Long hours in the garden also got these students interested in expanding food access in the city.
“I realize that I don’t live in a food desert, because there’s a supermarket with fresh groceries three blocks from where I live,” said Rosales. “But a lot of people in other neighborhoods don’t have regular access to fresh food.”
Each Wednesday, the students set up a farm stand that opened for business at 8 a.m.
“Our customers were people who lived in Norris Square,” said Ulin Az. “Whatever we harvested in the garden, we sold and charged $1 per piece of produce. We worked as a team at the farm stand, and it was important to serve the community in this way.”
What the community didn’t buy became the ingredients the team used to make original recipes and meals for other youth programs or neighborhood meetings.
“We cooked many different meals with what we produced, like pizzas with vegetables, vegetable eggrolls, and spaghetti and lasagna with vegetables. And sometimes we had to cook for about 50 people,” said Sebastian.
This zeal for harvesting crops and expanding food access has followed the boys back to their personal lives.
“In the community I’ve had the opportunity to learn a lot about farming, but at Ben Franklin I don’t really have any classes or activities related to healthy eating and food,” said Sebastian. “So maybe I can impact my school by bringing what I’ve learned there.”
He added, “Healthy eating is important to me because it gives me energy.” In Philadelphia, he is concerned about pesticides in American produce. And many recipes here require the use of oil.
“Back home [in Guatemala] we never [cooked with oils],” he said. “Everything is natural. Eating vegetables is important.”
Rosales, who currently studies food science at Saul, plans to study biotechnology in college. “I’m hoping to find a way to make food more available to people in cities like Philadelphia.”