What a life. We arrived in Poughkeepsie yesterday afternoon to be greeted by another wonderful host. This time we’re staying with Robin from the Green Teen project – where we have a planned visit and interviews set up for early next week. Today we’re using the computers at Vassar and recuperating with blueberry french toast.
Riding up the Hudson Valley, we stopped for a night in Terrytown, and stayed with the assistant livestock manager of the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, where we wandered around the next day. It was like one big petting zoo – with sheep, chicks, cows, pigs and Bubba the Boar. Stone Barns is an education center as well as an operational farm, funded by the Rockefeller family. They have a very upscale restaurant on site as well as a conference center. It was interesting to see this model because with all their funding, the farmers have free range to experiment. So, we took a tour of their state of the art composting system that took up several acres, learned about preserving heritage breeds, and toured what once was the largest greenhouse on the east coast.
New York City is somewhat of a blur. It was hot, we biked to many projects and through all the boroughs (minus Staten Island), and managed to interview a smathering of people and even work a little bit – harvesting vegetables under raised subway tracks in the East New York and next to the construction of a mega store in Red Hook, Brooklyn.
One afternoon we randomly ran into Friends of Brook Park, who were taking a canoe ride on the Harlem and East Rivers, and giving a tour to a team of environmental lawyers who were surveying the proposed site of a huge water park on the wetlands of Randall’s Island. This was an incredible way to see the city! As we were paddling, we got a great guided tour from Harry, a local activist, about industrial aquaculture and the changing landscape.
Nowhere in the United States is urban farming more stunning than in New York City. Stunning for their existence at all, let alone sustainability, in such a compact and populated landscape. Visually stunning because of its untraditional settings for growing food, many of these gardens grew out of neighborhood eyesores.
During harder times in New York’s history, homes and industry succumbed to piles of rubble, abandoned lots. This is where the gardeners stepped in to beautify their neighborhoods first, and then put a dent in community health. These sites have emerged over the years as an ultra-local market for fresh produce, bursting greens, reds and yellows of tomatoes and peppers. We heard from many people that many of these productive spaces are now under threat of development. Because of their redemptive qualities for the neighborhood, their new market value has come to endanger their existence.
While in New York, we visited La Familia Verde‘s farmer’s market in the Bronx (see ethnography) – a beautiful place where the diverse produce represents the multi-ethnic make up of the community. There we interviewed Karen Washington, the market manager about starting this project from her backyard; students from the city’s nutrition education program about sugar in soda; a farmer about his experience as an immigrant from Jamaica and raising two generations on a farm outside the city; and a Jamaican community gardener about making the perfect sweet relish.
We spent time at Added Value in Red Hook, Brooklyn – an increasingly popular program that incorporates youth employment and entrepreneurship into their work growing food for market and area restaurants on their 3-acre urban farm. We talked to Ian, one of the co-founders about the challenges of rapid growth; followed farmers Jenny and Erin around on their restaurant delivery to The Good Fork restaurant where we talked to the owner about using gourmet food from a few blocks down.
We sat in on a meeting at the garden of Las Hermanitas de la Asuncion, at the Rodale Pleasant Park Garden in East Harlem. Las Hermanitas are a small social service organization comprised of women who’ve immigrated from Mexico. We visited on a Friday evening, during a mandatory garden shift, where every one of the 12 members and many family members were discussing garden business. We sampled the Papalo plant, a Mexican favorite, and fielded many questions about our bike journey. The garden is funded by the New York Restoration Project and is one of the best utilized and groomed gardens we had run across.
We attended a Chicken Care workshop put on by Just Food at the Paradise on Earth Garden in the Bronx – where they are raising chickens and rabbits for local consumption. We later met with Owen, ‘the chicken guy’, and other staff members at Just Food’s Manhattan office to talk about their programs linking low-income residents with healthy food.
On one of our last days in New York, we harvested beans and cherry tomatoes with the youth of East New York Farms!, who operate a vibrant farmer’s market that we visited the previous Saturday. The organization employs youth to plant, harvest and market their produce to the community – and do nutrition outreach. We had a conversation with several young farmers about a project they did with mapping, comparing the availability of food on the lower east side of Manhattan with that of their neighborhood in Brooklyn. For 175,000 residents of East New York, there is just one grocery store, and their weekly farmer’s market.