Just One Thing: NYC Summer Camp Helps City Kids Go Green

Go past the rattle of subway cars and the roar of city traffic, and you'll find an oasis of green hidden in the dense urban jungle of Upper Manhattan.

It's called Swindler's Cove, a waterfront, garden hideaway. Never mind that the water is actually the soupy Harlem River and the site itself once an illegal dumping site. For 30 children this summer, the location is nothing short of heaven.

The children are taking part in the New York Restoration Project's Feed the Seed Summer Camp. For the campers, who hail from the five boroughs of New York City, the program offers a rare opportunity to spend the summer surrounded by fresh air and plenty of green.

But that's not all they experience. Their task for the summer: to tend to an organic vegetable garden, harvest the crops and then cook up a meal with the freshly picked produce.

Environmental Educator Omari Washington knew there was a need for this type of program, after fielding a question from a student in a kindergarten class he was teaching. The little girl inquired: "Where do French fries come from?" The question highlighted the need to educate children about natural resources and the role they play in their lives.

The camp is designed to help the children not only learn about food but their sense of self and health as well. They investigate how culture shapes their choices, how food impacts their health and behavior, and how it is all linked to the health of the planet.

Click HERE to read about another novel project, vertical window farming.

A recent visit to the camp revealed a group of kids excitedly picking peppers and onions from lush, overflowing vegetable beds. "It's spicy," one child said of the gleaming pepper gripped in his hand. "I've seen my mom use this when she cooks."

"Look at this," another camper screamed excitedly, proudly showing a clump of onions he'd just pulled up.

No TVs, Game Boys or Wiis in sight, the kids got enjoyment out of one of the most basic elements of life.

But the fun will continue beyond summer, and so will the gardening. Students from nearby public schools come to grow and tend their own vegetables, flowers and herbs through free in-school and after-school programs at the children's garden.

Produce from the garden doesn't go to waste either. The best of the bunch is taken up to an outdoor restaurant, New Leaf Restaurant & Bar, in one of New York City's most picturesque parts, Fort Tryon Park. Set in a historic, 1930s vintage stone building, the restaurant specializes in food made from local greenmarkets and farms.

The program is the work of the New York Restoration Project, a nonprofit organization dedicated to reclaiming New York City parks, gardens and open spaces. Founded by Bette Midler in 1995, it was fueled by her dream to make New York City a cleaner, greener place.

Today, the project achieves that not only with programs such as Feed the Seed but with its MillionTreesNYC, an initiative with the city of New York to plant a million trees in all five boroughs by 2017.

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