Brandon Martin: A High School Student’s Taste of Fresh Eggplant and Entrepreneurship

Pictured: Brandon Martin (right) works on the farm.

While most teens hit the beach each summer, high school senior Brandon Martin is up to his elbows in ochre and watermelon as an employee of Seeds for Learning-Beyond the Farm, a program that helps Philadelphia high schoolers plant their own urban gardens and learn about nutrition and business. Martin, who wants to become a chef, doesn’t plan to come out of the garden anytime soon. Knowledge@Wharton High School talked to Martin when he was a sophomore about his summer experience and more. An edited transcript of the conversation is below.

Knowledge@Wharton High School: Today we’re here with Brandon Martin, who is going to be in the tenth grade at Hope Charter School, which is in northwest Philadelphia. He participated in Seeds for Learning-Beyond the Farm, which is a program that ran for 10 weeks during the summer. So how did you become involved with Seeds for Learning? Have you always had an interest in agriculture or cooking?

Brandon Martin: Yes. I got involved through the work-ready program – PYN — Philadelphia Youth Network. They [offered me] a summer job….  That’s when they sent me to the farm. But I have always been interested in cooking. I want to become a chef.

KWHS: Could you explain the work-ready program for those that don’t know about it?

Martin: It’s a summer program to teach you about business and entrepreneurship and how to work out in the field.

KWHS: What did you and other participants do in this year’s summer program?

Martin: We worked on a farm, grew produce organically and ran the markets every Monday and Wednesday. We [also helped] with the upkeep of the farm and ran a community lunch for the West Oak Lane community. They come out and eat our produce and hopefully come to our markets.

KWHS: Has the program introduced you to foods that you didn’t previously eat? Or that people in the area didn’t eat?

Martin: Yes. I usually don’t eat eggplant and Swiss chard, but the farm introduced me to that kind of produce and [other] different kinds of food.

KWHS: You mentioned that you grow eggplant and Swiss chard. What are some of the other produce that you grow?

Martin: We grow a variety of herbs — mint, lemon balm, sorrel, thyme, basil and sage. We also grow all the cooking greens like Swiss chard, collard greens, cabbage and broccoli. We grow ochre, beets, hot peppers, scallions, squash, sweet peppers, three different varieties of tomatoes — we have beefsteak tomatoes, cherry tomatoes and heirloom tomatoes. We grow zucchini, pumpkin, eggplants, melons — watermelon, traditional watermelon, sugar baby melons and cantaloupe melons. That’s pretty much what we have.  And we want to grow more things as the farm grows.

KWHS: Wow, that’s a lot of produce. This is all done on an old soccer field?

Martin: It’s grown on a third of an acre, which is not a lot of space, but we get a lot of the work done [there]. It’s pretty cool. Hopefully we will get some more space to grow more things.

KWHS: How much of the growing process were you involved in?

Martin: 100%. We grow everything. We planted it in the ground and [did the] weeding.

KWHS: Chris [Bolden-Newsome, community farm director] talked earlier about how you guys got paid for it.  Just out of curiosity, how much do you make?

Martin: Minimum wage, but to my knowledge we do get a raise. So we will get a raise after a certain amount of time working. It’s a regular job and you work your way up.

KWHS: How do you think your involvement in growing, cooking and distributing food has benefited you, and others, in the community?

Martin: It has benefited me because I eat different food now besides the McDonald’s and the KFCs. I’m eating healthy food, fresh food that’s grown by me and my co-workers. Hopefully we’ll try to get the whole community to eat the fresh food and the fresh produce that we grow. So that’s how we benefit from the farm.

KWHS: Are your co-workers also high school students?

Martin: Yes.

KWHS: Do you think that people in your community are more informed about healthy eating choices now that you’re selling these foods in the market?

Martin: Yes. They’re more informed about fresh food and fresh produce. [also], when we do our community lunches I run a tour of the garden…. I teach [people] what’s there, what are weeds, what are not weeds, what’s edible, what’s not edible.

KWHS: Where do you cook your meals? And what are some of the places that you have served food?

Martin: We cook in the Martin Luther King [High School] kitchen. We only serve those at the community lunch.

KWHS: I read about how you’ve been able to prepare food with professional chefs through the program. What was that like?

Martin: Well, for me, it is super cool because I want to become a chef. I actually do want to go to culinary school, so it’s like a class before the classes. I’m learning a lot of stuff, like what chefs are supposed to do and what you’re supposed to do in the kitchen, how to hold a knife and all that — everything chefs do.

KWHS: What made you want to become a chef?

Martin: All the food my grandma cooked — and where I grew up. My grandma and my mom [both] cook. So maybe I got it from them.

KWHS: Can students continue working with Seeds for Learning after the program? And has the program influenced what you want to do with your future? What lasting impact do you think it will have on you?

Martin: Students can continue to work after their program. I’m going [to do that]. The impact that it has had on what I want to do with my future is that I know how to grow my own food and prepare my own food in different ways. [And I know how to] eat healthier — [beyond] KFC and McDonald’s.

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