Urban Farms Cultivate Food Justice and Community in Harlem

CITY COLLEGE–It’s 11 a.m. on a Friday in Harlem. Paul Hewett, who calls himself “Farmer Paul,” sits on a bench and watches people pick up fruits and vegetables from a farm stand in front of him. With his cargo pants, sunglasses and work-worn hands, he looks like he grew the food himself. And he did, at least some of it. Hewett works for Harlem Grown, an urban farming cooperative that organized this farm stand. “All of [the food] is going out to the markets, all free,” he explained.

Urban farms have become important community spaces in New York. They are “… places where residents actively participate in the creation and stewardship of accessible open spaces that grow fresh food and engage both at-risk youth and isolated senior citizens,” CCNY urban scholar Cassim Shepard wrote in his book Citymakers. Harlem is no exception. Harlem Grown created its first farm in 2011 and now manages 13.

Farmer Paul, an old friend of Harlem Grown founder Tony Hillary, remembers how everything started. Food justice was the name of the game. “This area was considered a food desert,” he said. “You had 30 to 40 fast-food restaurants right in the same area. But you couldn’t get any fresh vegetables, and on top of it, the kids didn’t know anything about eating healthy.”