Last week we spent part of the afternoon exploring a new, improved community garden in Harlem. It was a rundown plot of land, but now, thanks to a Herculean renovation by the Food Network, Share Our Strength, and Teich Garden Systems, it's a thriving vegetable and fruit garden where kids from the Children's Aid Society (which has a center across the street) learn about planting, harvesting, and cooking. It's an amazing place to hang out.
1. Entrance to the Good Food Garden.
2. Vegetable beds and a colorful mural along the wall.
3. Baby lettuces and greens, surrounded by high-tech irrigation hoses.
4. Individual projects ready to go in the ground.
5. Herbs with their homemade, tongue depressor-stick labels.
7. A tender pea shoot climbing the trellis.
8. Sampling something tasty.
9. Getting the plot ready for planting.
10. Stefania showing some kids the ropes.
11. Pointing out plants in the new beds.
12. In the kitchen at the Children's Aid Society, sprinkling seeds on chips.
13. Chopping veggies in the kitchen workspace.
14. Balls of dough, ready for seeds (and then the oven).
15. Seeds for rolling individual balls of dough.
16. Makings of the Plant Parts Salad.
Our tour guide was Stefania Patinella, who runs the gardening and cooking programs for the Children's Aid Society. On the day we visited, Stefania was planning a lesson on the different parts of plants. The kids would first come to the garden to check on the progress of the seeds they'd planted (different age groups have their own plots), then head to the kitchen in the building across the street to chop, cook, and eat some of the foods they'd just seen growing in the dirt.
There isn't much to harvest just yet (although the pea shoots and broccoli were looking quite promising), so Stefania replicated some ingredients from the grocery store. The kids would each get a piece of dough that they could roll in seeds. Then they'd make a "Plant Parts Salad" with seeds (corn), roots (carrots), stalks (celery), fruit (tomatoes and cucumbers), flowers (broccoli) and leaves (lettuce). Educational and delicious!
Food Network has opened Good Food Gardens across the country, and there's a documentary series running right now on Food Network about the projects. But this is the only one in New York City. East 118th Street, where the garden is located, is filled with Children's Aid Society buildings and housing, plus other neighborhood revitalization organizations, so it's in a perfect spot to charm everyone from toddlers to teens to parents who walk past.
And for kids who may not get adequate fresh produce in their diets, learning to grow it themselves is a big step towards seeing vegetables in a new, friendlier light. We didn't get to stay through an entire session with the kids, but the ones we saw at the center who spotted Stefania immediately wanted to get in the kitchen--so fun to see.
Resources to check out:
• Children's Aid Society: Nutrition
• Good Food Gardens at the Food Network
• Good Food Fun, a Food Network site geared towards kids
• Share Our Strength, a national organization fighting children's hunger
(Images: Elizabeth Passarella, Lily Kesselman, and The Children's Aid Society)