ASPARAGUS GROWS IN BROOKLYN by SALLY COURTOIS
So do Swiss chard, sage, rosemary, broccoli, radishes, kale, and also beans. Volunteers at Bushwick City Farms successfully transformed an abandoned lot into a small yet vigorous community-based farm, replete with 18 chickens, two ducks and a turkey. Previously a garbage heap of rotting wood, rusting metal and toxic needles, the squalid alley began its fruitful transformation when two clever people got a bright idea. The farm’s founders, Masha and Vinny, were able to compromise with the plot owner. Because it was an illegal dumping site the two offered to clean up the neglected space. This put an end to the violations and hefty monthly fines that plagued the landowner for years. In turn they finally had the opportunity to pursue their dream of building a rural oasis where urbanites can go for free produce, free education and a natural refuge. Now the city’s clamor and clang begins to fade as you pass through the tree-flanked gate and the synthetic din is replaced with a crescendo of chirps, clucks and exclamations like, “whoa, sick soil bed”.
today seek to make “food justice” a household word. This alternative ethos targets the flaws in today’s food system – specifically those whichresult in low-income neighborhoods being denied healthful options in favor of bulk efficiency and lower consumer costs. There is, however, another way to bring down costs while making more healthful options available. The regulations behind America’s food production are seen as severely lacking, not only as a direct cause to obesity and malnutrition but severe foodborne illness and death. Bushwick City Farms and other such community organizations hope the answer is through more educational programs encouraging urban dwellers will develop the know-how to build a miniature food production model in their very own windows, roofs or gardens. A large-scale revamping would keep practices safe from farm to plate. Though advocates for a better food system realize a transformation won’t happen overnight, they know that community-based educational programs and small urban farms are an important start.
Not only has the entire program been run solely by volunteers, but whatever they yield is given away for free. A motley crew of community members, curious children, families in need, a guy with a fixie and another with a PhD in agriculture, and even a beggar asking what he can do to help all line up to “take what they need and give what they can”. Eggs and produce aren’t the only goods they offer free of charge. The farm works with local public schools to “teach and reinforce responsible food production practices…and to get locally and student-grown veggies on lunch plates”. Some of these schools have programs that allow students a half day of hands on training in the real world. This month students are learning how to build chicken coops, fences and soil beds. Other such programs at the farm include beginner’s English as a Second Language (ESL) classes and how-to gardening lectures for schools interested in educating students about nutrition and the governmental policies behind how we get the food we eat.
After 5 years on the Broadway plot, manager Jason and other volunteers were finally able to expand. Across the street on Stockton sits a much larger plot, partially accessible through a hole in the fence. A site previously rife with criminal activity; gang meetings, drug deals, illegal dumping, even murder, the new farm plot is undergoing rehabilitation at this very moment. Their first job was to clean up the toxins in the soil so it could safely be used for planting. So far Jason and the team have rebuilt the fence, raised soil beds, and set several fruit tree boxes in place. They hope to plant in those boxes, build another chicken coop, and much more. Occasionally they host fundraisers with music, food and games, but most of their resources are donated by community members. So don’t wait for the next fundraiser –which won’t be until January, anyway – and come by to put your green thumb to work! You can check the hours and locations on their website.
The Bushwick City Farms’ philosophy stems from the need to fix the inequities of today’s food system – the production, marketing, and processing involved in producing and distributing food to consumers. Similar activist’s
For more info visit: http://bushwickcityfarm.wordpress.com 9
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