The Dukes of Kings County
This Brooklyn family has seen not one, not two, but four boys grow up in the Children’s Garden. The Duke brothers—Jelani, 22, Chidi, 21, Jannkheri, 17, and Chuma, 13—started coming to the Children’s Garden as youngsters. Chidi, Jannkheri, and Chuma recently spoke with BBG about the novelty of seeing zucchini growing on a vine, the fun of teaching younger kids to love soil, and the way their experiences in the Garden inspired them to bring a little life to their Astroturf backyard.
BBG: How did you guys first get involved in the Children’s Garden?
Chidi: When I was 11, my science teacher recommended me. I had never seen this many different plants in one place. When you grow up in the city, you never see this kind of garden. At that point, I’d really only seen vegetables from the supermarket, and I’m not sure I even knew the difference between a zucchini and a cucumber.
Jannkheri: Since then, the garden has been a second home for my brothers and me.
Chuma: I was seven my first year there. I thought the garden was the most beautiful place to be. It felt surreal.
So you’ve all gained a lot of botanical knowledge at BBG?
Jannkheri: Yes, I’ve learned about botany and agriculture, but I’ve also made friendships that will last a lifetime.
Chidi: It really is about people, and communication, too. Being in the garden taught me so much about connectedness, teamwork, and leadership. I started working with younger kids as an apprentice and then as a program assistant and instructor. Teaching really makes you see how different people are and how everyone has their own way of learning. You have to learn new ways of communicating to be able to reach everyone.
What strategies did you learn as a BBG educator?
Chidi: Well, I have no trouble speaking to a group, but I remember teaching first and second graders about different types of soil, and, well, just having me stand there talking about it wouldn’t be that interesting. Instead, I would bring them over to the table and spread some soil out. I’d have them look at it and touch it. How does it feel? Is it sandy? Is it crumbly? Of course, some kids don’t actually like to touch dirt, but you can help them get past that.
Are you doing any gardening of your own these days?
Chidi: Our backyard was always Astroturfed for sports, which makes sense since there were five boys. But last summer, we all built a U-shaped raised bed around the perimeter and grew basil, radishes, and tomatoes. It’s been great!