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11/04/2011

Taja Sevelle: Discovering health through city farming

Taja Sevelle: Discovering health through city farming

Taja Sevelle is a recording artist and founder of Urban Farming, which seeks to reduce hunger and increase access to healthy, natural foods through the planting of gardens in unused land and spaces.

In 2005, I decided to put my music career on the back burner and start the nonprofit organization Urban Farming.

Back then, I only had $5,000 to start it, along with a pamphlet and three little plots of green. But even then, we had a mission: to end hunger in our generation and to help build urban, suburban and, as we say, "rurban" (rural) communities that are physically and economically healthy.

We not only encourage people to grow their own food, we teach about healthy eating, healthy fitness, healthy thinking and healthy personal finances.

Many times, I’ve seen the results of poor eating habits and a general disconnect from the knowledge of where food comes from and how it affects one’s body. One 17-year-old girl, touring a garden as part of a Detroit youth group, stands out. Pointing to a plant, she asked, “What’s that?”

“An eggplant,” the teacher replied.

“Is that where eggs come from?” was her innocent follow-up. It was one of many bittersweet, hands-on learning moments that I have seen on the gardens as young people and adults discover things they have never seen before.

Another girl, noticing a tomato, exclaimed “Look, Mommy! That’s what they put on the burgers at McDonalds!” As best as I could tell, that was the only place she’d ever seen a tomato.

These unhealthy habits have come with a high cost. According to a study released by former New York Gov. David Patterson and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, obesity-related illness costs the state of New York nearly $8 billion each year, roughly $770 for every household.

A lot of this human and financial cost could be eliminated by people making healthy choices, and that’s a lesson that has to start young and in school. Too often, the lunch bell signals that learning is about to fly out the window. A bonanza of unhealthy food choices continues to plague many cafeterias, and a potentially valuable hands-on learning environment is lost in a sea of enticing junk foods.

Why not make the lunch room another learning experience? Today, Urban Farming is growing partnerships with schools, helping establish gardens on campus, teaching children about personal responsibility and about giving to others in need. According to a California study, students are more likely to eat fresh vegetables in their diets when they have planted and grown the food themselves. A hands-on garden experience is reinforced when a student can walk into a lunch room that is full of healthy food choices.

Today, we have over 50,000 community, residential and partner gardens that are a part of the Urban Farming Global Food Chain worldwide.

Like a garden, life comes full circle, and after a few years with my music on the back burner, I’ve just released new music: a remake of the Chic song “Good Times.” Why not make them great?


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