HARLEM — Kindergartners and first graders at Harlem's P.S. 161 are training to become the next generation of community gardeners.
A new program by the Horticultural Society of New York is teaching the kids how to plant, weed and water flowers, herbs, fruits and vegetables, all while cultivating their own school garden.
P.S. 161's principal, Pamela Price, says she welcomes the society's involvement in her school because it gives children in an urban environment the opportunity to learn more about nature.
"This is an underserved community," Price said. "Being urban kids, this is very important to them."
According to Pamela Ito, the society's director, the program encourages children to become more engaged with school and have positive school experiences.
"We're not just talking about the benefits of plants," Ito said. "Every single lesson is a hands-on lesson."
The Horticultural Society was founded in 1900 as a community of urban gardeners. Today, they run programs across the city to help educate children and adults in gardening and plant science.
Over 100 kids take part in the 10-week program, which was funded by the City Gardens Club of NYC. They perform different activities in the service of learning how plants are integrated into peoples' lives.
On Friday, for example, the little green thumbs were planting strawberries and tomatoes. Over the next few weeks, they'll learn how to make their own herbal tea and salad dressing.
"We're trying to find things the kids can plant and pick and taste during the school year," Ito said.
Beyond learning more about gardening and nutrition, Ito says there are other environmental, health and therapeutic benefits. And she hopes that by passing on those lessons early in life, they will stick with the kids for years to come.
"They need to have a connection to nature," Ito said. "We hope that their future will be greener."