Profile of Hope: Tony Hillery tells us more about Harlem Grown (part 5 of 8)

Editor October 15th, 2013

Tony 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. While he has spent the past two years teaching children about healthy lifestyles through Harlem Grown, in the summer of 2012 Tony realized that his own health was not very good, when he was diagnosed with high blood pressure and high cholesterol.  Today he tells us all about Harlem Grown and what the children do in the program. 


Q: Can you tell us more about your organization, Harlem Grown?

A: Harlem Grown, is a non-profit organization that uses gardens within Harlem to teach children and other community members about healthy eating and living, while also increasing the amount of healthy foods, such as fruits and vegetables available here. There are two main components of Harlem Grown: youth development, and food production. In the youth development component, we use an educational garden, and provide a mentor to work in the schools. They start working with the kids and lead sustainability efforts by teaching the kids to recycle and compost, while also working on social skills and conflict resolution. So, we’re trying to teach them how to respect their environment through all the sustainability efforts that were doing, and also to respect themselves and other people. The growing food part of Harlem Grown focuses mainly on increasing the amount of fresh, affordable food that exists within the neighborhood. So, for this part we use the greenhouse, and we have another lot down the block that we just started this year, and they are for growing rather than teaching about food. This is important because there are very few grocery stores in Harlem, which is instead swamped with fast food restaurants and corner stores that sell mostly unhealthy foods.

Q: What kinds of activities do the children participate in at Harlem Grown?

A: In the garden, the students learn how to grow and harvest the vegetables. We also hold some cooking classes at the school. Additionally, we teach the children about nutrition, including information about all the different kinds of fruits and vegetables, how to eat a balanced diet, and the importance of eating less sugar and all that. Also, the children participate in recycling and composting activities each day. We are trying to instill healthy habits through these daily activities, but this process takes a lot of time and effort.

Q: How do you involve the members of the Harlem community in Harlem Grown?

A: We actually just started holding community workshops where we’re involving entire families from the community and teaching them about nutrition and easy ways that they can become more healthy. This includes teaching healthy recipes, taking trips to the farmer’s market-- where they learn to recognize different types of fruits and vegetables, and taking tours of our gardens and greenhouses. In addition, all the produce the children grow in the garden is taken home with them so they can share it with their families as an additional source of food


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