Students Create a Garden Haven at J.M Rapport High School
If you ever hear chickens clucking in Mott Haven you may be passing by J.M Rapport High School, a South Bronx school that serves over 500 teens with learning disabilities, developmental delays, or emotional disturbances. They’re friendly hens, taken care of by the school’s garden club run by teachers Michael Masefield and Trevor Long.
Mr. Masefield and Mr. Long have helped to transform the story of inner city child with inner city problems. It gets old, quick. A story about South Bronx teenagers raising hens and growing tomatoes more accurately highlights the effort that goes into making the city a more wholesome place to live.
Caring for the school garden provides an alternative environment for students to cultivate skills otherwise difficult to develop in an academic setting. “The garden club helps us work together,” say Gladys and Bermin, both in 11th grade and club veterans. They built their own chicken coop with guidance and plans from the Just Food program. In addition to the coop, they have constructed a tool shed, and raised beds with an irrigation system.
Food donations from local Los Hermanos Deli and the school cafeteria feed the chickens and the worms needed to aerate the soil.
The garden club takes advantage of their wrap around green space and indoor hydroponic system to grow a variety of produce for themselves, and occasionally sell their veggies and eggs to the teachers at their own farmer’s market. They even grow Serrano peppers for the Bronx Hot Sauce. Next season, the club will be experimenting with native plants, like blueberry bushes.
Students also get to cook with some of the ingredients from their garden. “The hardest part is getting the kids to eat some of what they’ve grown,” says Mr. Masefield, but Mr. Long helped the club members make a Spanish egg tortilla, using fresh chicken eggs, basil and oregano from the garden.
The garden club has been especially beneficial for students to come out of their shells. One of the students doesn’t talk much at all,” explained Mr. Masefield, but became more vocal and responsive when interacting with the chickens, posing for a few shots.
When asked about their favorite part of the garden most of the students exclaimed “it’s clean!” They appreciate the distinct contrast between their well-manicured garden and the littered streets of New York City neighborhoods. It’s a source of pride for these students to come out, build a garden and change their own narrative.
J.M Rapport High School is located at 470 Jackson Ave in Mott Haven, between E 147th and E 145th Streets.
To learn more about starting your own urban farm or garden visit Just Food