Harlem Grown: Sowing the Seeds of Hope in Young Children

by Gabrielle Khalife
Part of the Food Policy Community Spotlight Series

Name: Harlem Grown

What they do: Youth development is Harlem Grown’s mission. The purpose of the organization is not simply to make healthier options more accessible to New York City children living in communities with high unemployment and poverty rates,  but for those children to grow their own food and take ownership of the process.  Founded by Tony Hillery in 2011 with one farm and one school partnership, today, Harlem Grown has ten urban agricultural facilities, six intensive school partnerships, and dozens of public and private school relationships. The organization provides educational programming both in local schools and on its farms to teach Harlem youth about urban farming, food justice, and sustainability. The food produce is distributed throughout the community and sold in local restaurants in order to provide healthy options in locations where they are hard to come by.

How they do it: Harlem Grown transforms vacant spaces into productive urban farms and greenhouses, using responsible agricultural methods to grow a variety of crops. They use the farms as classrooms and as venues to cultivate a connection to the environment and food among local youth. In addition, their farms help to transform the surrounding community by providing neighbors with green havens and an opportunity to witness and engage in local food production.

Harlem Grown also places mentors in select partner schools to implement sustainable practices such as recycling and composting, and to nurture healthy choices among students. The mentors create youth Green Teams to spread environmental awareness and teach fellow students about caring for the environment as well as for themselves. This consistent presence fosters a bond that enables mentors to teach students personal responsibility and self-development, leading to improved overall wellness and health. In addition to these intensive school partnerships, Harlem Grown offers free farm tours and workshops to dozens of schools and youth-serving programs throughout NYC, provides an intensive 7-week summer camp to 30 young people, facilitates a Saturday leadership program for 20 students, and partners with local organizations to provide a workforce development program for at-risk emerging adults.

Mission: To inspire youth to live healthy and ambitious lives through mentorship and hands-on education in urban farming, sustainability, and nutrition.

Latest project/campaign: In 2016, Harlem Grown scaled their efforts and expansion via the opening of its 127th Street Farm, which features a two-story, vertical, hydroponics greenhouse. This new farm has the capacity to triple the organization’s food production and double its reach to Harlem youth.

Major Funding: Individuals, private foundations, corporate partners, local government.

Profit/nonprofit: Nonprofit

Annual Budget: $1.3 million

Interesting fact about how it is working to positively affect the food system: In 2016, Harlem Grown served 4,800 students through their youth programming, which includes school partnerships, farm tours, Saturday enrichment, and summer camp – programs that work together to impact youth throughout the entire calendar year and engage them through a variety of approaches. The organization also harvested 2,400 pounds of food and diverted 19,900 pounds of waste through its community composting program. Based on experience, the organizers know that if the kids grow it, they are 90 percent likely to try a new vegetable for the first time and 80 percent likely to enjoy it and want that vegetable again. Education, however, is only part of the battle; the hardest part is providing a sustainable and affordable source of healthy food for the community, and that’s what Harlem Grown is working to do in Central Harlem.



127 West 127th Street, #201

New York City, NY 10027

Farm: 118 West 134th Street, Manhattan NY, 10030

Core Programs: 

Number of staff: 18

Number of volunteers: 3,280

Areas served: Manhattan

Year Started: 2011

Director: Tony Hillery

Contact Information: Info@harlemgrown.org

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