Chander Payne’s story is one of regeneration, both personally and in how he is serving his community through volunteerism. Facing challenges at home and poor health, the high school student turned to urban gardening to heal his body and mind. Realizing the holistic power of fresh food, Chander decided others could similarly benefit, and dedicated his efforts to helping food insecure youth in his community.
Launching Urban Beet in 2018, the now 17-year-old Bethesda, Maryland student is using a multi-pronged approach to feed hungry youth in the Washington D.C. area and advocate for fresh food in his community. Creating urban farms in schools, providing healthy meals and food for local homeless youth and empowering underserved families to grow their own gardens, Chander is changing the way his community is eating and is helping to curb the effects of food deserts on urban families.
What inspires you to volunteer?
I had volunteered before, but this was different because it was personal. I started noticing empty vegetable refrigerators in the lunchroom at school. The “veggie of the day” was french fries. At the same time, I was facing personal challenges at home, and I spent a summer urban gardening, learning about regenerative agriculture from a farmer named Manuel. Being in that garden was a healthy mental escape, and I wanted to share this kind of farming and the resulting benefits I experienced with everyone I knew.
Describe your role with Urban Beet.
As founder and executive director of Urban Beet, I manage communications, create and facilitate our programs, make food deliveries and help to build our urban farms in public schools. Our mission is to create a movement of young people who can join our efforts. We have partnerships with community organizations including: the Homeless Children’s Playtime Project, True Food Kitchen Bethesda, Up Top Acres, Little Lights (starting this summer).
Explain the name “Urban Beet’ to me. Why beet?
When we first started I was really into puns. The idea was, let’s beat food deserts, let’s beat climate change in urban areas through growing food. My favorite vegetable to grow is beets, that’s our namesake. I also really like growing crazy fruits like cantaloupes. The secret to growing cantaloupe: give it a ton of space because it just takes over.
Tell me about some of the programs you offer.
Real Food Program: we grow and deliver fresh, nourishing, local produce to underserved communities, we also serve food pantries and homeless shelters.
Securing our Future: Through these community workdays, we give children experiencing homelessness the opportunity to play outside at our urban farms and learn about urban farming, offering programs ranging from gardening education to art therapy.
Share one personal story with me from your volunteerism.
One of the kids I’ve worked with through our community workdays “Securing our Future” program is an 8-year-old boy from Senegal. His healing and his curiosity inspires me to continue my service because his growth parallels the regeneration of soil that we do through regenerative gardening. The boy will ask me about plants and our gardening education, but our conversations are also personal – he’s asked me how to stop bullies. Our holistic programs enable us to help these youth heal, build creativity and also give them a healthy mental escape.
What kind of fresh produce are you delivering?
Every kind of vegetable you could imagine. Anything from fresh cucumber salad, fresh fruit salad with watermelon, carrots, beets, lettuce and spinach. These meals are meant to provide as much nourishment as possible to people who don’t generally have access to that kind of produce.
What’s been the most rewarding part of your service?
Working with the children in our youth programs over the summer and hearing directly from people we serve when we do deliver fresh food. It warms my heart and it feels good to know that someone, somewhere is enjoying the product.
What’s a saying that you live your life by?
Giving without expectations. Do a good turn daily. The joy of giving. I feel that my purpose is just to give and that’s how I live my life.
How can readers help?
During the COVID-19 pandemic, we are delivering Free Little Farms to underserved families to give them the power to grow food. The little farms are container gardens complete with soil, seeds, and growing instructions. Please visit our website for more information.
Do you want to make a difference in your community like Chander Payne? Find local volunteer opportunities.
Post written by Points of Light staff.