Profile of Hope: Tony Hillery explains how children from PS 175 are involved in Harlem Grown (part 6 of 8)

Editor October 18th, 2013

After making a life changing decision to become vegan to lower his blood pressure, Tony Hillery decided he should spread his message of healthy eating and living. Hillery is the founder of Harlem Grown, an independent, non-profit organization that transforms abandoned community gardens and lots into vibrant urban farms in partnership with local public schools and the community. Here, Tony explains how the children from PS 175 are involved in Harlem Grown on a day to day basis.


Q: Can you explain the recycling and composting processes that the kids are involved in at PS 175 through Harlem Grown?

A: We recycle and compost every day. The reason why we have the kids involved with recycling and composting every single day is because we know how hard it is to break bad habits. So, they need to do it over and over again to create a new habit. The kids recycle all bottles, cans, juice boxes, chip bags, and most of their water cups. As far as the composting process, the kids put all vegetable and plant-based food scraps into the compost bin, no meat or dairy is allowed. We compost about 2,000 pounds of food scraps each day from breakfast and lunch. This year we started mixing the composting into our garden soil as it helps plants grow better, so they are seeing everything from planting a seed, to harvesting vegetables, to eating vegetables, to putting food waste back into the soil to help other plants grow.

Q: How do you get the kids to want to become involved in the gardening, recycling, and composting processes within Harlem Grown?

A: Harlem Grown uses a lead-by-example model. At this school (P.S. 175), 85% of the families are made up of single parents, mostly moms and grandmas. So, there is often a lack of a male role model. I go in and start digging in the trash, and pulling the food scraps and recyclables and the kids see me doing it, and automatically want to follow my example. They get excited immediately. We build off all this momentum, and form “Green Teams,” where each kid gets a t-shirt showing that they’re on the team for the day doing recycling duty. When they come out to the garden, it’s all hands-on, and they get to dig in the dirt, and dig up worms. So, they are naturally excited by the garden because they get to be outside. It’s also all about the other mentors and I, and seeing a positive role model, and just wanting to follow their lead.  

Q: Are there any prizes or awards given out for participating?

A: Nope. However, all the produce grown in the garden goes home with the kids. So, if their classes harvest vegetables from the garden, they take home that produce for that day. In the summer, we have a summer camp, and the kids get to take home the produce every day.

Q: How long does every student participate in the Harlem Grown program for each day?

A: Classes come out to the garden for about 45 minutes each day. Then, our after school program also comes to the garden for about the same time We also run a summer camp in the garden, which varies based on the program.

Q: How has the Harlem Grown program impacted the children who have participated?

A: Aside from all that they have learned about gardening and produce, I have noticed that the number of fights in the school has actually decreased since the start of Harlem Grown. I think that this is most likely as a result of the Harlem Grown staff members including myself, who serve as positive role models for the children. The garden also creates a positive environment for kids, many who might not have a peaceful, environment to return to after the school day is over.

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