Posts tagged ‘Phoenix Community Garden’

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

Phoenix Community Garden Brings Neighbors Together

Maggie Joyner grows kale, corn, tomatoes, ochre and sweet and red peppers in Phoenix Community Garden in Brownsville, Brooklyn.  The garden opened in October 2006.

Maggie Joyner grows kale, corn, tomatoes, ochre and sweet and red peppers in Phoenix Community Garden in Brownsville, Brooklyn. The garden opened in October 2006.

It was barely 9:30 a.m., but Nariya was already tending the tomatoes, broccoli, corn and tender shoots of chard in the plot she cleared just two months earlier at Phoenix Community Garden.  The whole plot, she complained, “got rained out,” and she was trying to save it.

Nariya was the first to arrive that Saturday morning at the 19,000-square-foot garden in Brownsville, Brooklyn.  Soon others flocked in.  Benjamin MacMichael, the lanky supervisor of the garden’s prolific flower patch, readied hoses for the morning watering, while Ruby Wheeler, a longtime backyard gardener, checked her plot and that of her gardening buddy, Ellis Simmons.

“We help each other,” Ruby said of Ellis, as she pointed to the tomatoes and large heads of green and red cabbage that grew in her plot.

People tend to come together at churches and civic and community centers.  But here, in one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods, people are gathering around a vegetable garden, once a vacant lot.  

Jerry Summers, director and one of the founders of Phoenix Community Garden, says that “bringing people together” is what he most enjoys about the garden.  The young garden—it opened in October 2006—has 45 members and last year donated 2,000 pounds of food to a neighborhood soup kitchen.    

Jerry recalled the sweat that went into clearing the lot of debris. “There were bricks and stones embedded in the lot,” said the retired New York City bus driver and veteran of the Army Reserve. 

Back for the first time after a one-month convalescence from surgery, Jerry looked fit and dapper in a black-and-white striped shirt.  He spoke to a woman everyone called Miss Lewis, the garden elder, guru and coach who looked after Jerry’s plot and put stakes in his tomato plants while he was away. 

The gardening goodwill was pervasive. Two-year garden member Maggie Joyner talked about her mentor, Herbert.  “He showed me everything,” she said.  Though Maggie was raised in the South, she didn’t know much about gardening, much less the important secret to growing good crops:  knowing how to “dig in the roots.”  But Herbert taught her.

Now Maggie grows kale, corn, tomatoes, ochre, and sweet and red peppers.  “It gives you an uplifting feeling to come out and see that people are involved in the community,” she said. 

The sense of community even fired up a little competition among the gardeners. Everyone wants to have the greenest, “most flourishing” plots, noted Nariya.   The gardeners are “growing food for show,” she said, pointing to the plots with crops that towered over the others.

As Nariya scooped and patted down compost around the base of two cherry tomato plants that she planted for her twin granddaughters, she complained about all the work the plot demanded.

“It’s really time-consuming,” she said, explaining that she has to water and weed the plot everyday.  And preparing a plot for a first-time planting, she noted, is backbreaking labor.  Nariya spent the previous weekend digging up a new plot that she planted with beans.  “It takes muscle to get them down.”

Still, she doesn’t look back. Now that she’s a member, she no longer peers into the garden from the fence as she used to do when she came off the C train.  Now she can come in and garden. “It’s good to have a hobby away from work and children,” she said.  “It’s good to grow your own food.  Food is very expensive.”

July 22, 2009 at 1:31 am 3 comments

Six Urban Gardening Groups Awarded Nearly $25,000 in Grants

The New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets awarded $24,950 in one-time grants to six community gardens and gardening support groups in New York City.  In Brooklyn, grants totaling $14,950 were awarded to A Better Community Garden, the Linden-Bushwick Block Association, Phoenix Community Garden, and United Community Centers/East New York Farms!  Manhattan received the remaining $10,000, with Concrete Safaris and the New York City Community Gardens Coalition each awarded $5,000.

In addition, community garden organizations in Buffalo, Utica, Rochester and Syracuse received grants in the amount $23,300.  The grants, which were offered on a first come, first served basis, were awarded to community garden groups to help strengthen existing gardens. 

“Teaching people how to grow their own food and helping them understand how to prepare it are invaluable lessons, particularly in urban settings where production agriculture is not the norm,” said New York State Agriculture Commissioner Patrick Hooker in a press release

Commissioner Hooker also recognized the need for access to healthy and affordable foods, especially, he said, “in these difficult economic times.”  The grants went to low-income neighborhoods in New York City that lack supermarkets, grocers and other purveyors of fresh food and vegetables. 

Urban community gardens help fill the void.  Take Phoenix Community Garden, a recipient of a $2,850 grant.  The 19,000-square-foot urban garden in Brownsville, Brooklyn — one of the city’s most impoverished neighborhoods—last year harvested nearly 2,000 pounds of beans, corn, collards, cabbage, tomatoes, zucchini, herbs and callaloo, a Caribbean favorite.  More than 45 community gardeners grow food crops there, helping to supplement what they buy in stores.  In addition to feeding themselves, the gardeners also contribute their harvest to a soup kitchen across the street.

What will Phoenix Community Garden do with the funds?  It will create a series of workshops on cooking, canning, herb gardening, composting and other topics for gardeners and area youth. 

Sounds like a very good investment, indeed…

May 20, 2009 at 1:05 am 1 comment


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