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) nyckitchengarden.com.

*Provided by the Community Health Profiles, a report published by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, 2006: http://www.nyc.gov/html/doh/downloads/pdf/data/2006chp-303.pdf

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