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Eating Right, Growing Right

FROM LEFT TO RIGHT: Unknown, Ivan Nova, Andrew Miller, Ivan Nova, Chasen Shreve, Richard Bleir, UnknownUnknown, Kirby Yates, Tony Hillery, Unknown, Masahiro Tanaka, Unknown, Unknown, Justin Romine, Unknown, Rob Refsnyder.

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This is the third of a five part series on the Yankees eighth annual HOPE Week. Tomorrow: Barbershop Books

I can remember my mom, on a nightly basis, imploring me to eat my vegetables when I was young. I hated anything green, anything not chicken fingers and fries. Today, at age 20, I’m not sure how my mother did it, especially given that I was one of three. All of this was on my mind when I attended the third day of the New York Yankees’ HOPE (Helping Others Persevere and Excel) week initiative, which seeks to honor five different individuals, families, or organizations who perform outstandingly unselfish acts of kindness in their respective communities. Day 3 was dedicated to Tony Hillery and his organization Harlem Grown.

Tony founded Harlem Grown was founded in 2009 after he had spent some time working at the local Elementary School, P.S. 175. According to Tony, “one day, [he] got tired of eating the school lunch, and started walking around [Harlem] looking for something to eat and that’s when [he] started randomly counting the fried chicken restaurants.” How many were there? Four? Five? Ten, at most? No. Tony was “appalled to find 53 within a 3 block radius.” “With a demographic,” Tony told us, “where everybody’s on food stamps: recipe for disaster.” In the neighborhood around P.S. 175, 90% of the population lives below poverty and the majority of which subsist on food stamps, allowing for greater access to healthy food options in incredibly important.

So Tony started Harlem Grown in the hopes of remedying this problem, and with great success. Harlem Grown works to educate kids on the fundamentals of healthy eating while getting them involved with the process of how food goes from farm to table. They educate the kids in the classroom and help them work hands-on outside in what Tony calls “urban farms,” of which there are seven throughout the city. Harlem Grown now grows 10,000 vegetables plants a month throughout their different locations.

However, Tony is also quite proud of another aspect of their program, which deals with the lack of male role models in many impoverished parts of New York City. With 22% of all households being single-mother led, more than twice the city-wide rate (City-Data), Tony has also helped Harlem Grown give kids a male role model who might not otherwise have one. “When Harlem Grown took more on a more holistic approach,” Tony explained, “we trained and placed male mentors…and we placed them in our partner school lunch rooms…and [they became] a de facto male mentor that the kids identified with.”

Given Tony’s extensive record working with and helping his community, several members of the Yankees honored Tony at an event at the garden where it all began and also donated a $10,000 check to Harlem Grown. Tony was speechless. “I don’t have the words for it,” he exclaimed. “To see the Yankees iconic brand in the world and little old Harlem Grown in the same sentence - I can’t even wrap my head around it.” He summarized it by saying, “thank you just seems so miniscule in something like this.” But the Yankee players felt it was Tony who deserved all the praise. “This is just a great example,” said reliever Andrew Miller, “Harlem Grown is just doing great things.” He added, “any way we can lend a hand and give them support and help them go forward with what they’re doing is a positive.” Righty Ivan Nova told us, “I’m happy that he’s doing it for the community, and we’ll always be appreciative for what he’s done.” Catcher Justin Romine added, “just to see that energy to see those people who want to help these kids, it makes me want to help out.”

Tony really put it best when he told us time and time again, “I am only the storyteller, the kids are the story…they’re the ones who are really Harlem Grown.” It is clear that we can all learn a lesson from Tony’s perseverance and excellence in response to a problem within his community. 

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