HOPE Week: ‘Harlem Grown’

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The Yankees continued their eighth annual HOPE Week (Helping Others Persevere & Excel) Wednesday by recognizing the organization Harlem Grown and its founder, Tony Hillery. Pitchers Masahiro Tanaka, Andrew Miller, Michael Pineda, Ivan Nova, Chasen Shreve, Kirby Yates and Richard Bleier, catcher Austin Romine and infielder-outfielder Rob Refsnyder visited the Harlem Grown garden and greenhouse on 134th Street, surprising Hillery and a class of kindergarten students from P.S. 125.

Tony and the children were treated to a salad prep demonstration from celebrity chef Andrew Carmellini. Then the group got down in the dirt, planting seeds and doing work in the garden. Additional participants included hip-hop artists “The Lox” (featuring group members: Jadakiss, Sheek Louch and Styles P), Miss New York USA 2016 Serena Bucaj and singer-songwriter Kany Garcia. During the ceremonies, the Yankees presented a donation to Harlem Grown on behalf of the New York Yankees Foundation.

Hillery, a Bronx resident, was ready for a career change after the 2009 recession and decided to leave behind his limousine business to do something to help the next generation. While volunteering at Harlem’s P.S. 175 (where most students come from female-led, single-parent homes), Hillery noticed the utter lack of healthy food options in the neighborhood. He counted 53 fried chicken restaurants within a three-block radius of the school without a single place to get a fresh salad.

“I was like most of us, reading and hearing that low income people don’t want to eat healthy,” Hillery said. “But when you go to where they live, there is pizza, fried chicken, fried fish, fried everything, and absolutely no healthy food.”

Hillery took an abandoned lot across the street from the school and reclaimed it through an application to the Parks Department, turning the space into an “urban farm” with farming skills he learned from the internet. He started a program called Harlem Grown, which inspires youth to live healthy and ambitious lives through hands-on education in urban farming, sustainability and nutrition.

The programs have expanded to include one-on-one mentoring, operation of a hydroponic greenhouse (which produces arugula, kale, Swiss chard and basil among other items), a summer camp, cooking workshops, and training for Harlem parents to learn about urban agriculture. All of the food produced by Harlem Grown is given to the children to take home or sold to local establishments for revenue that is reinvested in the program.

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