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Meet Harlem Grown

by Alexander Brebner|10 July, 2020|Blog / Community / 

For the third quarter of 2020, your charitable giving – through purchases of New Wash and our partners at 1% For The Planet – will benefit Harlem Grown, an independent, non-profit organization that inspires youth to lead healthy and ambitious lives through mentorship and hands-on education in urban farming, sustainability, and nutrition.

Over the last decade, Harlem Grown has created local urban farms, given Harlem residents access to healthy food, and offered garden-based development programs to Harlem youth. By raising support for the physical renovation of abandoned lots in Harlem, 12 urban agriculture facilities ranging from soil-based farms, hydroponic greenhouses, and school gardens are currently in operation. 

Harlem Grown utilizes food justice as a vehicle for social transformation, and recent events have only deepened their intention to deliver all programming, services, and activities through a deeper racial and social justice lens. We asked Harlem Grown to update us on their work in a changing world. 

How has the pandemic affected your work reaching kids and distributing food? 

COVID forced us to suspend all our in-person programming in March, and like many organizations, we felt compelled to stay connected to our youth and community and address community needs through the crisis. In addition to transitioning components of our work to virtual programming, we created HG Meals Harlem Helping Harlem. 

We had one goal in mind with this program – bringing the Harlem community together to support one another through this economic crisis. It was important to us that we remain connected to the community we have cultivated over the years and to address critical needs that were exacerbated by the pandemic. In partnership with 6 shelters and 4 local community restaurants, HGMHHH will have provided 13,000 hot, nutritious meals to our families living in shelters, while supporting local businesses, their staff, and our nonprofit to continue its food-driven mission.

What does Summer 2020 – the prime growing season – look like for you?

We know that there’s no such thing as a ‘perfect season.’ Inevitably, unforeseen challenges arise when producing food: strange weather, insects, or logistical issues. Never in our wildest dreams did we imagine what was in store for 2020. Covid-19 delayed the start of our season, but our resilient team of farmers is dedicated to making the best out of what remains. We have plenty of plants in the soil – from arugula to zucchini – and much in between! 

We’re also starting our greenhouse production with farmers on a more regular schedule to produce loads of leafy greens and herbs to distribute in the coming months. Right now, we’re developing a plan to safely harvest and distribute our produce. Food safety is paramount, and we can’t distribute in the ‘farmer’s market’ style as we normally do, so we’ve partnered with local food pantries and shelters who take our food directly and distribute it to the people we serve. Farmers are creative problem solvers at heart, so we’re ready to keep pushing forward and finish this season stronger than when we started. 

What is your most pressing need right now other than funding? 

During this important time of reflection around racial justice conversations, we are digging deep and re-imagining our programs with a more intentional focus on striving to dismantle systemic racism. To that end, we need volunteers with certain skill sets, expertise in facilitating racial justice conversations, and tutors for some upcoming programs. Also, simply sharing who we are and what we do is incredibly helpful. 

Give us a picture of what happens when a child begins to appreciate responsible nutrition.

Children are often wary of trying new foods, especially vegetables. But as they start learning how to care for plants and participate in cooking them, they slowly become more willing to try fresh foods. The more they try, the more excited they become to eat and share fruits and vegetables with others. They bring this excitement to their families, bring home produce from our farms, and start asking parents for more fresh foods. This process involves a whole new way of looking at their environment and themselves, especially when they have ownership over growing and tending to their food. 

If you are interested in further supporting the Harlem Grown mission, you can participate in youth programs, volunteer or make a donation. For sponsorship opportunities, please reach out to Erika Scelfo at escelfo@harlemgrown.org.

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