Getting Rooted in East Harlem

Getting Rooted In East Harlem

Tue 11 Mar 2014

Story by Gabriella Paiella
 

When Principal Sameer Talati ran into Immanuel, one of his 7th grade students, on the street back in September holding a large bag from McDonald’s, he was understandably disappointed. Edible Schoolyard NYC had established our second showcase site up at his school, P.S./M.S. 7 in East Harlem, in April 2013. The students up there had already spent months learning how to whip up delicious, healthy whole-foods-based dishes like hummus, salsa toasts, and plant part salad in our kitchen classroom.

So as Principal Talati walked by Immanuel, he says he admittedly “gave him the stink eye.” Immanuel knew exactly what had ticked off Principal Talati and immediately tried to justify himself, insisting that his mom had given him coupons and sent him to buy dinner; he swore that the only thing that the bags contained were salad. And sure enough, when Immanuel opened the bag, there were two enormous salads inside. The middle schooler even assured Principal Talati that he knew that the salads weren’t as delicious as the ones they had made in kitchen classroom, but that he had made his own healthy dressing at home to add to them.

It’s stories like these that illustrate the impact that Edible Schoolyard NYC has had since its inception. We’ve been around since 2010, with an initial showcase school site established at P.S. 216 in Gravesend, Brooklyn. Our garden and kitchen classes are directly integrated into the curriculum, so that children learn to plant, harvest, and cook their own food just as they learn reading, writing, and arithmetic.

When we decided to expand to East Harlem, we knew that we were facing several challenges directly linked to the broken food system. 61% of adults and 46% of children are overweight or obese, and the area is a veritable food desert with extraordinarily limited access to affordable fresh fruits and vegetables. Additionally, over 20% of the student population at P.S. 7 is homeless, in temporary housing, or shelters.

Despite these challenges, or perhaps because of them, we found ourselves entirely welcomed by the student body, as well as the broader neighborhood community. During our first month of kitchen classes, every single student tried the plant part salad they made -- except for one kindergartener who had a very wobbly loose tooth. After kitchen classes began in April 2013, we launched our garden curriculum in October 2013. We’ve also begun construction on the courtyard garden’s first phase, a 5,000 square foot space with raised beds.

Our students are active and engaged, with the most interested of them regularly showing up to afterschool programs and poised to become active forces of change in their community. And as with all our programming, we make sure to maintain an element of joy that’s ever present: after two cooking two kale recipes, one of our 4th grade students took a bite of what she had made and proudly declared, “this tastes like paradise.”

About the author: Gabriella Paiella is the Communications and Operations Coordinator for Edible Schoolyard NYC. She lives and works in Brooklyn, NY. You can keep up with more of what ESYNYC is doing on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

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