By Harlem Grown
In Central Harlem, Saturdays on the farms at Harlem Grown are a serene space for the youth within the community. Harlem Grown farms offer an outlet from the stresses of childhood; an intentional space where youth get to experience a welcoming environment, try new fruits and vegetables, while engaging in educational games, crafts, and cooking. Harlem Grown believes it is equally important to provide access, affordability, and knowledge about nutrition while establishing trust with the youth and their families. The farms at Harlem Grown transform into a home away from home for the youth we serve.
On one Saturday, fruit lessons were on the agenda and children were encouraged to get excited about nutritious food through by referring to fruits on the farm as nature’s candy. While the students were longing for real candy, Harlem Grown educators encouraged them to try strawberries as a healthier alternative. Now having the word candy in their mind, the children were hesitant to taste the strawberries. Some of these children would be described as picky eaters. ‘Picky eaters’ are the usual narrative imposed upon children when they are not naturally inclined to try nutritious alternatives. This narrative ignores the fact that longing for specific foods is not necessarily reflective of a child’s particular taste pallet, yet an indication of what they have been continuously exposed to. In a community where fresh, healthy food is often inaccessible children are not always easily exposed to the nutritious produce grown on Harlem Grown farms.
Harlem Grown educators engaged the children in chopping up the strawberries to encourage them to try the fruit. As the children chopped the strawberries, they could not help but sneak a taste. In having an opportunity to work with Harlem Grown staff and have hands-on experience chopping the strawberries it became clear the children were only reluctant because it was something unfamiliar to them. Despite their initial reluctance, these children became excited to try it as they were engaged in a fruit lesson that resonated with them.
One child was particularly reluctant to the strawberries, even as his sibling happily ate the fruit, he could not bring himself to try it. After one-on-one encouragement from an educator, he let his guard down. Normally, he was a shy child who never spoke to educators directly, yet through this experience he became empowered to vocalize his opinions about food. Every single Saturday from there on he would anticipate Harlem Grown programming. Harlem Grown educators often have children run up to them as they encounter one another within the community, suggesting the realm of serenity lies in every aspect of Harlem Grown. This Saturday program was both proof of the trust the children of the community have in Harlem Grown and a testament to Harlem Grown’s mission.
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In 2011, Tony Hillery founded Harlem Grown with a mission to inspire youth to lead healthy, ambitious lives through mentorship and hands-on education in urban farming, sustainability, and nutrition. In engaging and learning about the history and cultural significance of the ingredients grown on our farms, youth begin to identify with healthy ingredients and dishes. Harlem Grown works to address the health and socioeconomic disparities experienced by youth in Central Harlem through programming, as there is a need to improve access, affordability, and knowledge to support the community in leading a healthy lifestyle. Teaching children and older youth about the importance of healthy eating and sustainable agricultural practices are the tools Harlem Grown uses to spread its core mission. At Harlem Grown, growing healthier children, and building sustainable communities is at the heart of the work we do.
Harlem Grown has become a staple in the Central Harlem community. Today, Harlem Grown has twelve urban agricultural sites, five intensive school partnerships, and dozens of public and private school relationships. We have reached over 22,000 youth in Harlem and nourished the bodies of our community through the 69,044 servings of food grown on our farms. Harlem Grown is grateful to have Steven & Alexandra Cohen Foundation as a partner in empowering youth and their family’s to be agents of change within their own lives.
Harlem Grown is an independent 501(c)3 non-profit organization whose mission is to inspire youth to lead healthy and ambitious lives. They operate local urban farms, increase access to and knowledge of healthy food for Harlem residents, and provide garden-based development programs to Harlem youth. From May through October, they offer a series of workshops on their farms every Saturday (unless otherwise noted) from 12:30 pm – 3:00 pm. Harlem Grown welcomes children and their families to their farm at 118 W 134th Street to learn about fruits, veggies, planting, and gardening through engaging lessons, educational games, crafts, and cooking.