This innovative education model gets kids rapping, planting, and cooking in marginalized neighborhoods of London.
Music is a universal language, but until last week, I never imagined it could be used to teach kids to love gardening! A group called May Project Gardens from London, England, is doing precisely this – using music, specifically hip hop, to get kids excited about vegetables, both growing and eating them.
Food insecurity is a huge problem in London, as it is in every city worldwide. The use of food banks is rising, as is malnutrition and obesity, and lack of connection with the sources of one’s food. According to MPG, in the UK nearly one million young people between the ages of 16 and 24 are not in jobs, school, or training.
May Project Gardens strives to create opportunities for youth through its innovative musical learning model, known as ‘Hip Hop Garden.’ It goes into youth centers in neighborhoods such as Brixton, which are historically marginalized, very built-up with little green space – in Brixton’s case, the ninth most deprived ward in the country – and teaches kids the principles of permaculture, focusing on two in particular: valuing the ‘marginal’, or edges, and valuing diversity.
Kids get their hands dirty, planting seeds in soil, growing vegetables to harvest, and then learning how to prepare them in meals. As education manager Zara Rasool explained at a workshop in London last week, most cooking lessons in public schools in these neighborhoods involve ordering in fast food. May Project Gardens has an entirely different vision, as it teaches the kids how to cook vegan meals from scratch – and to appreciate them, although there is initial resistance to strange foods. Rasool said:
“Some of them didn’t know what a tomato looked like, except when it was on a pizza.”
Meanwhile, the kids learn to rap about vegetables and gardening. Aided by musicians such as beat boxer Marv Radio and acoustic guitarist Child of Chief, they translate their new knowledge and passion into catchy rhymes and irresistible rhythms. This ‘Hip Hop Garden’ model, as it’s called, is so successful at increasing social cohesion and raising awareness of social issues that it has been tailored to a number of subjects; for example, “Hip Hop & Identity,” “Hip Hop & Climate Change,” and the very popular “Hip Hop Garden Taster.”
I witnessed the Garden Taster firsthand at the Lush Summit last week. Our group had to write an original rap about gardening, which initially filled me with panic but quickly became very fun. The audience shouted out words that come to mind when we think of gardening, followed by rhymes. Soon we had an impressive list: organic/botanic, crunchy/munchy, fresh/mesh, green/dream, color/mother. A few minutes later, we’d created a whole song with a catchy hook that stayed in my head for the rest of the day.
May Project Gardens uses visual arts to engage young people, too, and has created a beautiful hand-illustrated cookbook called “Grow, Cook, Eat” that provides instructions for growing your own food and making delicious, nutritious, diverse meals on a budget. It’s available for purchase on the MPG website.
It is so wonderful to see how this group has approached tough yet necessary conversations about food security, permaculture, and nutrition. It has figured out a way to connect with a hard-to-reach audience that needs the knowledge desperately, and stands to benefit tremendously from education. Learn more about May Project Gardens on their website or Facebook page.
TreeHugger attended the Lush Summit in London, England, in February 2017. There was no obligation to write about this topic or any other presented at the summit.