“Teach Parents the Importance of Education to Break the Cycle of Poverty,” Says Hillery


On “Food Talk with Dani Nierenberg,” Tony Hillery, founder and Executive Director of Harlem Grown in New York City, talks about how his organization inspires communities to rise up for their education and nutrition by re-introducing children to home-grown food. “At Harlem grown, we may plant fruits and vegetables, but we grow healthy children for sustainable communities. We use the vehicle of urban farming to introduce patience, the empathy of taking another living thing, and then the education of science, the earth, sustainability,” says Hillery.

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While leading a successful limousine service, Hillery read more about schools in Harlem. In the community he would come to serve, “90 percent live below the federal poverty guideline; 98 percent of these families live on food stamps; and, 42 percent of the children are homeless,” says Hillery.

“So I just got off the couch one day and said: that’s it, I’m going to go and volunteer,” explains Hillery. He started Harlem Grown in 2011, with programs including hands-on farming, cooking, physical fitness, arts, field trips, and more for both children and their parents. “I wanted to teach parents the importance of education to break the cycle of poverty.”

These lessons, explains Hillery, empower youth to lead healthy and ambitious lives, even when society tells them it’s impossible. This year, Harlem Grown has grown over 6,000 pounds of produce for families in the community, but has reached thousands of children with one-on-one mentorship and support programs. “These children are falling through the cracks. Our job here at Harlem Grown is to catch those children, support those children, and give them some sort of path forward,” says Hillery.

Photo courtesy of Tony Hillery.

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