Harlem Grown is a nonprofit organization that targets elementary school age students for education and mentoring in urban farming, nutrition, and sustainability. As luck would have it, one of those students happened to be Latonya's daughter. Her story reminds us that people of all generations learn from one another, and that as much as we have the ability to open the eyes of children to new things, they have just as much potential (maybe even more) to do the same for us.
When did you know that you wanted to work in food?
I never knew I wanted to work in food. Food called me. When I started working in the greenhouse, I was fascinated by all the different types of lettuce. Previously I had thought there was only Romaine, but working in the greenhouse has exposed me to the various subtleties in taste and types of greens.
How did you get your current good food job?
When my daughter was five, she came home to tell me how she planted an eggplant with a man named Tony. Curious, I walked down the street and found out that Mr. Tony was the same man that worked in the school?After breathing a sigh of relief, I began to admire the work he was doing with healthy eating. When he started Harlem Grown, I worked odd jobs, doing what I could here and there. When Harlem Grown became bigger, he asked me to come on board to help alleviate some pressure and take some things off his plate. He showed me how to manage the greenhouse, take care of the greens, and five years later I'm probably better than him at it.
How did your previous work or life experience prepare you for a good food job?
I worked at Whole Foods where I was exposed to various organic foods. However, I've worked all my life in various jobs and the work ethic that I developed over the years has been what guided me the most in being the Greenhouse Manager.
What was the greatest obstacle you had to overcome in pursuing your Good Food Job dream?
Taking a step back. Mental health and community are important. Being alone in the Greenhouse comes with its challenges, but I've been able to persevere as a result of the incredible team I have behind me in my Harlem Grown family. We all compose different pieces of the puzzle to make this function and to make Harlem Grown the organization that it is.
Name one positive thing that a former employer taught you that you continue to appreciate?
Next week is my two year anniversary of working in the greenhouse. I came to my boss to ask for advice about a situation happening in the greenhouse and instead of telling me what to do, he simply said he trusted me. He would be behind me, whatever decision I made. I appreciated knowing that my boss has faith in my abilities even when I may doubt myself.
What can you identify as the greatest opportunities in food right now?
Being able to live by being healthy. Eat healthy, live long!
If you could be compensated for your work with something other than money, what would it be?
If it wasn't money, it would be to know that my daughter would be able to survive with or without me. At the end of the day, all that I do is for and about her. Also hearing the older Harlem communities members talk about trying kale for the first time, and knowing it's my work that went into it, is the best feeling.