The Greenhouse Manager

One woman's quest to make a difference


After receiving a diagnosis of breast cancer, I really started to wonder about what I could do to minimize the risk of an occurrence.  Now, I clearly understand that there is no guarantee regarding lifestyle changes, and the probability of developing cancer again, but I am definitely willing to change my mindset, look at the research, speak to the experts and incorporate healthier eating choices, period.   Before I get into my chat with someone who's having an immediate impact on how food is grown and educating the community,  I wanted to share an article I found  on Time.com regarding healthy food choices, in relation to cancer and  educating children to begin understanding these options and the implications early on.

 

Researching my last of series on urban farmers (until the harvest in late summer and early fall) I've been really interested in taking a peek at and talking to the farmers at Harlem Grown.  An independent non profit organization, Harlem Grown is such a beautiful success story.  Founded in 2011 Harlem Grown is not only committed to sustainability, but also has programs changing the way we think and incorporate food in our daily lives.  Programs such as Growing Minds (youth development, exposing children to urban agriculture via education & hands on learning), Urban Farms (transforming unused, vacant urban spaces and transforming them into urban farms) and Food Justice (addressing disparity in the urban communities regarding the lack of healthy food choices, distributing fresh food to the community and educating the community by providing spaces to gather, speak, listen, and volunteer as a tour educator or just getting dirty planting, watering and cleaning Harlem Grown's various community gardens).

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My visit to Harlem Grown's main garden on West 134th street led me to a very special young lady.  Urban Farmer and Harlem Grown's official Green House Manager Latonya Assanah or "Tuna Fish" as the Harlem community affectionately calls her (love it)!

 Urban Green House Manager Latonya Assanah

Urban Green House Manager Latonya Assanah

Now, I've had the a pleasure of visiting several urban farms, but have not come across anyone like Green House Manager Latonya.  One visit to her domain, and you're definately get the sense that she very serious and knowledgeable about what she does.  Super protective and almost anal about her work space, Latonya was a whirl of energy as she explained to a group of grade school youngsters,. the differences between red and green kale, touted the fresh taste of organically grown (hydroponic supported) lettuce and allowed the small group to touch, smell and eat produced grown in Harlem Grown's urban greenhouse.

 Organically grown with natural sunlight & hydroponics = tasty & healthy!

Organically grown with natural sunlight & hydroponics = tasty & healthy!

After the children left, and things quieted down, Latonya confirmed what I was already thinking.  Yes, she loves what she does, is extremely protective over the greenhouse, plants and systems in place which successfully harvest produce every 30 days.  Me being inquisitive, I wondered how did she end up overseeing such a important community jewel?  Latonya reminisced that it was her daughter and her childhood enthusiasm,  that led her to Harlem Grown.  Latonya put in 5 years of sweat equity volunteering, gardening and educating and was eventually hired as a full time employee and Urban Greenhouse Manager.  

Latonya is very self aware and has a firm understanding the impact of what she is doing has on everyday lives.  Latonya understands that educating youth and providing the community and families with a healthy source of food changes lives.  Latonya passionately spoke on Harlem Grown's fresh food offerings to the community and how she implores the neighbors she comes across on a daily, weekly basis to eat healthy, even giving bags of harvested produce to those in need, to encourage healthier eating habits. I asked Latonya if she understood how rare and special she is to be a woman in a urban environment, managing a greenhouse, educating children and making an impact on the community.  Latonya, truly humble took what I said in stride and never missed a beat, continuing to exhort the importance of what Harlem Grown purpose is, the example she is setting as a parent urban farmer and educator, but most of all what it means to be a woman, in Harlem providing healthy food choices  for generations to come. I was totally impressed and will make it my business to come back and check out the new gardens Harlem Grown is installing in the community, and catch up with Green House Manager Latonya "Tuna Fish".  


Shadowing a group of grade school children on an education tour.  These lil gardeners were witty, observant and ready to get their hands dirty.

Oooh..Strawberries growing.  Will be ripe in a couple of weeks.

 Aaahh..  My new best friend, growing under the watchful eye of Greenhouse Manager Latonya.

Aaahh..  My new best friend, growing under the watchful eye of Greenhouse Manager Latonya.

 Harlem Grown's 134th Street Garden

Harlem Grown's 134th Street Garden

 The Green House at Harlem Grown

The Green House at Harlem Grown

For more information about Harlem Grown and schedule a visit please click on the link below.