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The Rooftop Garden Project

Posted: 09/13/11 07:01 PM ET

PS 20 Farms from Richard Temtchine on Vimeo.

The Rooftop project was created to empower children with the knowledge of how to plant and grow food. That knowledge and the pride these young students experience when taught how to do so has led us, a filmmaker and the owner of the renown restaurant Madiba in Brooklyn, respectively, to plan a benefit in order to support the efforts of farmer Zack Pickens and the PS 20 Farm, in collaboration with the New York PTA and city officials.

The bad eating habits that now plague America must change, not by wishful thinking but by thoughtful action. Those best equipped to make a difference for the future of America are young children adopting healthy practices before bad habits take form. When school rooftops in all five boroughs go green, they become a classroom in which the skills of future economic independence and entrepreneurship are also taught.

The current American diet is crippling the health of men, women and children alike. Consumption is excessive; nutrient quantities are disproportionate; ingredients can often be toxic. With a burgeoning population in densely inhabited, cement-covered cities, we live farther removed from our fresh food sources than ever.

If we are what we eat, we need to pay attention and be seriously aware about what we ingest. We are ecstatic when a farmers' market comes to town for a day or two: but unfortunately the cost of precious crop sold under big-city overhead, is out of reach for most Americans. And many who were raised on a tight budget grew up with poor dietary options. They do not know how to teach their children the importance of a healthy diet.

A healthy diet as measured by the USDA Healthy Eating Index is a score of 80 out of 100. Today's score: 55.9 due to the high amount of processed sugars and the absence of fruit and vegetables in our children's diet. How, then, do we teach our children the importance of eating well, while competing with expensive ad campaigns that encourage fast and frozen food consumption? How do we teach them proper quantities and shift the cultural phenomenon of obesity and ill-health? How do we demonstrate that fruits and vegetables do not come from the supermarket; where they grow and what are seeds? And what happens to seeds once planted and then watered? How can we look forward to a sustainable, accessible, affordable diet of good fresh foods?

Children must be taught early on what food is, how it is planted, how it grows, how it ripens and how it is sold. From our own experience in the classroom as invited guests we have witnessed children who, having learned the science of growing their own food, not only derive pride from it but are also eager to teach their parents what they know. Parents seem quite a bit in the dark when their six year old child demonstrate knowledge they do not have. What we learn as children stays with us forever.

New York must go green. Children must be empowered at a young age with the skills needed to grow natural food and feed themselves and others. Therein lies the solution and the future of a healthier and more productive America and there also goes the unburdening of our health care system, when citizens are eating well and feeling well.


Zachary Pickens is a full-time urban gardener and farmer, a seed saver, a Master Composter. His garden atop Mark Henegen's Madiba Restaurant in Fort Greene, Brooklyn supplies fresh food to its patrons. Filmmaker Richard Temtchine filmed the PS 20 roof garden initiative and has helped to spearhead the Project.