NEW YORK (AP) – On an assemblage of vacant lots and other pockets of unused land in the Bronx, gardeners from low-income neighborhoods have banded together to create more than a dozen ‘agricultural centers’, coordinating their gardens communities and their harvest.
Several years ago, some discovered that together their small gardens could grow enough peppers to mass produce hot sauce – the hot sauce from the Bronx, to be precise, with the profits from sales being reinvested in their communities. .
During the pandemic, agricultural centers in the Bronx proved their power once again, producing health-promoting crops like garlic, kale and collard greens.
“The trick is how can we learn from the pandemic to become truly resilient? Said Raymond Figueroa-Reyes, president of the New York City Community Garden Coalition.
“When the pandemic struck, urban agriculture went into hyper-productivity mode. People saw that the donations (of food) that were coming in were not adequate in terms of quantity or quality, and there is no dignity in expecting this type of charity, ”he says.
The agricultural centers are part of an urban gardening movement across the country dedicated to empowering residents of poorer neighborhoods by encouraging them to grow fresh food.
Areas (urban and rural) with little access to healthy, fresh food have been called “food deserts” and tend to have high rates of diabetes and other illnesses, such as hypertension and obesity. . In cities, where many see the phenomenon as intertwined with deeper issues of race and equity, some community leaders prefer terms such as “food prison” or “food apartheid”.
Ron Finley in Los Angeles has been at the forefront of urban gardening for years. For him, gardening is both therapeutic and an act of defiance.
“Growing your own food is like printing your own currency,” says Finley, who heads the nonprofit Ron Finley project. “It’s not just about food, it’s about freedom. It is our revolution and our eco-lution.
Finley grew up in south-central Los Angeles, where he says he had to drive 45 minutes just to get a fresh tomato. His efforts to rejuvenate communities through gardening have included planting vegetables on neglected boardwalks and other unused land, and teaching online courses to a global audience on the power of growing food.
Millions of Americans live in neighborhoods without healthy food options. The same neighborhoods attract fast food restaurants and packaged foods available at drugstores and convenience stores.
“Drive-thru kills more people in our communities than drive-thru,” says Finley. “I want people to come back to reality, hit the ground and take back some of the things that were taken away. When you plant a seed, it multiplies. It is a currency. It is a precious resource. It’s empowering. It’s more than food.
In the Bronx, Karen Washington, who has spent decades promoting urban agriculture, called it “food justice.” (She helped coordinate the chili cultivation that led to Bronx Hot Sauce; the company they worked with, Small Ax Peppers, now makes hot sauce with chili peppers grown in the community of Queens, Detroit, Chicago, Oakland, and other cities.)
“Healthy food is a human right, just like clean water,” she said.
A board member of the New York Botanical Garden, Washington has worked with neighborhoods to transform vacant lots into community gardens and helped launch the City Farms Market, which offers affordable, fresh produce grown in community gardens or in local areas. upstate farms at a weekly farmers’ market in the Bronx.
She co-founded Black Urban Growers and helped found the Black Farmer Fund, which aims to provide access to capital to black farmers and entrepreneurs.
COVID has had a big impact on people wanting to grow their own food, and Washington said it is seeing more and more people growing food on city terraces and in backyards across the country.
“It really became more urgent during the early stages of COVID, before the vaccines were released. If we want to fight viruses, especially in these neighborhoods with a lot of diabetes and obesity, we have to start eating healthy, ”Washington said.
“People said, we have to get into these unused spaces and we have to grow food,” he says. “There is a collective effort around the organization of agricultural centers with the idea of growing more foods that strengthen the immune system and getting them to where they are needed most. “
Through its Bronx Green-Up program, the New York Botanical Garden has a long history of providing technical support to community gardens. He stepped up his efforts when the pandemic hit, working directly with community agricultural centers; organize Bi-weekly Zoom meetings to help with problem solving, resource sharing and crop distribution; and provide more than 10,000 plants of herbs and vegetables.
“We got together with long-time community partners at the start of the pandemic, realizing that food insecurity has always been a big problem in the Bronx,” says Ursula Chanse, program director.
“There is definitely a lot of interest in community gardening now, and more urban agricultural space,” she says.