Grown in Brownsville: Middle School Students Lead a Movement to Bring Fresh Produce from School Farm to Cafeteria and Community

Expanding food access in the communities we serve and empowering youth to lead this charge is intrinsic to Teens for Food Justice’s (TFFJ) mission. In Brownsville, Brooklyn we’re well on our way thanks to an incredible group of young people that have enthusiastically taken up the challenge.

Beginning last fall, Brownsville Collaborative Middle School (BCMS) students have been active on their new farm during the curricular day, doing everything from seeding, transplanting and harvesting crops to learning about food justice and advocacy at their afterschool apprenticeship.

In the seven months since TFFJ launched programming at BCMS, a handful of passionate 6-8th grade students have created their own leadership opportunity in their school community by forming the TFFJ Youth Staff. They held their first meeting completely independent of TFFJ, where they discussed the scope of work for their new team and designated roles, such as Captain, Co-captain, Treasurer, Assistant Farm Manager, and several Cafeteria Liaisons. They named themselves the TFFJ Youth Staff, setting a goal of maintaining their hydroponic farm and ensuring that the produce they grow makes it to their school cafeteria and broader school community.

The TFFJ Youth Staff takes their self-appointed leadership roles seriously, which started by hosting a school “Veg Sale” in lieu of a traditional bake sale to both increase awareness of the farm and fund their school-wide Valentine’s Day dance. They also partnered with Wellness in the Schools (WITS) to host a Cafe Day in the school’s cafeteria for elementary and middle school students.

WITS chefs and staff prepared delicious samples of fresh, healthy foods like cinnamon roasted butternut squash, blood orange- and lemon-infused water, and freshly picked cucumbers and salad topped with purple basil vinaigrette — all prepared using produce grown on the hydroponic farm located just two floors above the cafeteria.

Sporting lime green TFFJ t-shirts, six young women from the TFFJ Youth Staff boldly spearheaded the day, serving various options at the salad bar, preparing samples, and encouraging their peers to eat all of the nutritious and hyper-local produce that they themselves grew upstairs.

Throughout the year, TFFJ has provided kale, bok choy, romaine lettuce, swiss chard, cucumbers, and herbs galore to the shared cafeteria of BCMS and P.S. 298 Dr. Betty Shabazz so that all 547 elementary and middle school students have access to fresh and nutritious food every single day. The TFFJ Youth Staff is leading the charge in creating a behavior shift towards greater consumption of the fresh food being served. Through ongoing outreach targeted at both staff and students within their cafeteria, they’re working to ensure that enough produce is grown to provide for students and that the produce is intrinsic to all of their meals.

The work of the TFFJ Youth Staff is even going beyond the cafeteria. Beginning in June, they’re broadening this outreach with the launch of a weekly Fresh Food Box distribution program and Farm Stand that will help their families and community members access the nutritious produce grown on their in-school hydroponic farm. TFFJ’s Fresh Food Box Program enables people to purchase fresh, healthy, produce that was grown by BCMS students using SNAP/EBT, all major credit/debit cards, and cash. Each Fresh Food Box will contain enough produce to feed two people for an entire week and will always include a unique mix of seasonal fruits and vegetables for $14. Sign up here to receive a weekly Fresh Food Box every Tuesday, beginning on June 18th!

Empowering Teens Feeding Communities Building a Healthy Sustainable Future