Stevenson Swanson is Associate Director of Public Relations at The New York Botanical Garden.
Long before COVID-19, access to fresh, affordable food was a daily challenge for many residents of the Bronx. Now, the pandemic has shed new light on the issue of food insecurity: not only is good nutrition important to good health, but the disruptions caused by COVID-19 have also revealed how fragile our food supply can be.
To address both the immediate need for healthful produce and the long-term problem of food insecurity, The New York Botanical Garden’s Bronx Green-Up community outreach program, which has helped establish more than 300 gardens since it began in 1988, is coordinating a collective network of community gardens and farms to greatly increase the local production and distribution of fresh fruit and vegetables.
This new initiative, the Community Farm Hub system, is currently made up of 18 neighborhood gardens and farms in Crotona/Belmont, Highbridge, Longwood/Hunt’s Point, South Bronx, North Bronx, and Morrisania. These neighborhood gardens and farms have long been partners with Bronx Green-Up and leaders in their neighborhoods and wider community, organizing community markets, advocating for their communities, and running youth and health programs. All are predominantly run by volunteers who wanted to come together to support increased food production and distribution in their communities.
Bronx Green-Up staff are providing coordination and support for the Community Farm Hubs by building and repairing raised growing beds and stations for washing crops, equipment, and—especially important these days—hands. They are also training the volunteers in how to plant, maintain, and harvest crops, following health and safety protocols to prevent infection and the spread of COVID-19.
Perhaps just as important, Bronx Green-Up is providing many of the raw materials of vegetable gardening, including compost, seeds, and more than 6,000 seedlings grown at NYBG’s Edible Academy. The assortment of seedling vegetable plants includes Genovese basil, many types of tomatoes and kale, mustard, pak choi, collard greens, peppers, eggplant, chard, zucchini, and winter squash.
Normally, the seedlings would be part of the educational programming at the Edible Academy, but because of NYBG’s temporary closure, that programming has been suspended. In addition to providing seedlings for the Community Farm Hubs, the Edible Academy has donated produce grown in its Ruth Rea Howell Vegetable Garden to Part of the Solution and the James J. Peters Veterans Administration Hospital, both in the Bronx.
The Community Farm Hubs program leverages Bronx Green-Up’s greatest strengths: the staff’s deep roots in the Bronx, longstanding partnerships, a track record of establishing long-lasting collaborations with many types of partners, and expertise in urban farming, community organizing, education, and outreach.
Some farm hubs have already started harvesting, and more will follow suit in the coming weeks. The produce grown at the hubs will be given to emergency food providers and senior housing and, starting with the La Familia Verde Market on Tuesday, July 7, sold or distributed at local community-run farmers’ markets, making the Community Farm Hubs a program that is truly rooted in the Bronx to benefit the people of the Bronx.
The community gardens and farms currently involved in this effort are: Bissel Gardens, Black Joy Farm, Brook Park Youth Farm, Garden of Happiness, Garden of Youth, James Baldwin Outdoor Learning Center, Kelly Street Garden, La Finca del Sur, La Isla, Las Casitas Community Garden, Morris Campus Educational Farm, Morning Glory Community Garden, New Roots Community Farm, Padre Plaza Community Garden, Urban Cultivated @ Praxis Gardens, Rivers Run Community Garden, Taqwa Community Farm and Woodycrest Community Garden.
Special thanks to Mary Mitchell Family and Youth Center, Montefiore, NYC Parks GreenThumb, Renee’s Garden and Small Axe Peppers for helping make this project possible.
Because of the support of the New York City Council and others, the Edible Academy school partnership program was able to shift gears and provide fresh, organic produce to important Bronx organizations. NYBG especially thanks Council Speaker Corey Johnson and Councilmembers Andrew Cohen, Vanessa Gibson, Rafael Salamanca Jr., and Ritchie Torres.
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