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In the past eight weeks, over 65 scholars from Democracy Prep Endurance have spent their Saturday mornings clutching shovels and spades, planting tomatoes, edamame, swiss chard ,and watching banana peels and coffee grinds turn into nutrient-rich soil via churning the compost pile.
Their gardening experience is the product of a partnership between DPE’s scholar senate, and Harlem Grown, an independent non-profit organization that strives to inspire youth to live healthy and ambitious lives through mentorship and hands-on education in urban farming, sustainability, and nutrition.
The partnership was developed after the scholar senators decided that urban farms should be the focus of their year-long Change The World project.
“The goal this year is to develop a large contingent of scholars that understand the value of a community garden,” says DPE civics coordinator and 7th-grade history teacher, Chris Rhodenbaugh.
“The first weekend I invited all of scholar senate to come and told them to invite two friends,” he says. “We had about 25 scholars show up.” This group of scholars were encouraged to make a presentation to their advisories about their experience the week their advisory was invited to come out to the garden. Since then, the number of scholars returning weekly has grown.
The idea, Rhodenbaugh says, was to get a group of scholars who experienced Harlem Grown to get spread the word among their peers. “The goal is to connect scholars to the community and also to develop them as leaders,” he says.
For the scholars, it’s been an organic learning experience. “When we first worked there, nothing was planted,” Rhodenbaugh says. “It was right at the beginning of the season so they learned the science of how plants develop.”
They have also learned about the process of composting, how greenhouses work, how to weed the garden, and how to position seedlings to grow in a variety of plant beds.
Despite an admitted wariness of bugs, seventh-grade scholar, and senate representative, Harriett A, is excited about the partnership between Harlem Grown and DPE.
“Our first Change The World project idea was about homelessness, but I realized that by doing this we can grow food that feeds people,” she says.
Next year, the scholar senators plan to use all of DPE’s food waste for composting piles, and hope to extend their partnership with Harlem Grown into taking charge of a smaller garden plot that scholars will develop and maintain close to their campus.
You can learn more about Harlem Grown here.