Posts tagged ‘Bronx’
Urban farming has grown so much in New York City it’s produced an offshoot — one that needs buildings, rather than soil, to grow food. But is high-tech, high-rise farming in keeping with the values of traditional urban farmers who like dirt? Is it sustainable, and can it produce food that people can afford?
The Grand Concourse in the Bronx was supposed to be the city’s Champs Élysées. Instead, it turned into a nine-lane motorway.
The 100-year-old boulevard may be in for a makeover though. Nearly 200 proposals for the Grand Concourse flooded the Bronx Museum of the Arts in response to the museum’s call for ideas as part of a global competition jointly sponsored with the Design Trust for Public Space.
Guess which idea placed second? One called Agricultural Urbanism, a proposal that would transform the concourse into four miles of contiguous urban farmland and public open space. The envisaged stretch of land would produce more than 500,000 pounds of organic produce, with water harvested from two million square feet of green roofs.
The six other finalists proposed plans that featured everything from windmills to tree farms and agricultural greenhouses. Animations, renderings, models and interactive installations of the top seven proposals are on view at the Bronx Museum of the Arts through Jan. 3, 2010, as part of the “Intersections: Grand Concourse Beyond 100” exhibition. Click here to see some of the renderings and learn about each of the proposals.
Most urban farmers would be hard pressed to see anything positive in the heavy downpours we’ve been having all summer. The rain has flooded plots, draining gardeners of their energy.
Veteran farmer Abu Talib, however, is one of the few who sees a sunny side to the rain. The director of Taqwa Community Garden — whom I blogged about here — says the crops in the garden are well-irrigated as a result of the rain. The one-acre garden near Yankee Stadium in the Bronx is built on brick, which has absorbed the rainfall well.
“The water goes straight down,” said Talib of the garden’s good drainage.
Still, he concedes that too much rain can be problematic. There’s double, even triple, the weeding to do, plus, said Talib, “plants need sunshine too.”
When I visited the garden last month, the rain almost sent me on my way. The garden was locked after a downpour, and there was no trace of Talib. Just as I was about to leave, Talib emerged from the shed in the garden. “Taking a nap?” I asked, as he approached me. “No, I was reading,” he said.
Talib showed me around the garden, which looked none the worse for the rain. The plots were brimming with leafy greens, and the fruit trees, despite buzz cuts, appeared to be fit and healthy. In fact, the bonsai-like fruit trees looked like botanical masterpieces.
“We cut down the trees to make them more manageable,” said Talib. Though he didn’t tell me, I surmised that much fruit had been lost for the season. Many tree limbs, I thought, must have been destroyed by the rain.
Talib looked on the bright side.
“They’re midgets but they’re big inside,” he said of the pint-sized apple, plum, pear, peach and fig trees. Though the trees were smaller, they bore bigger fruit. Besides, he said, if the apple trees were allowed to grow to their full size, they’d “shade the garden out.”
Good farmers, I learned, are not easily thrown by nature’s slings and arrows. They know how to adapt.
I told Talib about a Taqwa gardener who complained that the rain had hurt her plants. She’d harvest one row for every three rows planted.
“If a plant isn’t doing well in 13 to 14 days,” he said, a good farmer “will take it up and do it over again.” He also recommended a “broadcast,” meaning taking a plant’s seeds and sprinkling them on the soil. “Then, you thin them out,” he said, when the seeds begin to grow.
All good farm tips, I thought, tricks of the trade that only a consummate urban farmer like Talib knows.
Fresh out of a six-month farm apprenticeship program in Santa Cruz, California, Karen Washington, 54, was fired up with all her new-found knowledge. Why buy apples from Chile, she asked, when New York is a top producer of apples?
The manager of a weekly farmers market on East Tremont Avenue in the Bronx manned one of the three stands loaded with apples and pears from two upstate New York farms. Her stand, though, offered something even more local: herbs and produce grown mostly in a community garden down the street. Washington shuffled the sage and oregano, while three neighborhood matriarchs — all urban growers — chatted among themselves.
“I came back a changed woman,” Washington said, describing her experience at “farm school,” an adventure that required her to live in a tent. Washington recounted how she learned how to grow food organically, using beneficial plants and other techniques to control pests.
Washington, a physical therapist and an avid urban farmer, grows food wherever she can — in the backyard and front yard of her house and at a local community garden — the Garden of Happiness – which she started in 1988. That garden, along with 15 others in the neighborhood, form a coalition of community gardens known as La Familia Verde. Five of the gardens participate in the farmers market.
Tremont Community Garden, one block away from the market, is one. The garden is 17,000 square feet and has 40 active gardeners, said Grover Fuller, a six-year gardener there. As expected in early November, the plots have turned into a tangle of dried and withering plants. Still, a few tomatoes poke through the crunchy foliage and fresh young stalks of red chard pierce the soil in one patch.
Life springs back in April, maybe even March, said Fuller, when gardeners begin to return to their plots. He starts even earlier, usually in February to prune the fruit-bearing trees. Fuller says he’ll soon be putting in cover crops — things like winter rye and clover — to help protect the soil during the winter. In the spring, the cover crops are tilled back into to earth, a natural fertilizer, Fuller explained.
In the heart of a concrete jungle, urban farmers like Fuller are rare, but Washington hopes to change that.
A self-described community activist, Washington wants to spread her passion for growing food to others in the neighborhood. She is working closely with Just Food — a local food advocacy group — to develop a hands-on urban agriculture program. Her goal is to encourage residents to use their yards, if they have them, to grow food, and to join community gardens. Even apartment dwellers, she said, can grow herbs in their kitchens.
The point, she added, is that people see the connection between food and their health, citing orange soda as an example. “Where’s the food it in?” she asked.
Sounding every bit the local food champion, Washington noted that ever since consumers started relying on outside sources for food, they lost their connection to food and how it’s produced.
“People,” she emphasized, “have the right to ask where their food came from.”