Schoolyard Farming: The HSPS Youth Farm

Last week, we had the pleasure of spending our morning at bk farmyards’ HSPS Youth Farm – a local community farm built within the walls of a public high school in the heart of Brooklyn. Stretching across one acre of land and nestled in the midst of a congested city neighborhood, from the moment we walked through the gates and among the crops we felt an instant connection to the earth, despite being surrounded by city high-rises. We were given a pair of gloves and some pruning clippers to do a little harvesting while we had a chat with some of the staff and volunteers at the farm, and sit in on a class hard at work.

Chopping away at the okra and rummaging around for the fallen ground cherries, we listened as youth coordinator Patricia Noto, explained how the HSPS Youth Farm came to be.

Ten years ago, the principal of George Wingate Educational Campus made a call to bk farmyards asking for suggestions and advice on a potential proposition: transforming the acre of scraggly lawn at the entrance of the school into a working farmyard and community garden. Classes would be offered to students as an elective where they would participate in cultivating, growing and running the farm. The fruits and vegetables that were grown by the students would serve the surrounding community in the form of a farmers market which the students would learn to run and partipate in. Students would cook with ingredients they grew themselves and learn an appreciation for fresh produce and healthy eating, plus all of the ins and outs that come with farming and outdoor work.

Sound at all familiar? Though disguised in an entirely different framework, we couldn’t help but be reminded of the Home Economics classes that once taught entire generations of children the basics of health and nutrition, and ultimately, how to be self-sufficient. A class that focused in on nutrition, cooking, food preservation, and so much more, was once a staple in the education system but has typically been the first subject to get axed from most school programs. The result? An entire generation of children who, unless taught at home, hardly know the taste of foods that aren’t processed, pumped with salt, sugar or preservatives, rarely eat anything that isn’t out of a box and have zero ability to prepare meals using fresh ingredients. It’s no coincidence that as a result of this void, schools all over the country are quietly reinventing the idea of Home Ec.

HSPS Youth Farm collage of vegetables, farmers market, and students

Ten years after the proposition, HSPS Youth Farm is much more than just an acre of empty land. It is now a launch-pad that teaches students about the food system, how to make healthy choices and how to form a connection to the land and the beautiful things it can grow. In addition to learning how to cultivate a huge array of crops, the students learn about soil biology, migrant work rights, composting and a variety of issues from labor to corporate control by media to industrialized agriculture. In the winter months, the classes move inside to the kitchen where students learn about nutrition and how to prepare meals with the produce they have grown.

HSPS Youth Farm Students Group Photo

But the program doesn’t stop there. The Youth Farm is an extremely integral support for surrounding residents, too. Students learn to manage and host a weekly Farmer’s Market that makes available a bounty of fresh produce to a neighborhood that is otherwise battling the Food Desert pandemic. In the Caribbean-dominated community, the farm even makes sure to harvest specific, rare and hard to find vegetables used in traditional Caribbean cooking that are almost impossible to find at even well-stocked grocery stores, fostering a closer community.

With the increase in childhood obesity, the rampant number of food deserts ravaging cities and communities all over the United States, we are just beginning to see the results of an absent food & health education, and how important basic access to education and fresh food is for our communities and our children.

Luckily through education, a growing awareness of what we are putting into our bodies is slowly starting to take hold. Programs like the HSPS Youth Farm, with the help itspartners Green Guerrillas and bk farmyards, are helping to bring these basic needs to a larger community as a great reminder that the starting point, with a little creativity, is achievable and accessible.

Our visit to HSPS Youth Farm reminded us how easy and enjoyable it is to get involved and volunteer our time to work on something natural and important to our health. Taking a morning to get a little dirt on our hands, meet some new people, go home with a fresh bag of produce grown a few miles from our homes and all while supporting our community, is a small effort to pay for something so good for the soul.

College of Pictures of Veggies





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