Interview with Tony Hillery, Founder and Executive Director of Harlem Grown

by Cameron St. Germain

Tony Hillery, Founder and Executive Director of Harlem Grown

Tony Hillery is the Founder and Executive Director of Harlem Grown. Tony founded Harlem Grown to address the health and academic challenges facing public elementary school students in Harlem.

In 2011, Tony began volunteering with a local elementary school and was witnessing first-hand the lack of resources allocated to the schools and the poor nutrition of students. While volunteering, Tony noticed an abandoned community garden across the street from the school: students called it “the haunted garden.” The garden was being used as a dumping ground and was completely overrun. Tony rallied volunteers and raised the funds needed to transform the lot into a thriving urban garden, kicking off Harlem Grown’s first-ever growing season.

The first year, Tony worked with 400 students to plant 400 seedlings. He watched as students transformed their eating habits and learned skills like patience and responsibility. The first season, they grew 38lbs of produce.

In 2016, Harlem Grown expanded to partner with six local Harlem schools, reach over 4,500 youth and grew over 2,500 pounds of fruits and vegetables that are then distributed to families-in-need throughout the community. This year Harlem Grown will open a brand new farm on 127th Street to continue reach more youth in Harlem and inspire them to lead healthy and ambitious lives. Tony continues to inspire youth and adults alike through his work at Harlem Grown.

Where you grew up: Queens, New York

Where you live now: Bronx, New York

Background and education: Transportation company

Food policy/food as medicine hero: Michael Pollan

One word to describe our food system: Broken

One word to describe our healthcare system: Disaster

Your favorite food: Sautéed spinach and chard

Your breakfast this morning: Scrambled tofu

Your last meal on earth: Anything from Candle Cafe (my favorite restaurant)

Must-have healing food/ingredient: Sautéed spinach

Food policy, health, food as medicine book, website(s) social media/blog must-follow/read: New York Times

Your elevator pitch for food as medicine? Health is wealth

Which widespread nutritional misconceptions worry you the most? That eating healthy is unaffordable

What do you see as the next step for food as medicine? Education




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