Posts tagged ‘Garden of Happiness’

Wrap-up of a Year’s Worth of Blogging: Power of the People and a Politician Propel New York Local Food Movement in 2009

Sheer public support for local food and small farms made 2009 a banner year for New York City locavores.  Farmers markets and community gardens flourished, and new urban farms emerged, including the city’s first rooftop farm — a 6,000-square-foot site that drew scores of eager volunteers each Sunday throughout the 2009 growing season.

The local food movement had the power of the people behind it, and gained extra momentum, thanks to the power of a colorful and forceful politician:  Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer.

“New York City must be front and center in the international debate over food,” Stringer told some 1,000 foodies at a conference earlier this month at New York University.  He proposed forming a New York City Department of Food and Markets that would report directly to the mayor and pushed for a more regional food supply system.

“Food policy will be a top priority for my office,” he rallied the crowd of urban gardeners, nutritionists, chefs, teachers, civic leaders, community activists and others with a stake in food and farm policy.

The conference, which sold out within hours of its announcement, came only days after New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn launched “FoodWorks New York,” an initiative to analyze the city’s food system and tap its potential to create jobs by working with local farmers.

New York locavores found more than champions in positions to shake things up.  They also discovered what could turn out to be a symbol for their movement:  the city’s heirloom apple, the Newtown-Pippin.  The green-yellow apples originated on a farm in Maspeth, Queens, in the 1700s and became popular throughout the country.  Now a campaign is underway to reintroduce the apple tree in parks and gardens citywide and even name the Newtown-Pippin the city’s official apple.

Without a doubt, 2009 gave the local food movement a big boost.  Here’s a look back at some blog posts that chronicle turning points for advocates of a more localized food system:

  • Report Champions Local Farmers:  Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer releases a report calling for a “radical overhaul” of New York City’s food system.  The report makes several recommendations that would make it easier for local farmers to sell their produce in New York City, including requiring government food buyers to purchase a certain percentage of their food from farmers in the city’s foodshed.
  • New York Urban Farmers Draw Large Crowd:  A panel discussion on urban farming draws a huge crowd of local food enthusiasts and entrepreneurs. Participants hear from a Brooklyn-based indoor grower of wheatgrass and sprouts who “moved his farm to the city” from upstate New York “to be closer to his customers.”  A few weeks later, the keynote speaker at a conference on community supported agriculture — upstate farmer Cheryl Rogowski — noted that “farmers are rock stars” and that “it’s never been a more challenging or exciting time to be farmers than now.”  Not so fast, I say, in this post.  An unrepentant doubting Thomas, I question what many are calling a U.S. “food revolution.”
  • Farmers in Training:  This post profiles Michael Grady Robertson, the farm supervisor of the Queens County Farm Museum, and the opportunities the farm provides for breaking in would-be farmers.
  • Battalion of Volunteer Bee Keepers Invade City Parks and Gardens:  Local papers and blogs (including this one) covered efforts to legalize beekeeping in New York City.  Less well-covered was the Great Pollinator Project, a citywide effort to better understand and raise awareness of the importance of city bees.  The blog post describes my participation in the project.
  • The Greening of City Rooftops:  Farming on rooftops may become a hot new trend in New York City.  The post reflects on the development of green roofs in the last two years and where they’re likely to go. In this post, urban farming leaps ahead with visionary Dr. Dickson Despommier’s notion of a “vertical farm,” one in which crops grow indoors in multi-story buildings.
  • Phoenix Community Gardens Brings Neighbors Together:  This account of a refurbished community garden in Brooklyn peers into the lives of the people who garden there.  There are other posts on urban gardeners, including this one about Karen Washington, founder of the Garden of Happiness, and this one about Abu Talib, director of Taqwa Community Garden.  There’s also an account here of “wild man” Joe Gonzalez, a backyard gardener and community leader.
  • What Price Milk?:  The troubles facing today’s dairy farms recall the 1930s when dairymen were getting a raw deal on the price of milk.  They, too, we going bankrupt, even as consumer milk prices were going through the roof.  The turbulent time in New York milk history is documented in the online exhibit New York Bounty describes in the post.
  • Visions of Urban Farmland for the Grand Concourse: A proposal to transform the Grand Concourse, a nine-lane motorway in the Bronx, into four miles of contiguous urban farmland won second place in a global competition to remake the 100-year-old thoroughfare.  Farming inspired other artists in 2009.  In September, artist Leah Gauthier celebrated the close of a five-borough micro-farm installation consisting of modest growing spaces donated by New Yorkers.  In return for the spaces, Gauthier became a “sharecropper,” paying donors with a portion of the produce she grew on individual locations for the season.  It’s the ultimate high-concept art project.
  • The Nature Nut: I introduced former organic farmer and certified holistic health counselor Susana Correia as New York Bounty’s resident expert on organic farming and nutrition counseling.  The “Nature Nut” received and answered several questions throughout the year, and is waiting for more.  Have questions about what to grow in your community garden or your roof or terrace or even in your kitchen?  Questions about nutrition?  Try asking the Nature Nut.  She’ll know.

It’s been challenging keeping up with all that’s happening in urban agriculture in New York City, but I’ve had quite a bit of fun.  One day, though, was the highlight of the year – the day my blog got noticed.  In April, New York Bounty was listed in the information section of the Manhattan User’s Guide, a daily e-mail that keeps readers on top of the city.  Here’s how MUG described New York Bounty:  “With refreshingly few bells and whistles, thoughtful commentary on food, health, and the environment, particularly the ways in which urbanites are trying to reconnect with the good earth.”

The praise sent me over the moon — at least for a day or two.  It’s going to be hard to live up to the description, but I’m sure going to try, every single day of 2010 and beyond…

Happy New Year, everyone!

December 31, 2009 at 3:32 am 1 comment

Urban Farmers Here to Stay

©Margarida Correia. Karen Washington, founder of the Garden of Happiness in the Bronx, insists that urban farmers are here to stay.

Skeptics call it a fad, but Karen Washington insists otherwise.  “Urban farming,” says the ardent Bronx gardener, “is here to stay.”

With New York City each year turning in bigger and bigger harvests, Washington may be right.  Community gardens throughout the city had waiting lists.  Meanwhile, scores of volunteers lined up each Sunday to plant, harvest, weed and water herbs and vegetables on a 6,000-square-foot rooftop farm in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.

New York City may soon even have an official farm school.  Ever since she returned from a six-month farm apprenticeship program in Santa Cruz, Calif., Washington could not get the idea of a “farm school” out of her head.  Now she’s working with Just Food — a local food advocacy group — to launch the school so that urban growers “won’t have to go to California” to learn farming skills.  The school — set to open in the Spring of 2010 — will provide decentralized classroom instruction at community gardens throughout the city as well as the New York and Brooklyn botanical gardens.

“This is a labor of love of all the gardening groups in the city,” said Washington of the new school.

The longtime gardener founded the15,000-square-foot Garden of Happiness in the Crotona neighborhood of the Bronx in 1988.  The garden is part of La Familia Verde, a five-garden food growing coalition that sold $4,000 worth of produce at its weekly farmers market this year.  Washington is the farm manager of the market.

“All of the community gardens and urban farms are my favorite,” said Washington, as she sat at a table in the Garden of Happiness, the resident cat, Compost, tagging along behind her. “I like them all the same.”

Washington had to be diplomatic.  She was recently named president of the New York City Community Gardens Coalition and to the board of the New York Botanical Garden, an honor that she — “a little girl from the projects” — still finds hard to believe.

Even though community gardens like the Garden of Happiness have “been put to rest” or tucked in for the winter with compost and cover crops, Washington has been as active as ever.  She recently returned from a trip to Detroit where, at the invitation of Just Food, she toured the city’s projects and met and consulted with greening groups there.  Detroit’s burned-down buildings and battered homes reminded her of the devastation of the Lower East Side in the late 60s and 70s.  Though saddened by the devastation, she took heart in the resiliency of the people.

“People,” she said, “are taking back the land and bringing back food,” despite the difficulties and the lack of support for gardening groups in Detroit.

“We’re building bridges across state lines and bringing the movement closer among community gardens and urban farms,” said Washington.

She’s working hard too to strengthen ties within New York City gardening groups.  Earlier this year, she worked with a group of urban gardeners to open Finca del Sur, a one-acre farm in the South Bronx, where she now also gardens.

“The soil,” she recalled of the new urban farm, “was as hard as a rock.  From that brittle soil, though, the gardeners coaxed a rich bounty of collards, eggplant, tomatoes and other crops — enough to sell at the farmers market and donate to local food co-ops and pantries.

Washington has big plans for next year.  In addition to opening her beloved farm school, she is planning a conference for black urban farmers in February. As president of the New York City Community Gardens Coalition, she will also be focusing on extending a 10-year gardening agreement with the city, which expires in 2010.  The agreement gives community gardens certain protections against potential developers, including a review and hearing process should community gardens become development targets.

“We want to make sure our gardens are protected and preserved,” Washington said.

The threats sometimes are more immediate.  Washington spotted a hawk and followed it as it soared across the sky.  She didn’t want it coming anywhere near the chickens, which pecked on scraps in the garden beds.

Hawks are chased away at the Garden of Happiness.  Children, though, are embraced.

Washington understands that preserving gardens means getting youth involved, particularly as older gardeners retire.  She reveres “the elders” — those who were growing food in the city long before it became fashionable.  It’s time, she said, the city’s longtime gardening warriors get the recognition they deserve.

“People have been doing this for years,” she said.  “It’s not a new yuppy thing.”

December 2, 2009 at 2:09 am 1 comment


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