Introducing Urban Harvest: Slow Food NYC's Summer Camp in the City

by Viktoriya Syrov
July 6, 2011
Ujima GardenImagine walking through a luscious green garden on a dewy July morning while a farmer tells you about the uses of the various plants around you, the importance of beneficial insects, composting, and beekeeping. Then you are given a hands-on challenge: trace back your favorite food from the plate to the dirt, or complete a garden scavenger hunt. Finally comes the best part of the day: preparing a dish with all your new friends that will be created from ingredients that you have harvested.While you are cooking. You learn about the origins of your dish. Then, you sit down to meal and share your experience  with your tablemates. Except for the clean-up that awaits you, this sounds like the perfect day.

This is the experience that Slow Food NYC’s new program at the Ujima Garden in Brownsville, Brooklyn aims to create for 20 elementary school children each day of the week this summer. As part of the Urban Harvest initiative, this summer camp program lasts for seven weeks, bringing a total of 100 students from the neighborhood to the educational farm” through partnership with organizations such as the Brownsville Multi-service Center (BMS), Groundwork, and East New York Urban Youth Corps, and FamilyCook Productions, who are contributing Teen Battle Chef mentors and recipes for the lunches that are cooked daily at the camp.

In line with Slow Food’s mission, "We focus on educating the children and hope that they will be inspired to pass on what they learned to family, friends, and their communities,” says Sandra McLean, Co-Chair of Slow Food NYC and founder of the Ujima Garden. McLean started the program because of the need for a hands-on educational experience around good food, especially in under-served communities with little access to fresh vegetables.
Mentor TrainingDuring a time when it is most difficult for schools to keep up the gardens they worked hard for all year, McLean knew there was a need for a summer program to keep students engaged and interested in good food practices. The weekly program is mainly run by paid mentors, eight students from W.A.T.C.H. High School who completed a two week intensive primer on garden responsibilities, cooking safety, and food production before meeting their mentees this week. Through the duration of the session, the students will develop and improve their teaching and leadership skills as they work with the younger children to educate them on the importance of good eating habits and environmental practices.

Through their work with community partners, SFNYC Urban Harvest hopes to create a sustainable and applicable model that can be brought to other high-need areas and inspire other groups to work in neighborhoods to make important changes in the New York City foodscape.