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Seeds of Change: How 3 Moms Provide Produce to Needy Families

Not everyone has easy access to fresh fruits and vegetables. Three women across the country are doing something about it.

For millions of moms, providing a healthy dinner is far harder than just inventing new ways of disguising broccoli. These parents live in areas of the country without easy access to affordable, quality groceries. If you don't have a car, and the nearest full-service supermarket is miles away, you end up relying on convenience stores filled with fatty, high-salt, processed options and little in the way of fresh fruits and vegetables. The consequences of eating like this include obesity and related illnesses, such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer—problems that cut years off life expectancy. But these three enterprising women have found ingenious ways to bring free or low-cost produce to families most in need.

Stacey Murphy, 37

Founder, BK Farmyards
Brooklyn, New York

Sprouts of an Idea
Stacey Murphy
Enlarge Image
Tara Donne

"I spent my entire childhood in my mom's garden," says Stacey. "She had a mini farm in our suburban backyard and everything we grew went directly to our dinner table. I didn't taste my first french fry until I was 16." Later, working in Manhattan as an architect, she would pass through a greenmarket on her way to the office and stop to chat with the farmers. "I wasn't feeling passionate about my profession," she says. "When I talked to people who were growing things, I realized what I really wanted wasn't to build high-rises but to create communities." Around the same time, Stacey noticed that many of her Brooklyn neighbors were barely using their yards, and she hit upon an idea: Turn those spaces into small urban farms and share the crops with the homeowners and other local residents, who would provide the labor. By spring 2009 she had saved enough money to quit her job and launch her new enterprise.

Taking Root

Within months Stacey was growing 50 different varieties of produce, including beets, collard greens, bok choy and broccoli rabe, on two lots. Then, in the fall, she got a call from Ben Shuldiner, principal of the High School for Public Service, which is situated in a low-income Brooklyn neighborhood. Ben thought Stacey might be the right person to implement his dream of converting the school's one-acre front lawn into a working farm. Two months later, with the help of a small grant, she began the project.

The Harvest

In the spring of 2010 the first greens came up, a salad mix. Stacey invited the kids working with her to pick a few leaves and have a taste. "I had to convince some of them," she says. "One said, 'I'm not eating that. It just came out of the ground!'"

The students have come a long way since. They're involved in every aspect of farming, from building compost bins to staffing the stands at the school's weekly market. Last year 9,000 pounds of produce was sold, mostly to nearby residents, many of whom made their purchases with food stamps. Some of the students take vegetables home and prepare for their families recipes they learned at school.

The farm employs 10 teens during the summer to help with chores, and Stacey has noticed something remarkable: Many of the kids have given up going to the corner store for sugary afternoon snacks. Instead, they linger around the picnic table where Stacey and her colleagues are topping sandwiches with cucumbers, tomatoes and lettuce straight from the garden. "They'll say, 'Uh, are you going to eat the other half of that cucumber?'" Stacey says. "My biggest takeaway from this experience is that when given a choice, most kids will go for fresh, delicious food. And there's nothing as thrilling as seeing the look of awe on their faces when they bite into a just-picked Sungold tomato for the first time."

Stacey's Raw Kale Salad

Teens love this one! Cut 1 bunch of kale (preferably Lacinato), 1 bunch parsley and 1 bunch spinach into long, thin strips. Juice 2 lemons, mix with a dash of apple cider vinegar and pour over the greens. In a small bowl, combine 1/4 cup olive oil and 3 tablespoons each pure ground peanut butter and honey. Pour over the salad and toss. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Top with sesame seeds or garbanzo beans, if you like.