It was tough convincing a handful of city kids to grow their own fruits and vegetables in a farm at a West Oak Lane high school.
But after months of pulling weeds and sowing seeds, once-reluctant teens have become proud farmers eager to feed a community with their yield, said Chris Bolden-Newsome, a farmer with the nonprofit education group Foundations.
"Deprogramming" the teens was the hardest part, he said yesterday outisde Martin Luther King High School, where about 70 people gathered on meals prepared by the student farmers.
"A peculiar African-American situation is the disconnect with nature," he said. But now "they frolic, take their shoes off and really get into it," he said.
The students cultivate produce year-round as part of Seeds for Learning, a Foundations program teaching farming and entrepreneurship based at the school, at Stenton Avenue and Haines Street.
"We saw the benefit of this," said Foundations' President Rhonda Lauer. "You can teach kids about designing an irrigation system. They learn how to price produce and how to start a business."
Each week since June, a local chef has helped students cook healthy lunches made mostly with the produce they grow, Lauer said. At 3 p.m., they sell the produce from a stand outside the school, she said. The output from the farm, a neighboring greenhouse and a fruit orchard are sold at affordable prices, she said.
Yesterday's heat did little to slow the servers who exited the school's kitchen carrying tray after tray of dishes that included black-eyed pea and shrimp fritter, a mixed vegetable casserole and sautéed greens.
Chef Valerie Erwin, owner of Geechi Girl Rice Cafe, on Germantown Avenue near Carpenter Lane, volunteered to assist the students this week.
"I love working with the produce" at the farm, she said. "Just the idea of a farm in the city and to work with the produce."
Bolden-Newsome, who worked on his father's farm in the south and supervises the school's, emphasized the importance of increasing food literacy in urban settings.
"Anyone can grow a tomato," he said. "Up north, people are disconnected with how their food grows. The point is for this community to have a greater say about their food."
One of his proteges, Jared Shearer, 15, a sophomore at MLK, understands the importance.
"I think it's kinda cool for a person to grow their own vegetables and watch it grow," he said.
His friend and fellow farmer, Shaquil El, also 15, chimed in: "It tastes better than what you buy at the supermarket."