Harlem fifth-graders will visit the White House Garden and perhaps meet Michelle Obama in June, thanks to the efforts of Chop’t Creative Salad Company. It’s a mission that began by transforming a crack den into a community garden.
Tony Hillary, founder of Harlem Grown community garden, claimed the drug-laden patch of land across from the Lynn Gross Discovery School (PS 175) and recast it as a lush garden. He teaches the students of PS 175 about nature, health, and how to grow vegetables.
“We were quite taken with Tony Hillary and the Harlem garden, and we started thinking about ways to get involved with them,” says Colin McCabe, co-founder of Chop’t. “And because we have restaurants in D.C., and one right next to the White House, we thought it would be a great idea to sponsor a trip for the kids of PS 175 and Tony Hillary to try to get a tour of the White House Garden.”
On the trip, the students will tour the White House kitchen garden, run by chef Sam Kass, and eat lunch at Chop't.
McCabe and fellow co-founder Tony Shure became involved with PS 175 through WITS, a New York City non-profit called Wellness in the Schools (WITS). Chop’t is the WITS’ first and only fast casual partner.
Another member of the WITS team is its executive chef Bill Telepan, who works with in-residence chefs WITS provides to schools to improve their meals.
Shure and McCabe brought in Telepan to create a salad for the restaurant that would raise money for the trip.
“They decided they wanted to do something like this and asked me to come up with the salad, and I jumped on it in a second because I think it’s a great idea,” Telepan says. “I see what’s been on certain school lunches and I think that even though a kid can’t afford to get the best ingredients available, they have a right to eat as best as they can.”
From April 17–24, the Telepan School Lunch Salad was sold at Chop’t locations in New York City and Washington, D.C., with $1 from each going toward the field trip fund. McCabe says, regardless of how many Telepan salads were sold, Chop’t has committed to subsidizing the cost of the trip.
“We thought we could improve and make the food in the school system better,” Shure says. “Already, the food is getting better. We all feel it’s an unrealistic expectation to serve kids sugar-filled, super fatty food and then expect them to sit still 20 minutes later and comprehend what’s being taught to them.”
As for meeting Michelle Obama on June 15, McCabe and Shure say they hope it works out, but they will not know for sure until they arrive at the White House Garden.
“We’ll see when we get there,” McCabe says. “It’d be a dream come true.”
By Sonya Chudgar