Harlem Grown participant Mahogany Dupree with Joshua Strugatz, associate executive director of Lenox Hill Hospital

Urban farming joins children and health care providers

Northwell Health has partnered with Harlem Grown, a nonprofit which teaches New York City children about healthy lifestyles. The collaboration also identifies the causes of chronic diseases and health disparities.

If a child plants it they will eat it.

That simple formula is inspiring thousands of children living in or near poverty to not only live healthier lifestyles through urban farming, but to dream big. And it’s all happening at Harlem Grown, a nonprofit organization using its network of 10 community farms and in-school education and mentoring to change lives. 

“Every boy here wanted to be Lebron James, every girl wanted to be Beyonce. That was the height of their dreams,” said the founder of Harlem Grown, Tony Hillery, who the kids call grumpy dad some days, and Mr. Tony others. “Those same kids today want to be CPAs, engineers, architects, physician assistants. Why? Simply because they’ve been exposed to it.”

Kadi Ba, 16, didn’t know what a physician assistant was until, through Harlem Grown, she attended a career day in 2016 at Lenox Hill Hospital From learning to take a blood pressure, to watching a simulated emergency medical situation led by physician assistants, Kadi can now see herself working in health care.

“Many of the kids have now learned that there are so many careers out there that they never knew about before, so it’s truly been rewarding,” said Joshua Strugatz, associate executive director of Lenox Hill Hospital. 

During the last year Northwell Health has partnered with Harlem Grown. In addition to opening Lenox Hill  to the children, the health system has sent its doctors, nurses and other staff to volunteer in the farms, read to the children in their schools and even host a healthy teaching kitchen.

Northwell and Harlem Grown leaders discuss the initiative. (Left to right): Ram Raju, MD, Northwell senior vice president and community health investment officer; Tony Hillery, Harlem Grown founder; Joshua Strugatz, Lenox Hill associate executive director; Gene Tangney, Northwell senior vice president and chief administrative officer; Sabina Zak, Northwell vice president of community health and health service resources; and Barbara Felker, Northwell vice president of strategic communication partnerships

“Staff has come back really with their batteries charged,” said Mr. Strugatz, who was elected to Harlem Grown’s board of directors in January. “And this is a place that I’ve seen inspire the already inspirational.”

The partnership is an early success story for Northwell Health’s GreenBERG, a business employee resource group that launched in 2016 and is focused on sustainable and socially responsible initiatives in the workplace and the community. 

Mr. Strugatz and Northwell leadership are working with Mr. Hillery to replicate his efforts to help children and adults in other communities who face the same challenges — generational poverty, food injustice and lack of access to healthy food and opportunity. 

“Tony recognized the importance of food as a staple for a healthy community. At Northwell Health, we see health care as more than medicine that treats disease,” said Gene Tangney, senior vice president and chief administrative officer of Northwell Health. “We see it as part of a bigger picture that mitigates underlying causes of food insecurity.”

And it’s an education from the bottom up, according to Mr. Hillery, who donates all of the crops from Harlem Grown’s 10 farms. All he asks is that the children spend some time tending to the farm. A big portion goes to the community, but the kids keep what they grow and use the crops to teach their parents how to cook fresh meals.

“When we get to take bundles home it’s nice to be able to cook our own collard greens rather than buying them from the super market, because it’s free,” Kadi said. “But, then also, like, I grew it. So, I get to be the bread winner for the day.”

Community partnerships are among Northwell's social and sustainability efforts.