Grow Food: Minnesota Youth Rap About Urban Farming

Hip-hop is a powerful and infectious medium for cultural communication; in fact, Spotify analyzed billions of tracks in 2015 and declared it to be the most popular genre of its listeners around the world. Two neighboring non-profits in Minneapolis, Appetite for Change (AFC) and Beats & Rhymes, are working with youth to use hip-hop to spread a powerful message about healthy eating and urban faming with the rap, “Grow Food.” Here is an excerpt from the song (the full video is below): “Got the little homies in the garden and the big homies selling collard greens/ and the North side ain’t starving since Community Cooks been on the scene…eatin’ healthy school lunch, and that’s word to Mrs. Obama, drinkin’ water, livin’ longer/ no processed trauma…I be growin’ like a farmer/Grow Food/AFC got produce.”

AFC shares that its mission is to “use food as a tool building health, wealth, and social change in North Minneapolis. AFC is a community-led organization that strengthens families, creates economic prosperity, and encourages healthy living.” Their diverse and extensive community programs include bringing friends, family, and neighbors together for community gardening; tailored Community Cooks workshops for all ages including the Fresh Start Garden, which offers a garden curriculum that serves preschoolers; participating in the Good Food Movement for local food justice policy and advocacy; Kindred Kitchen, a shared commissary kitchen; Breaking Bread Café & Catering, “a community driven eatery,” and various other local food trainings and leadership development opportunities.

Beats & Rhymes was founded at the Nellie Stone Johnson Beacons Center with the purpose of providing “school-age kids the chance to experience making and recording music in a way they could relate to.” Multiple local schools and community centers now benefit from their innovative youth music programs, which offer skill-building opportunities in recording techniques, music production and engineering, studio etiquette, pro tools and Logic Pro competency, performance, entertainment, stage presence, song arrangement, writing strategies, spelling and pronunciation, music industry awareness, and various musical games and activities. Children have to complete their homework before participating.

J.T., one of the Directors of Beats & Rhymes, was kind enough to tell us more about the collaboration with AFC:

We teamed up with AFC through relationships that were already established between staff--our programs are literally on the same street, four blocks away from each other. We have worked with and known some of the staff for years prior to this and also have some of the same kids attending both programs. AFC reached out to us because their kids were given the challenge to come up with a project to promote [AFC’s] message and they had the idea to do a music video. And, most kids in the neighborhood are familiar with our programs and with the songs we have done in the past.

I also asked him about the challenges and rewards of empowering kids to record music.

One challenge is to build a relationship where the kids trust us and the process enough to open up creatively and really put themselves out there, in a position where they can get judged but still be able to be comfortable with the results. In order to do that, we really have to understand the type of music they like to listen to, which is usually the type of music they like to make. So, when we start off with the rough productions of the songs, they are excited right off the bat because it is a sound they are familiar with and like. It is also key to be very patient and encouraging because a lot of times and also on this particular project, none of the kids had ever recorded anything before and had never been filmed in a way where they were the main "spotlight" entertainers.

But, it is always very rewarding to see the final product, knowing all the work the staff and youth have put into it. It’s also good to see how much confidence it instills in the kids. And, they can use that to carry over into other parts of their lives, like public speaking in their classes, job interviews, or things of that nature. It also helps develop work ethic because the kids can be there for the beginning, middle, and end stage. So, they see the work it took and how awesome it can be when the task is complete.

Here’s J.T.’s summary of the message and purpose of the “Grow Food" rap: “to basically explain the vision of the [AFC] program and how it is meant to impact young people and the community as a whole. We tried to do it in a song format that kids, teenagers, and the neighborhood would like and be able to relate to.”

Enjoy “Grow Food” below, which has gone viral in late 2016 and will soon be on iTunes.