Harlem Grown is an independent, nonprofit organization based in Harlem, in New York City. It was founded in 2011 by Tony Hillery, a former limousine driver who was inspired to improve access to nutritious food after volunteering at an elementary school in Central Harlem.
Hillery witnessed children eating Doritos and Pepsi for breakfast and counted 53 fried chicken restaurants within a three-block radius of the school at which he was volunteering. Across the street from the school was an abandoned community garden, commonly referred to as The Haunted Garden by neighborhood children. Where many saw an empty lot, Hillery saw promise and opportunity. He worked with the community to renovate the space and created Harlem Grown’s first urban garden. In the first year, 400 children planted 400 seedlings. Each child was responsible for watering and taking care of their seedling, providing them with ownership and a sense of empowerment.
The organization now operates four community gardens throughout Harlem, including a greenhouse that produces 9,300 bunches of arugula, Swiss chard, kale, and basil each month.
According to Sage Aidekman, program director at Harlem Grown, “One of the things that is unique about the growing space at Harlem Grown is that everything is shared, and everyone including the kids works together on farm tasks. Everything that we grow, we give away for free to the community because of our focus on youth development.” The garden-based youth development programs serve over 1,000 children at three schools in Harlem, with a focus on elementary-aged students to encourage healthy habits at a young age.