Archive for October, 2010

I was inspired to post this after working on the farm the past couple Saturdays with a 15-year old boy named Kymani from Brooklyn. Actually, if he was here with me as I write this, he would stop me and say “man, me not from Brooklyn!” Kymani is from Jamaica, and proud of it.

Kymani. Photo by Hugues Anhes

While pulling weeds under the autumn sun, I listen to Kymani tell me about his days back in Jamaica as a boy. He says his life was full of anger and violence, and he’s working on that now. He tells me he used to be involved in “machete gangs” with his brother, where they would “chop people up”.  He says his brothers are still involved with the violence and keep getting in trouble. All the while, I am thinking to myself I’m glad he’s here with me working in the garden instead of out getting mixed up in any of that.

I hope Kymani continues to work at the farm next year –he is considering not to–and I hope it can be as healing and transformative for him as I know it has the power to be.

Gardens grow more than food…

Gardens grow the soul. Healing, calming, awakening, and giving therapy and quiet to your mind through weeding, raking, digging, planting and caring for other living things is powerful.  Seeing your work grow and fruit just does something to the soul.

Gardens grow the mind. Learning about nature, science and how the Earth creates and recreates life and depends on itself to survive is an enlightening experience. It’s amazing what nature is capable of and it’s important to be reminded of that.

Gardens grow awareness. Growing your own food makes you think about where it comes from and what’s needed to grow it. It opens your mind to all the things we depend on each day that come from a farm of some sort: tea, medicines, clothing, etc.

Gardens grow relationships. Working side by side with others provides a great opportunity to get to know people you may not have otherwise met. Laughing, sharing in accomplishments and learning teamwork is a beautiful thing.

Gardens grow roots. Having a piece of land to tend to gives you a sense of home. It gives you a place that you feel is yours and a connectivity to the land, your ancestors and your community.

The food grown in a garden is just the bonus.

I hope the garden in Brooklyn helps Kymani grow, I think it already has.

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Before I highlight the third cool project I’ve worked on here in Brooklyn (see the other two here and here), I wanted to also share that I discovered a 4th thing I didn’t expect to while farming in Brooklyn –I may be slightly allergic to bees.

I always rolled my eyes at people who freaked out about bees flying around them (except those people who were allergic, I guess they have an excuse –it could kill them; we all saw the movie My Girl), but now I may just be one of those people afraid of such a tiny bug with such a tiny stinger, ’cause this is what happened to my hand after getting stung!

So, on to the third and final post of this series…

Build a Greenhouse!

One of the East New York residents that works with ENY Farms wanted to be able to extend her growing season through the winter, so we helped her be able to do that by building a greenhouse in her backyard garden. There are all types of greenhouses and ways of building them, but this one was a basic pre-cut design. I wouldn’t recommend it because it doesn’t seem as sturdy (think strong winter winds and heavy snow) but it should do the trick. A greenhouse works just like our ozone layer, trapping heat from the sun’s rays inside to heat up the interior, while also protecting the plants inside from the winds and weather. A lot of gardeners and farmers also use greenhouses to get a head start on the season by starting seeds inside in early spring when it is still too cold to plant in the ground, and then transplanting the seedlings into the ground when it warms up.  That’s all folks.


Check out a few photos here!

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Boy walks through pumpkin patch at Harlem Harvest Festival yesterday

Lately I feel like a pot bubbling to the brim that needs to spill out.  I am overflowing with inspiration.  All the experiences I’m having here in NYC, on these different farms, at these different markets and events, running around back and forth across  the boroughs working with a wide range of people, from very different walks of life… I almost feel like a little research fly on the wall, learning, cross-comparing and analyzing this food movement as it grows live in front of me.

I can feel a sense of empowerment in the energy that circulates through some discussions I have been participating in, and that is just what I am looking for.  Particularly yesterday at the Harlem Harvest Festival and Food Summit, organized by Harlem4, a great grassroots organization that came out of Harlem 4 Obama back in 2008.

NYC has 1.4 million people who are food insecure.  So Harlem is working to have these communities take responsibility for their food security by demanding change and even growing food for themselves.  This is what we discussed all day at the Summit yesterday, especially, being in the black community of Harlem, how blacks and latinos can join into this movement (as you may all have read on Grist.org, I’m quite interested in this facet of food justice and urban ag!)

The plight of the black farmer is an issue I keep raising and am still exploring.  If you’ve been seeing the news about the lawsuits filed by black farmers for settlement on subsidies they were cheated of due to racism and discrimination in the USDA — would you want to jump on the urban farming bandwagon as a young black person with that kind of picture painted before you? (Or as a young Latino person? Let’s not forget the ugly agriculture picture painted for our dominantly Latino farm workers, who work under horrible conditions and for shit pay to benefit our industrial farm industry.)

It may have been obvious to most, but it hit me like a mack truck yesterday in the Harlem food justice workshop:  In the 1920s, Black farmers made up 14% of the ag industry — nearly one million farmers.  Then, in the 1930s the federal government began working with farmers to support them after the Depression and give them subsidies.

Hmm, all those white men in power during an era where blacks still held no rights…who do you think were denied that support and money to keep their farms alive?

The timeline, as subsidies continued pouring out and still do to this day (1/3 of our farming industry is supported by free money from the government –they happen to be the biggest food corporations in the world) speaks for itself.  Today, black farmers make up just 1% of all farmers, and they are not the ones reaping in the dough.

Coincidence? I think not.

So, there is my two bits of info for the day.  I am learning so much and I just feel I am on the right path!

Picture taken from SaveBlackFarmers.org

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Another perk about my new gig that I love, especially being here in NYC now, is the feeling I get when I watch everyone boarding the subway in the mornings.  They’re all dressed in suits and ties on the way to work, while I sit chillin’ in my overalls…OK so I don’t really own overalls, but you get the point.  Even better is on the way home when I’m covered in dirt and I have carrot tops and basil hanging out of my bag.  Although I’m in the city where anything goes, I still get some crazy looks.  I just smile and shrug.  Urban farming life is good. 🙂

OK, so on to the second of the three major things I didn’t expect to do in the middle of Brooklyn, but am now doing. (click here if you didn’t get to see the first):

Build a Chicken Coop! – I’m volunteering with ENYFarms who works with community residents to help them grow and raise food they can have for themselves and/or sell at market.  One such resident couple, Maria and Chris,  have been gardening for years in their backyard and this year decided to raise some hens for eggs. Maria’s parents are from Colombia where they grew up on a farm, and she wanted to bring some of her family’s traditions of chicken raising to her Brooklyn home.  They bought three baby chicks (one unfortunately was discovered by the cat and is no longer with us) but will soon buy more because the coop we are building them can house up to eight chickens.  Soon her baby chicks will grow big, lay eggs and be livin’ large in NYC!  As long as the city permits, anyone can raise hens in their yard and have healthy, homegrown delicious eggs.  The coop should come with a “run”, which is some stretch of space that they can hang out and walk around in, so that they can do chicken stuff like scratch, cluck and poop.  It’s good exercise.  In the city a caged run is necessary to protect the chickens from dogs and cats (or in Maria’s case, her infestation of raccoons) or to keep them from of course flying the coop and going out to Starbucks or something.

That’s it! All you need is some wood, some chickens and some chicken wire and voíla you’re raising chickens in the middle of Brooklyn.

Check Out Photos Here!! (the coop is still in progress, I'll add more photos of the finished product soon!)


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