A community garden in Harlem is helping young adults become an element of environmental change. 

In the concrete jungle of New York City, the environment is dominated by skyscrapers, but look harder, and among them are small community gardens, such as the Frank White Memorial Garden. Part of The Brotherhood Sister Sol organization, known as BroSis, the garden teaches young adults how to grow vegetables and tend to the garden, but more importantly, the lessons are about helping the environment and their community.

BroSis is an organization dedicated to assisting teens on their path to adulthood through academic, social, and political comprehension. 

As caretakers for the city’s Frank White Memorial Garden, BroSis offers six programs including an environmental program that teaches Harlem teens about environmental recreation and sustainability.

 

Among them is Satnam Chaudhary,16, who has been with BroSis for almost four years. While joining the organization on community projects and working on the Frank White Memorial Garden, he has learned the basics of urban gardening.

“I come back for the sense of the community that’s here, the sense of bonding,” said Satnam. “It’s a learning experience. You learn how to do all these different tasks. For example, in the greenhouse and (working with) my facilitator who is helping me and teaching me how to rebuild the house itself.”

The garden stretches across 7,000 square feet on West 143rd Street and includes cucumbers, tomatoes, eggplant, okra, butternut squash, peach trees, apple trees, and over 20 more fruits and vegetables. Through the use of aquaponics techniques and daily maintenance, herbs and vegetables are aligned neatly. The garden is tended by teen volunteers, ages 8 to 19, and adults up to age 22 who are involved in the BroSis program.

The garden was co-designed by community youth members. Adjacent to the garden will be a new six-story, 20,000 square foot building that will become the home of the BroSis organization.

Childhood friends a voice for change

In 1994, Khary Lazarre-White and Jason Warwin founded The Brotherhood Sister Sol organization. The two childhood friends started the organization to be a voice and support for young Latino and Black adults facing social and economic challenges in Rhode Island.

Since then, the organization has become a component of personal development and academic success through mentorship and holistic teachings for young adults throughout New York City.

“I’ve gained knowledge that I can share with my friends, family, and peers,” said Satnam. “I have a younger brother… I teach him things that I learn here.”

While highlighting BroSis’s four themes — knowledge, community, positivity, and future — young teens are motivated toward success.

BroSis members learn how to use aquaponic and hydroponic gardening techniques; how to plant beds, growing techniques, and landscape design. Members also built walking paths, benches and gazebos in the garden for the community. The garden practices composting techniques, and provides a composting bin to collect organic materials from the public  

“(When) we see green spaces, we see spaces where young people can touch the earth, can grow things, can learn about the intersection of prunes and nature in a more holistic way, understand global warming and the threat that it is, said Lazarre-White, “even working in a 6,000-square foot small plot of land in Harlem,”

“We are understanding the threat that we face around the environment — around global warming, and around climate change — so it’s a very practical teaching place that I think is very essential to the youth.”

Summer Internships

BroSis’s Gaia summer internship, which lasts seven weeks, teaches urban gardening and gives teens the opportunity to practice gardening and participate in educational workshops. During the summer, interns also learn about environmental issues and participate in activism. 

“It’s absolutely essential for young people to have those types of green spaces to develop the skills and the awareness of food and where it comes from and sustainability of health,” said Lazarre-White. “It’s a constant space to teach and to educate, so we see it as vital.” 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, BroSis conducted an emergency food relief food distribution program, providing over 700,000 packed meals to the community. Bags included milk, eggs, bread, cereal, frozen items, produce, and pantry items. Bags were distributed to families and those in the Harlem community.

The organization also continued to run the Hamilton Heights Green Youth Market, where youth members sell locally grown fruits and vegetables every Wednesday. From July through November, BroSis members sell over four tons of food each season. They emphasize the importance of a healthy lifestyle and conduct workshops for residents to learn about the importance of eating healthy.

Through their Environmental programs and community outreach, the Frank White community garden serves over 2,000 people a year. Its success is ascribed to the community and to the dedication of BroSis members.

“In order to build a community garden, you need help from the community,” said Lazarre-White. “What I think is essential is that you have people in the community committed to the garden, committed to the unification of your community, committed to keeping it up and not letting it go to disarray, and ensuring that it’s a safe beautiful respite.”

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