Preteen not only eats her vegetables, she grows them too
For 12-year-old Jada Young, squirrels cause as much stress as homework .
“There was this one time where I had to take my eggplants out quick, because the squirrels were eating them. They’re terrible,” she said.
Jada is a gardener at the Padre Plaza Success Garden in Mott Haven where she grows her own herbs, vegetables and flowers.
Her father, Mike Young, is the president of the garden. He says it was Jada who inspired him to transform the space, a block from their apartment building, into a garden back in 2006.
Until then, the site was used as a local garbage can. “People in the surrounding buildings would throw garbage in there. There were needles, and the pond was just a deep hole,” Jada said.
“My daughter and I had always passed by and said, ‘Wow, this would be a nice place to start a garden,’” Young recalls. So one day she asked him, “Daddy, why don’t you do it?”
At first, Young said, he was reluctant, because he was trying to start his own carpentry business. But one day on his way to work, he started to think that maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea.
After receiving permission from the Parks Department, Young and a group of co-workers, helped by organizations such as the New York Botanical Garden’s Bronx Green-Up, transformed the dump into the garden that it is today, filled with raised beds where members of the garden grow vegetables and flowers and displaying art created by residents. The garden also hosts the Mott Haven Farmers Market and rents out the space for parties.
Jada has contributed to the garden’s success. When she was 9 she received the Youth Gardener Award from the Scotts Miracle-Gro Company.
Because of the work she has done to improve her neighborhood, this year she was featured on a large billboard in Times Square that showed her working with children in the garden. She’s also been in a commercial for a partnership between Bank of America and the Citizens Committee of New York City.
She was surprised when she found out she would be on a screen in Times Square.
“I was really excited. I went to go see it and I took a picture of it on my phone. But then I had to switch phones so now I don’t have it anymore,” she said dejectedly.
Her mom, Sheila Young, said she is one of Jada’s biggest fans. “She’s so humble. She’s been doing this since she was like 4 or 5 years old. She’s just an awesome girl,” she said.
The unassuming Jada says she still feels just like a regular kid at South Bronx Preparatory.
“I’m actually the youngest person in my class. I’m the only 12-year old. Everybody else is 13,” she said.
On a cool October afternoon, she came straight to the garden after school, carrying her backpack of school work and clad in her school uniform to help out at the Mott Haven Farmers Market.
She grows some of her favorite vegetables, including collard greens and eggplant, in her own raised bed in the garden. And in her yin-yang shaped garden, she grows herbs, including basil, oregano and parsley. She can point to any herb in the sea of green and explain what it is, what it tastes like and what it pairs nicely with.
After picking some oregano, she said, “This is a different type of oregano. It’s hot and spicy,” adding that she likes to eat it with spaghetti.
Jada has been interested in gardening for as long as she can remember. She remembers being curious about gardening when she was 4 years old, and wanting to learn from others.
“She has a green thumb naturally,” her father said.
Over the years Jada has learned from many experienced gardeners, including Ursula Chanse, the director of Bronx Green-Up, the community gardening outreach program of the Botanical Garden.
Chanse met Jada six years ago, and since that time has seen Jada work with other children to teach them about gardening, serve as a leader of the garden’s summer program, pitch in with various tasks in the garden and help with community events.
“I look forward to what she will continue to accomplish,” Chanse said.
Even in the winter when it’s too cold to grow anything, Jada likes to hang out at Padre Plaza. She also likes to bring her friends from school to the garden.
Recently, she brought Angie Bonilla, 13, out for a tour.
“She got really excited when she saw the garden. She was asking what every herb was,” Jada said.
Although she looks forward excitedly to eating M & M’s and Reese’s at Halloween, it’s no chore for her to eat vegetables.
“A lot of people ask me why I eat vegetables, and I’m like, ‘cause I like vegetables!’” she said with a laugh.
“People say that broccoli with cheese is good, but I’ve never had that before,” she said with a slight grimace. She prefers to eat her broccoli pure and straight out of the ground.