in that carrot costume. But I just like having a job."

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This page contains a single entry by CFED published on June 13, 2011 4:31 PM.

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