Urban farm in NYCGood neighbors: East New York Farms! manager David and Afroza, an intern.Photos: Hugues Anhes

The Color of Food series is about my experiences searching for black and Latino farmers in the sustainable food movement.

I knew I was far from the apple orchards of West Virginia (where my farming journey began) when I found myself smack in the middle of the Big Apple, sitting on the subway between a man holding a live turtle in a five-gallon bucket and a man preaching the words of Ras Tafari to no one.

This, I thought, can only happen in New York City.

I don’t fit in either with all the suits and ties making their evening commute home; I sit on the train in dirt-caked jeans with carrot tops and basil hanging out of my backpack. In the city where anything goes, even I get some crazy looks. I just shrug and smile. It’s official now, I feel like a city farmer.   

Eating their words

The first thing I discovered is that the food movement in New York is not only alive and kicking, but very well-connected. Everyone I met referred me to the leading food justice organization, Just Food, which is launching a Farm School this year to train aspiring urban farmers, educators, and food justice leaders. They also said I should meet Karen Washington, a Just Food board member and lifelong Bronx resident who’s been working in the movement for decades; she’s also the president of the New York City Community Garden Coalition.

I was lucky enough to hear Karen speak at a couple of the many events I’ve attended since arriving. One such gathering was the New School’s Living Concrete/Carrot City series, discussing design and planning for urban farms of the future, where I also met Dennis Darryck, who started a farmshare project for residents of the South Bronx and Harlem. Karen and Dennis talked about the importance of this work in low-income communities, and they stressed the goal of getting New York’s 1.4 million food-insecure residents off WIC, SNAP, and other government-funded food programs and into jobs and ways to own their food sources.

“There are only 50 black farmers in New York State,” said Karen. “We need to change that.”

I also attended the Harlem Harvest Festival and Food Summit, organized by Harlem4. I was completely inspired by the Food Justice panel discussion, which featured Asantewaa Harris from the Community Vision Council. CVC is heavily involved in saving black farmers and is organizing the very first Black Farmers and Urban Gardeners Conference here in Brooklyn, which will feature keynote speaker Will Allen from Growing Power, among others.

When I’m not farming or going to panel discussions, I’ve been checking out farmers markets and other farms. I have discovered some great farms and organizations, such as Tagwa Community Farm in the Bronx, run by Abu Talib (pictured in the New York Magazine article “What an Urban Farmer Looks Like” as the only person of color); the Brooklyn Rescue Mission, which has a farm in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Bed-Stuy; and La Finca del Sur, which is a small farm, led by women of color, between the highway, train tracks and the projects in the South Bronx.  

After meeting so many inspirational activists and gardeners, I felt like I could hardly keep up. The presence and empowerment of blacks and Latinos in the urban farming movement in NYC seemed solid.

The second thing I have discovered, however, is that not everything is how it seems.  

Value-added tactics