Based out of Brooklyn, New York, City Growers has a vision for the future, and it is green. They envision more green roofs, community gardens, urban farms, equal access to healthy food, cleaner air, and innovative urban spaces. To turn their vision into a reality, City Growers empowers young people through experiential learning, offering programs that provide kids with a new perspective on their urban environment, allowing them to recognize the potential of their city and themselves as future leaders.
Emma Taliaferro, a Program Associate with City Growers, tells Food Tank the two reasons that separate City Growers from other experiential food education and environmental programs. “The first is the farm. The Brooklyn Grange is the biggest soil-based rooftop farm in the world, and the experience that we offer is completely unique. The second is access. We are conscious of the fact that many resources, including healthy food, are not allocated equally. We offer tiered-pricing and even completely free workshops, to increase that access for everyone regardless of their socioeconomic background.”
While many students, parents, and teachers directly seek out City Growers, Taliaferro explains to Food Tank how important face-to-face engagement is in order to spark interest in everyone, even the students who may not gravitate towards an opportunity like this. Taliaferro emphasizes the power of building relationships with schools so that teachers are aware of the variety of educational programs and internship opportunities and can pass along experiences through word of mouth.
If parents may be hesitant to their child pursuing an interest in agriculture or the environment, Taliaferro explains that perspectives begin to shift once the experiential learning begins. “The most successful thing we can do, whether with a child or a parent, is to get them up to the farm. Sometimes parents show up with absolutely zero interest in what we do, and when they get up to the farm their jaw drops. All of our lessons are based on experiential learning, so everyone has the opportunity to use our farm as a ‘learning laboratory.’”
Combining experiential learning with a holistic curriculum focusing on “food justice as well as education” allows students to directly engage with their urban environment while educating themselves. City Growers views their students as future leaders, policymakers, or activists, and continues to evolve in order to arm their students with the necessary tools for change making.
“We want to empower young people to see themselves as instruments of change,” says Taliaferro to Food Tank.
As more young people become aware of the current food system, their curiosity in the environment and food sustainability increases. Taliaferro explains to Food Tank that once students are educated, “they tend to eat more environmentally-friendly food, and they take pride in it. Similarly, as they realize the importance of eating fresh, healthy food, they make connections to the devastating impacts that comes with lack of food access. It expands their awareness of global issues in a way that is really amazing.”
In the past eight years, City Growers has expanded their opportunities and reach, offering Summer Camp, professional development, and free workshops. However, it is the child’s newfound understanding and curiosity that truly helps measure progress. As Taliaferro explains, “when we receive comments like ‘I want to be a farmer when I grow up,’ and ‘his is the best day of my life!’ that’s a really rewarding indication that we’re doing something right!”