Learn It, Grow It, Eat It
Eleven years ago, David Saphire of GrowNYC had an epiphany about teenagers and the environment. The best way to engage them in topics like water conservation and energy conservation, he realized, “is to make the lessons personal--to put them in the context of food.”
David knew from his experience as an environmental educator that the lessons his students responded to most powerfully were focused on the kids’ own health rather than the global environment. David imagined using food as an umbrella to incorporate environmental concepts, and an approach to the subject that allowed students to be active participants in the cultivation of their diets. And, perhaps most importantly, he envisioned an approach that got the kids outside the classroom and into the garden.
Soon after this realization, Saphire developed GrowNYC’s Learn It, Grow It, Eat It program (LGE). Although his initial objective was to help teens make a connection between health, food, community and the environment, his program has had another invaluable effect.
“A lot of the kids in the program are from West Africa and the Dominican Republic, first-generation Americans who haven’t had a lot (or sometimes any) experience public speaking, especially in English,” says Quinn Haisley, the Outreach Coordinator for LGE. “Working with the community in the gardens and at the Youthmarket forces participants to put themselves out there. They gain so much confidence.”
Youth development is at the core of the program, which is based at Bronx Regional High School and Bronx International High School, both in the Morrisania section of the Bronx, a neighborhood with some of New York City’s steepest obesity, diabetes and youth unemployment rates. (A third high school, Ellis Preparatory Academy, sends student interns to work in Morrisania with the program.) Starting in the fall, teens work in a community garden, helping to harvest vegetables and preparing the garden for winter by planting cover crops, saving seeds, and spreading compost—and thus learning all about horticulture. Armed with new gardening knowledge, they head into the classroom for an in-depth examination of the contents of processed foods, particularly the sugar, fat, and sodium levels of many of the products on grocery store shelves, as well as a study of food production, from its impact on the environment to natural ways of cultivating healthy food. In the spring, they are back in the garden, preparing the soil, planting, watering, and, inevitably, weeding.
At the end of the school year, Saphire invites the teens to interview for a competitive, paid summer internship. The summer is where the real magic happens. These interns work at three community gardens, cooking, planting, and even teaching gardening lessons to small children, in addition to running GrowNYC’s Youthmarket at 169th and Boston Road. They make meals together, they work side by side and with community members, they run their own business, they teach, they grow into capable young people.
“It was exciting to me. Every day I learned something new, and I was able to bring what I learned at work home,” says Corey Wilkins, who took part in the LGE program for two years and, as a direct result, scored a job earning a living wage with GrowNYC’s compost program. “As an example,” Cory says, “I taught my siblings how to read labels. Now they won’t buy AriZona drinks anymore because they aren’t real juice.”
And my mom eats in season now! We have a hard time in the winter…a lot of potatoes and eggs for breakfast. But really, it’s great.”
To learn more about GrowNYC’s Learn It, Grow It, Eat It program (LGE) visit GrowNYC.org