Harlem Grown and its chickens hold a special place in Harlem

By Rachel Osei-Owusu, 2018 Cashin Fellow

On June 29th a group of students from P.S. 294, along with their teacher Ms.Nilan, FoodCorps member July Alcantara and Rachel, Community Food Action’s Cashin Fellow took a trip to a unique urban farm on 134th street known as Harlem Grown. The students were participants of the year-round afterschool Garden Club run by Ms. July and Ms. Nilan. Situated right across the street from another public school, Harlem Grown serves its community by “inspiring youth to lead healthy and ambitious lives through mentorship and hands-on education in urban farming, sustainability, and nutrition.” For our visit three stations highlighted various aspects of their urban farm which students could learn about in small groups.

The first was the composting station where students were able to see the various stages of compost from the original food scraps to the soil it would soon become. The interactive component allowed them to get their hands dirty as they sifted through compost for bigger pieces that could be further broken down and add worms to accelerate the process.

The second station was one you might not otherwise see on a stroll through Harlem. A chicken coop! Six hens huddled in the shade as the group observed them create a home in the middle of New York City. We were able to see the eggs laid by the chickens each day, all of which are used for cooking demos or distributed to the community. Upon first glance the eggs didn’t look like the eggs you pick off the shelf at the supermarket. They were much bigger, spotted and some even green compared to the perfectly white ones at the store. In fact, what seemed to be imperfect eggs turned out to be more nutritious!

The last station was the greenhouse where students could see a system similar to their own hydroponic tower garden in the classroom. In the end they were each able to pick a few cherries from the large tree shading the garden.

Harlem Grown gives youth and volunteers alike more than an opportunity to do garden work. They offer workshops on weekends as well as a full summer camp for elementary and middle school aged children. In a place where bodegas and pharmacies are abundant but supermarkets and fresh produce are scarce, their mission goes a long way. Not only were these students able to apply the work they’ve been doing with Ms. July on nutrition education, they were exposed to urban farming right in the heart of their home city.

As noted on Harlem Grown’s website “healthy habits start young,” so students were able to use this visit as a glimpse into organizations such as our own striving to make New York more equitable through food justice. Thanks for having us, Harlem Grown!