Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Huffington Post Article - Automotive High School's Harvest Time program

In case the link does not work, here it is:

Slow Food Steers Aspiring Mechanic from Cars to Cooking
Kerry Trueman - Co-founder of
Posted: September 8, 2009 03:53 PM

Cars and fast food are partners in crime when it comes to undermining America's health. Our favorite mode of transportation deprives us of exercise, while our dependence on quick, cheap convenience foods cheats us of nutrients. We reportedly eat nearly a quarter of our meals in our cars, a practice that baffles folks in countries where taking time out to share a real meal with friends and family is still the norm.

But our landscape is changing, literally, and I found evidence of a nascent rebellion against our car-centric cuisine in a rather ironic place: the grounds that surround Automotive High School
in Brooklyn. I first noticed squash vines growing outside the auditorium at this vocational high school in Williamsburg back in June when I attended a screening there of No Impact Man hosted by Rooftop Films.

I was intrigued, but had no idea that Automotive High School's edible landscaping was inspired by the school's participation in
Slow Food NYC's Harvest Time program, whose mission is to create "a meaningful relationship between young people and their food and the environment by providing hands-on experiences, community engagement, and the enjoyment of good, healthful food."

Automotive's student body is 98% minorities, 93% of whom are male, and 86% qualify for the free lunch program, according to Jenny Kessler. Kessler teaches a class at Automotive High called "Food, Land and YOU," in which students learn about how our food is produced and distributed.

A high school where kids enroll to prepare for a career in the automotive industry may seem an unlikely place to find future farmers or chefs, but Kessler's class, which includes a field trip to a farm upstate, has proven to be a life-changing experience for some of Kessler's students.

Kessler credits Slow Food NYC's Harvest Time program with providing "essential, sustainable funding for most of our garden and cooking supplies. It has been a lifesaver."

So, if you're still thinking of
Slow Food USA as some kind of fancy pants organization obsessed with artisanal wines and cheeses, get with the program -- the Harvest Time program, that is, along with Slow Food's many other worthy endeavors, such as their Time For Lunch campaign.

The organization I co-founded,
Eating Liberally, was delighted to participate in that campaign by hosting an Eat-In on Labor Day at the Campos Community Garden where we got to sample some of the veggies planted earlier this spring by a group of high school kids as part of Slow Food NYC's Harvest Time program.

We also had the pleasure of hearing Slow Food USA's program manager, Jerusha Klemperer, talk about the importance of feeding our kids fresh, nutritious meals -- something our schools are hard pressed to do when the $2.57 we allocate for free school meals leaves only a dollar or so for ingredients after you subtract all the overhead.

You can't feed kids freshly prepared, wholesome foods at that price. But there is one thing you can buy for a dollar this month that will actually help support the campaign to bring real food back to our schools: you can become a member of Slow Food USA at whatever price you can afford to pay -- yes, even only a dollar.

Why support Slow Food USA? Consider the case of Joseph Garcia, an 18 year-old who enrolled at Automotive High intending to become a mechanic. Thanks to Kessler's class, which relies extensively on help from Slow Food NYC, Garcia found himself drawn instead to a career as a chef. Garcia took Kessler's class a year and a half ago, and is now studying the culinary arts at Monroe College. In a recent email exchange he answered my questions about how the Harvest Time program has changed his life:

KT: What inspired you to take the food/garden class?
JG: To be honest, when I was in high school, I didn't choose to be in the food/gardening class. It was just assigned to me. I absolutely loved Ms. Kessler's class because of her enthusiasm and her knowledge of the class subject. She taught me so much about organic and conventional farming. Ms. Kessler's class has to be one of the few classes that I actually enjoyed in Automotive High School.

KT: How much did the class influence your decision to go to culinary school?
JG: Ms. Kessler's class influenced me to go to culinary school because she always said that fresh fruit and vegetables are better than anything, and now that I make many dishes inside and outside of school, I can totally agree with her. I only use the freshest ingredients for my dishes.

KT: Did the class alter the way you thought about food?
JG: Ms. Kessler's class totally altered my view of food because back in high school I never used to care about what was healthy, where my food came from, or even how it was made. But now I take into consideration every detail when I am looking to make or even create a new dish.

KT: What was the most surprising thing you learned in the class?
JG: The most surprising thing I learned in the class was how bad pesticides really are to us and the environment. Also how bad animals are treated before they are killed.

KT: What did you most enjoy about gardening?
JG: The thing that I like the most about gardening is the hard work, the more hard work you put into your garden the better your plants and crops will grow. So afterwards you can enjoy "the fruits of your labor".Garcia added in a postscript that "I love what I am doing in school and enjoy cooking very much...As I prepare any dish I make sure I get the freshest of the freshest ingredients, and when I get the chance I cook with organic stuff as well."

So here's to Jenny Kessler and Slow Food NYC for throwing a wrench into Garcia's goal of becoming a 'grease monkey' and getting him fired up about feeding folks fresh, healthy meals. Sure, we still need mechanics -- and Automotive High is also doing great work teaching kids how to convert cars to biodiesel fuel -- but we need more young chefs like Garcia giving us the means to fuel our own bodies on alternative energy, too; the kind that comes from wholesome, minimally processed foods. There's a green job for you!

Cross-posted from
The Green Fork.

Plant a Newtown Pippin Tree

Earth Day NY, working with MillionTreesNYC, is helping to get Newtown Pippins planted in NYC public schools! Our city schools, all grades, are now the top priority for sapling distribution. We have a couple dozen pairs of Newtown Pippins and gourmet pollinators left.

All The Newtown Pippin, "the nation's founding apple" favored by Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, and George Washington, is the only American heirloom apple native to New York City, having first been picked in 1730 on the Newtown farm of Gershon Moore, in what is now the Borough of Queens.

If your public school wants to plant these amazing apple trees, please email:

Erik Baard:
Anandi Premlall:

Thursday, August 27, 2009

2009 Guide to Growing School and Youth Gardens in NYC

Our friend Ed Yowell has sent us a very useful link published by Green Thumb. It includes good information on how to get started, finding local resources, teacher training, supplies needed etc. Well, it's all in there. Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Harvest Time in Harlem - Children's Storefront Garden

This post comes to us from Cerise Mayo:

Behind one of the brownstones that make up the Children’s Storefront School in East Harlem, the school just added another classroom…outdoors! On May 17th, over twenty volunteers assembled to install a school kitchen garden. Just behind the school’s kitchen where breakfast and lunch are served, the garden will provide year-round opportunities to engage the community at CSS.

The school has been fertile ground for some time, as it has been host to the monthly after-school cooking program, Harvest Time in Harlem. The program began while I was working as the Program Coordinator for Slow Food USA in 2004, when it was co-founded by SFUSA staffer Yuri Asano and Judy Joo Allen.

The neighborhood of East Harlem has the highest obesity rates in New York City* and is extremely limited in terms of the availability of fresh produce. It has been the mission of HTIH to inform and engage CSS students on how to make healthy food choices.
It was always the hope of the HTIH planners to incorporate a kitchen garden along with the classes, a student-run seasonal farmer’s market and farm visits offered through the program, but we knew it had to happen at the right time, building curriculum step-by-step.

The perfect opportunity came when the school hired Carolina Zeledon as their new Food Service Director. A former Slow Food USA intern and professional cook, Carolina has led the charge to introduce students, teachers, parents and community members to all aspects of healthy eating and nutritious food options from day one.

Eager to start gardening and looking for a partner in crime, Carolina approached me to help plan and install the garden, which ended up being the very first project of my new business, Urban Kitchen Garden. The garden was made possible thanks entirely to the fundraising efforts of Slow Food NYC.

Once the mulch, soil and compost were ordered and the lumber purchased from the Catskills, we brought together a dedicated team for a one-day garden-raiser. SFNYC volunteers, students, parents, faculty and friends helped throughout the drizzly day with every aspect of the construction—from building and staining the raised beds and hauling the ton of soil and mulch across the street through the kitchen to the garden, to then finally planting the newly formed beds.

During the last Harvest Time class of the school year in June, students came bounding out of the kitchen and into the garden ready to put on their gloves on and get to work. When asked how many had harvested lettuce before, nearly all raised their hands, eager to tell of a relative who has a garden and what they are growing. Back inside, they washed the greens (the salad spinner was a big hit), ate and enjoyed the bounty of their labor with their fellow students and parents.

While summer vacation continues, the beans that the students planted will soon be harvested and given to community members, and there will be plenty of planting to do once the 2009 school year gets under way in September. Already teachers of all subjects are finding ways to utilize the space. The art teacher invited his students to create a farm-themed mural on the fence surrounding the garden, and there is much expressed interest from the kindergarten teacher on up.

Stay tuned for more news from the CSS school kitchen garden! To volunteer, contact Cerise (at)

*Provided by the Community Health Profiles, a report published by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, 2006:

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Juan Morel Campos had a Garden E-I-E-I-OOO!

Over the last few days we have been really excited to put new plants in the garden. We started seeds for a whole bunch of plants, like arugula, lemon basil, onions, and tomatillos. We even planted purple carrots, cucumbers that will look like lemons, and beets that are striped pink and white like a peppermint! We didn't know that plants came in so many varieties. The ones you buy in the store are always the same and boring.

We put in other plants, too. We planted string beans and tied them to long wooden stakes. Jesus thinks they will grow to the sky like in Jack and the Bean Stalk. We planted tomatoes on stakes, too. Did you know that the tomato is not a vegetable? It's really a berry, like a strawberry or blueberry. We think that kind of makes sense if you think about it. We also planted two raspberry bushes and two blackberry bushes. Ms. Milewski and Mrs. Simone say that they willbe delicious when they grow fruit, but that might not be this year. We also planted bok choy, which is the cabbage used in chinese food. We are looking forward to the fall, because we put all kinds of pumpkins and squash into the ground, and will hopefully have giant pumpkins in October. We will be in the 9th grade then, but we hope we can still help in the garden.

We were surprised by how much water the plants need. They are very, very thirsty! We can't wait to go the Farner's Market to learn about all the crazy fruits and vegetables they grow. We wish we could buy purple carrots and lemon apple cucumbers and chioggia beets in the regular store!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Double Chocolate Trip!

Did you ever see the movie, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory? We did, and so when we went to The Mast Brothers Chocolate Shop, we were disappointed that there were no oompa loompas. However, there was a lot of really cool chocolatey stuff. They showed us real cacao beans from the Dominican Republic and Madagascar. Some of us are from the DR and didn't even know they grew chocolate there. We got to grind our own roasted cacao beans. When they are ground they are called nibbs. The nibbs are placed into a machine with two granite stones that spin and spin until chocolate is made. They add sugar, too. The amount of sugar depends on the type of chocolate. We tried dark chocolate that was about 80% chocolate. Some of us thought it was gross, but others thought it was kind of good. We realized what real chocolate tastes. And now that we know what real chocolate tastes like, the chocolate that they sell in the store doesn't taste as good or give as much satisfaction as the real stuff.

The Mast Brothers, Mike and Rick, add other stuff to their chocolate. We tried chocolate with the nibbs right in it, and another kind with sea salt. We liked the chocolate with the salt better. It seemed to add more flavor and take some of the bitterness out. Mrs. Simone liked the chocolate with the nibbs the most, like Mike Mast. We brought some chocolate home to Mr. Fineman, the prinipal.

We learned that people who are not used to chocolate won't really like it because they are used to things like Hershey's chocolate. But Hershey's chocolate has a lot of chemicals and sugar in it. But if you're a chocolatier, you will love the dark chocolate. We wanted to taste their milk chocolate but they didn't have any. We also learned that milk chocolate doesn't really have milk in it, but instead it has milk powder. Also, white chocolate is only sort of chocolate. It is made by pressing really hard on the cacao bean until the cocoa butter comes out of it. The white chocolate is just cocoa butter and sugar. We keep arguing about whether it's really chocolate or not.

But that wasn't even the end of our trip! When we got back to school, we met Virginie, a French chocolatier. We were disappointed because she didn't wear a berret. However, she did bring with her a lot more chocolate, dried chocolate beans that looked like nuts, cocoa butter, and nibbs. The dried cocoa beans were really weird. We disagree about whether we like them. At first when you chew them, they taste like flowers, but after a while they start to taste like dirt. We think the chocolate probably tastes like what grows around the cacao plant.

Virginie made chocolate mousse with us. It was really good when we added whipped cream. It was very strong and chocolatey. We got to use our own little kitchen. It was really nice and everything was new and shiny.

Now we're off to see what's growing in the garden. Catch you later!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Juan Morel Campos Garden Volunteer Day

Yesterday, had our first volunteer day for the school year. We were very excited to have over 20 students--8th and 9th graders--show up. Mr. Fineman, the principal, came and took pictures of us. We got a lot done and the garden looks great. We remember how it looked last year this time of year when we were in the 7th grade: like a jungle! Now it looks like little farm ready for plants.

The best part of the volunteer day was afterwards, when Ms. Milewski ordered pizza and we all went to her classroom and ate dinner together. We had a lot of fun talking and clowning around. Alot of us eat dinner everynight by ourselves so it was alot of fun to hang out and eat with other people.

Tomorrow, we are going to plant a whole bunch of vegetables. There are tomato plants, squash plants, bok choy (that's a kind of cabbage), lettuce, and little baby pumpkin plants. Some of the stuff won't grow fruits until next fall, like the squash and pumpkins, but some of the stuff will have them soon. We are very excited to finally put plants into the ground and for the chocolate trip on Friday!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

A Big Green Adventure!

We have some very exciting things coming up. Next Monday, May 11, we are going to have a garden volunteer day. We hope that the garden will be completely finished and we can put in the plants and wait for them to grow.

Next Friday, May 15, we head for the Mast Bros. Chocolate Factory. There, we are going to take a tour, get to see how chocolate is made, and hopefully, make some of our own. We will return to the school and catch up with Virginie, a French chocolatier. She is going to teach us all about chocolate and let us try some samples. Them we are going to make our own chocolate dessert. Mrs. Simone and Ms. Milewski are going to make a special dinner of chicken mole for us. Chicken mole is a Mexican dish made using chocolate--but it's not sweet. Then we will eat dessert together.

June 13 our school will have a Health Fair and they asked us to help out. We are going to work in the garden and answer any questions the parents may have. They are welcome to come and see our work in the garden. The week after that, we are going to head for the Union Square Farmer's Market to see how real farmers sell their veggies.

We are really excited and ready to learn new things. Can't wait to tell you all about it!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Apple trees, Flying Scissors, Birds Nests and Weeds

The report below comes from Juan Morel Campos JHS in Williamsburg Brooklyn.  Their garden is in its second year and this year and will be center stage in the school health fair.

Recently, they planted a Newtown Pippin apple tree, a New York native!  They are also creating a rolling kitchen to take good food education cooking demos to different classes in their school.  (If you would like to get your own free Pippin sapling go here:

We planted two apple trees. One of them is called Pippin. He is a Newton Pippin apple tree. He is special because is originally from Queens, and for a long time, nobody thought there were any left. The other tree we planted is named Blossom. She is a Honey Crisp apple tree. We needed two apple trees because they need to pollinate with one another so they can have apple trees (they're boyfriend and girlfriend). Pippin looks like a tall stick and he has little buds coming off of him. Blossom has a lot of branches with buds coming off of her too. We are very excited because in a couple of years we can eat the apples!

We have done some other stufff in the garden, too. We weeded, ALOT! Also, there used to be a pond in the front of the garden, but we got rid of it. We are using the dirt from that section to fill in other sections of the garden. It's really hard work. We have to pulled out all the weeds and rocks, and now we are moving the dirt by putting it in the wheelbarrow and dumping it.

We cleaned out the shed, too. It was a MESS!!!! There were things in the shed from MANY years ago. Some of the things in the shed were from a teacher who hasn't been in the school for years. It smelled so bad like a cat was living in it.

In the back of the garden, there is a section where we have to dig out all the rotten wood and put in cinder blocks. This is really hard work! On top of it, people from the second floor threw things out of the window at us. They were really mean. We are worried that they will ruin the garden.

Guess what! We found a bird nest on top of one of the air conditioners with little birds in it! They are getting big. They are all brown with little hairs. The mom is all red and we named her Ruby. There was a bird named Max who died. We saw a butterfly, too.

The rainy weather is really bad, because we can't go in the garden. But we will tell you all about it when we finally do! Have fun and keep dry!

Friday, May 1, 2009

Soil For Rooftop Gardens/ Irrigation Systems

The Gaia Institute has formulated a lightweight food safe soil for rooftop gardens and green roofs. It is up to 60% lighter than traditional soil mixes and made from recycled materials.  I recently bought some for my garden. I have a 24' x 3.5' x 12" deep box and the soil cost me about $250. Once you lay it down, you have to cover it with burlap and put 1' of compost over the top. I put 2".

I am installing a drip irrigation system from Dripworks www. If you send them your garden plan, they will design the system for you, for free. Schools get a 10% discount. 

Seedsavers is having a sale on transplants. 25% off.