• HOPE Week coverage
Bronx resident Tony Hillery, the founder of Harlem Grown, explained that he founded the organization when he was at a personal crossroads in 2009. After the recession, he wanted a career change and left his limousine business. He decided it was time he gave back to the community, and so he began volunteering at public schools in Harlem, where he became a favorite of the students.
Hillery spent most of his time volunteering in the lunchroom, teaching the kids how to recycle and compost. He was also eating the cafeteria food, until one day he went out for lunch and was shocked. In a three-block radius of the school, he counted numerous fried chicken restaurants and pharmacies, but not a single affordable market selling healthy foods. The nearest such market was four bus rides and a six-block walk away, round trip.
"It's not hard to eat healthy here," Hillery said. "It's literally impossible here. Especially now in the political climate, you hear all the rhetoric, you hear about food-stamp recipients wasting our hard earned cash on junk food. Why? You have to eat, so they go grocery shopping at the bodega. Not because they want to, but because they have to."
• HOPE Week gallery: Day 3
Now five years into this project, Hillery seems to have found at least a partial solution. If a child plants something, he or she will be more likely to eat it and enjoy it, according to the Harlem Grown founder.
This was on display Wednesday. Using only ingredients found at the farm, celebrity chef Andrew Carmellini prepared a salad with arugula, basil, lettuce and strawberries for the 18 kids, with the help of rookie sous chef and full-time pitcher Ivan Nova. After the salad was complete, the kids scarfed it down, much to the shock of relief pitcher Andrew Miller.
"It's hard to get them eat things like that," Miller said. "My kid wants to put ketchup on chicken nuggets and [eat] hot dogs every day. Who would've thought a bunch of kindergartners would be eating a salad with strawberries and olive oil for dressing? It's a good thing and speaks well to the future."
As for Nova, though the culinary arts might not be his calling, he truly delighted in the day. Nova said that HOPE Week is one of his favorite times of the year, and he always is among the first to sign up for the activities. Wednesday's event struck an even more pronounced chord than usual for the Dominican right-hander, who has experience growing and harvesting food.
"The D.R. is different," Nova said. "Where I grew up, we grew up doing this. You've got to find some way to live. That's what we do over there. We grew up doing this, and it's kind of easy for me to go back now and do it for these kids."