As an investigative journalist, Nancie Katz
has reported on everything from corrupt judges to church scandals and even the mafia.
But it’s perhaps an article from 1998 that made its greatest mark — and eventually spurred Katz to begin a crusade to revitalize schools in some of New York’s toughest neighborhoods.
Katz wrote a front-page story for the New York Daily News about Principal Solomon Long, who had spent eight years trying to get funding to make much needed repairs to his Brooklyn school. The school was literally falling apart, but district officials ignored his pleas.
Enter the power of the press: A few days after Katz’s story was published, millions of dollars were allocated for improvements at Long’s school.
In the process, a friendship was born. Katz and Long kept in touch over the years, and Long retired in 2009. But both remained dedicated to improving New York’s public schools. In 2010, Katz approached Long and asked if she could work to bring programs to his school that students in other communities take for granted.
He agreed. Soon, “Seeds in the Middle” was born, and the duo continued their efforts to makeover Brooklyn public schools together. It’s a special partnership, Katz says.
“You know, Mr. Long was something special. It’s very hard to cover education when you’re a reporter. It’s a bureaucracy, they’re not supposed to let you in, especially the Daily News,” Katz says. “He was very special from the get-go, to be a principal to go that far.”
Katz and Long began their work at PS 91 in Brooklyn by launching extracurricular activities for the students, including soccer and music programs. It wasn’t easy, Katz says.
With no funding at her disposal, Katz put her journalistic skills to use. “It took me four months, but I got a permit and I brought in volunteer soccer coach,” she says.
Katz then set her sights on improving the community’s health. After getting donations from Lowe’s and making contacts at the New York City Parks Department, Katz oversaw the construction of garden beds at PS 91.
Students grew fruits and vegetables such as collard greens and tomatoes, while their teacher integrated classroom lessons into the gardens.
The fourth graders who tended the garden named the project “Seeds in the Middle,” and that then became the moniker of the nonprofit Katz now oversees.
“They named it to be healthy. It comes from the children, it comes from what creates joy,” Katz says of the students. “People aren’t going to change their habits if they’re not joyful.”
Eventually 44 beds were built, creating a unique learning space that also teaches kids positive habits. To further encourage healthy eating, Seeds also opened the “Hip2B Healthy Market,” whose product line is made up of donations from Whole Foods Markets. “The kids could get the same deal for their dollar, and more for their dollar, than if they went to the bordega,” Katz says.
More healthy programs were launched at neighborhood schools, made possible through partnerships between the public and private sectors (along with a little prodding from Katz). Chefs began teaching students and their parents healthy recipes, while more physical education programs such as dance and track launched to get kids in shape. In September, the nonprofit opened the Crown Heights Farmers Market
, which offers fresh and local produce to the community, Katz says.
“Everybody had a role in making a farmer’s market. We put it together in four weeks because it was the right thing to do,” Katz says. “It’s really about partnering with people who want to change.”
With Long’s help, Katz continues her push for new health-minded programs (and the funding to make things happen). Her goal continues to be to bring opportunities to disadvantaged children that kids in wealthier communities take for granted — especially the chance to have a healthy life.
“You meet children who are just as capable and smart as your own child, but they were just born in the wrong place,” Katz says. “Just one
experience can change a child’s life.”