JOny Hillery stood in the middle of Harlem in New York and surveyed the land he had been cleared to work.
It was, for lack of a better word, a dump. Although far from virgin farmland, Mr. Hillery knew he could grow something in space.
In the 11 years since Mr. Hillery began working on the site, he and members of his organization, Harlem Grown, have transformed the land and several other places in the borough.
The volunteer-driven project has now created a network of thriving city farms that aim to teach and empower local children while tackling food insecurity.
Harlem Grown currently operates 12 farm sites and maintains partnerships with five school districts in Harlem.
The Independent has partnered with Harlem Grown to celebrate the organization’s accomplishments and mark Earth Day on April 22. Staff of The Independent will be joining Harlem Grown in May to volunteer on the farms. Those who wish to join The Independent in its support of Harlem Grown, can donate to the organization through its website.
Harlem Grown is not your typical community garden. Rather than assign plots of land to individual gardeners, the project invites its elementary school “farmers” and their families to work together to grow a variety of crops during Saturday workshops.
In addition to teaching sessions and farm work, which includes watering crops, pulling weeds and caring for mushrooms, Harlem Grown also offers story time, cooking demonstrations and a to eat lunch.
Weekend sessions run from April to October. In the summer, the organization also offers a free seven-week intensive summer camp at the urban farm.
Student work product is not only collected for distribution to those in need in the community, but also used to help teach children about healthy eating habits.
“We plant fruits and vegetables, but we grow healthy children and sustainable communities,” Hillery said.
The organization focuses on children who are just starting primary school, the founder and CEO said. He believes that using Harlem Grown’s “living classrooms” to instill good habits — like healthy eating and sustainability — in early childhood will ensure those habits continue as students grow.
Many students in the program come from low-income backgrounds, and Harlem Grown is often their only access to after-school education and fresh, organic produce.
The non-profit organization estimates that 98% of participating students are on the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), about 90% live below the poverty line, and 40% live in homeless shelters. shelter.
The organization has been successful in serving these students, their families, and the wider neighborhood. Last year, Harlem Grown engaged with more than 1,000 students in in-person programs and another 8,877 young people online.
The organization organized 18 farm visits, during which participants learned about sustainability, nutrition and urban agriculture.
Harlem Grown also operates a mobile teaching kitchen. The van parks in different parts of Harlem and volunteers offer cooking lessons and share ideas about recipes and ingredients. The test kitchen served more than 1,000 community members last year and provided 69,044 servings of food in 2021.