Walk the halls at the High School for Public Service: Heroes of Tomorrow, or HSPS, and you may pick up an air of courtesy and respect. Could it be that teens drawn to a high school focused on good citizenship are a special breed? Or perhaps the 200 hours of community service required for graduation and a curriculum that includes ethics helps shape special students.
But you don’t need to step inside to realize this isn’t your average high school. The 1.25-acre Youth Farm out front serves as an outdoor classroom and integral part of HSPS’s extracurricular activities. It’s run via a partnership between HSPS and Green Guerillas, with volunteer support from BK Farmyards, and is the cornerstone of Go Green, a year-round class where students learn about plant life, health and the food system at large. There’s an after school volunteer Farm Club, and the Summer Youth summer program enlists students to manage the farm, run visitor tours and prepare cooking demonstrations at the farm’s weekly market.
The Youth Farm programs instill students with greater awareness and respect for the environment and their own bodies: Students learn that water is healthier than Red Bull—and thanks to water jugs on cafeteria tables, they’re drinking more water than before—which foods are filled with corn syrup and how diet relates to diabetes, how orange peels become compost and the importance of recycling. One student, Sean London, cut fast food from his diet and then convinced his mother to buy a juicer. Another Go Green participant, Shineka Williams, reports students have also discovered: “Organic food doesn’t taste nasty.”
However, Youth Farm’s reach extends beyond HSPS students. Anyone is welcome to visit or volunteer at the farm, attend free workshops or apply to the adult urban farm training program. It also provides Flatbush, a neighborhood largely devoid of fresh, local food centers, with an abundance of produce through their farmers market and CSA.
In 2011, the students grew 15,000 pounds of fresh produce, including over 80 varieties of vegetables and more than 60 varieties of flowers. Community requests, the seasons and the soil inform plant selection; callaloo, a leafy green popular in Caribbean cuisine, is one of the most abundant and popular crops.
As HSPS students can attest, there are many benefits to growing their strawberries. Williams, who now helps with cooking demonstrations, adds, “Working in the farm made me realize that I loved weeding, harvesting and sowing seeds. And somehow, it helped me speak out.”
Image courtesy of High School for Public Service.