Low-income nabes lead the way in urban farming
The Garden of Hope — the new community green space I covered this week on Grist — is just one facet of Brooklyn’s community gardening scene.
While writing this story I spoke with Susan Fields of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s GreenBridge program, which reaches out to neighborhoods all over Brooklyn to encourage and to support many levels of gardening — from the “Greenest Block in Brooklyn” contest all the way to the Urban Composting Project. “There’s a growing focus on urban food production,” she told me.
In the Red Hook waterfront neighborhood, for instance, the group Added Value transformed a broken-down playground into a vibrant, 2.75-acre farm that today trains children and teenagers to grow food from seed and sell it at a twice-weekly local farmers market. Over in East New York, a neighborhood in eastern Brooklyn where most of the residents live below the poverty line, East New York Farms grows thousands of pounds of produce a year, hosts a CSA, and supports the development of the East New York Farmers’ Market, which features produce from 23 local gardens and three regional farmers. Both gardens teach youth about ethical business, teamwork, and civic values — as well as agriculture.
And not far from the Garden of Hope, Bed-Stuy residents grow fruits, vegetables and medicinal herbs in the 0.8-acre Hattie Carthan Community Garden, where regular events include cooking demonstrations, nutrition classes, and food security discussions. The garden was a stop on a recent United Nations sustainable food tour.
These urban farms strike me as responses to at least a couple anxieties of our era: Wondering where the food we eat comes from, and worrying about whether it’s safe (see Tom Philpott’s coverage of this week’s salmonella-in-tomatos scare).
It’s not coincidental that urban ag efforts often take off in some of Brooklyn’s historically least-privileged neighborhoods, Fields told me. “There’s also a growing awareness of the health crises that are concentrated in certain neighborhoods in Brooklyn around obesity, asthma, and other food related problems,” she said. “They need to have access to fresh food, to healthy food … And when that’s not available for purchase … a lot of these community gardens, in the spirit of community gardening, are taking this problem in their own hands.”