In spite of the earth quaking, the heavens raining down and the winds ruthlessly terrorizing communities -- local farmers continue to harvest their bounty. In NYC, the well-established Greenmarket system is a mecca for shoppers throughout the five boroughs. But there are dozens of small local markets and farms that hundreds of small communities depend on for access to farm fresh produce. In recent weeks, I have visited several in Westchester and Putnam counties. Please send me photos from your local market.
My co-worker, Lauren Sudekum, (our Great Performances Marketing and Public Relations Coordinator) went on an amazing Brooklyn bike tour of urban farms and markets. Here is her fascinating and vivid report:
Photo credit: Magali Regis of NYC Community Garden Coalition
For a lot of people venturing to the last stop off the Three Line in Brooklyn at 8 a.m. (with a bike in tow) on a Saturday, to learn about farming might sound less than ideal. But for this city girl come urban farm enthusiast, it was a day I'd been looking forward to for weeks.
The bike tour, co-organized by Just Food, (a non-profit dedicated to connecting local farms to local people), East New York Farms (a non-profit that addresses food justice issues by promoting local agriculture) and Transportation Alternatives (non-automobile travel advocates), included five stops at urban farms and markets throughout Brooklyn starting at the East New York Farms Market at Schenk Ave.
Upon arriving at this smallish market deep in the heart of Brooklyn, I was immediately struck by a "we're not in Kansas anymore" feeling. As a weekly Union Square Greenmarket shopper, the unfamiliar produce and smells emanating from the few makeshift stands were bewildering and surprising. What in the world are those crinkly, warty-looking cucumbers? And, what about some stewed cows foot for breakfast?
After perusing the market and receiving thoughtful and comprehensive answers to all my questions (the cucumber-looking veggie was actually bitter melon, an aptly-named fruit native to Asia and the Caribbean and used in stir fries or served raw with yogurt), we headed into East New York Farms.
Founded in 2006, this half-acre farm is supported by over 28 gardeners and youth and is part farm, part classroom. As home to an intensive nine-month program focused on learning about the environment, health, community development, leadership and social justice, the farm and the youth internship are a tangible example of how connecting with the land translates to a connection with the community at large. East New York Farms was the first example of many of how the urban farms in Brooklyn become more than sources of food. Our tour guide at the farm was part of the youth internship program (a four-year veteran to boot!) and told us how mastering the garden increased her self-esteem and positive attitude.
A scenic ride through the many block parties scattered around the borough last Saturday brought us to Imani Garden, which was founded in 1982 on a site restored by local residents and the New York Restoration Project. The farm now houses over 50 chickens (representing over five species), provided by BK Farmyards, a Brooklyn-based farming network committed to providing affordable food to Brooklyn residents. A truly unique little farm, the entire plot of land is devoted to housing the little ladies along with a small community garden plot. The farm runs its own Egg CSA, which you can check out here.
While the number of chickens packed into this small corner of Brooklyn was astounding, what will really stick with me is the experience we had at our next stop, Bed-Stuy Farm. Now an integral part of the community, not more than six years ago this urban farm was a neighborhood garbage dump.
Their program, which incorporates education as much as access, distributes fresh produce at local food pantries and also utilizes their farm space as a community classroom. Furthering their mission, the farm also picks up expired food pantry items and incorporates this waste into their compost. In my mind this is what city farming is all about -- producing fresh food from that which would otherwise be wasted. Find out more about the farm and associated farmer's market here.
I knew I would learn about new vegetables and see some beautiful crops, but it was the people I met that I'll remember the most. Farming is never easy. But when you plop down a farm in the middle of a food desert or a community/neighborhood with people in need, farming becomes more difficult -- and more important. The farmers and community leaders who connect the dots, linking those in need with those producing a bountiful harvest, are the kind of people who leave an impression.
Don't wait for the next Just Food urban farm bike tour to visit these farms. Wake up early on a Saturday, ride the subway to the end of the line and visit a new farmers market. Check out a new vegetable, try a new cuisine (cow's feet next time for me!), and have your own "we're not in Kansas anymore" moment.