Urban gardening gains momentum during pandemic – News-Herald


Catherine ross

New York (AP) – A collection of vacant lots and other unused land in the Bronx, gardeners in low-income areas have come together to create more than 12 “agricultural centers” that coordinate community gardens and harvests.

A few years ago, some discovered that their small gardens could work together to grow enough peppers to mass produce hot sauce. To be precise, Bronx Hot Sauce is the profit from sales reinvested in the community.

During the pandemic, the Bronx Agricultural Center once again proved its power and produced healthy crops such as garlic, kale and collard greens.

“The secret is how we can learn from the pandemic and really improve our resilience,” says Raymond Figueroa Rayes, president of the New York City Community Gardens Union.

“When the pandemic broke, urban agriculture shifted to super-productive mode. People are worthy of waiting for this kind of charity because the incoming donations (food) are not sufficient in terms of quantity and quality. I knew there weren’t any, ”he says.

The agricultural centers are part of a national urban horticultural movement aimed at empowering poor rural residents by encouraging the cultivation of fresh foods.

Areas with little access to healthy and fresh food (both urban and rural) are called “food deserts” and tend to have a high incidence of other diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure and blood pressure. ‘obesity. .. In cities where many see this phenomenon as intertwined with deeper issues of race and equity, some community leaders prefer terms such as “food prison” and “food apartheid”.

Ron Finley of Los Angeles has been at the forefront of urban horticulture for many years. He considers gardening to be both therapeutic and rebellious.

“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 ecological one.

Finley grew up in south-central Los Angeles and had to drive 45 minutes just to get fresh tomatoes, he says. Her efforts to revitalize communities through gardening include planting vegetables on abandoned boardwalks and other unused land and teaching audiences around the world online about their ability to grow food. He is.

Millions of Americans live in neighborhoods where healthy eating options are not available. The same area is the appeal of packaged foods available at fast food restaurants, drugstores and convenience stores.

“Drive-thru kills more people in our community than drive-thru,” says Finley. “I want people to come back to reality, hit the ground and find some of what was stolen. Sow and multiply. 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 pepper cultivation that led to the Bronx Hot Sauce. The company they worked with, Small Ax Peppers, now produces pepper grown in communities in Queens, Detroit, Chicago, from Auckland and other cities. I use it to make hot sauce.)

“Healthy food is a human right just like drinking water,” she said.

Washington, a board member for the New York Botanical Gardens, is working with neighbors to turn vacant lots into community gardens and provide affordable, fresh produce grown in community gardens and northern farms to weekly farmers’ markets. We supported the launch of the town’s agricultural market. Bronx.

She co-founded Black Urban Growers and helped establish the Black Farmer Fund with the goal of providing access to capital to black farmers and entrepreneurs.

COVID has had a huge impact on people who want to grow their own food. Washington said more and more people are growing food on terraces and gardens in cities across the country.

“It really became more urgent in the early stages of COVID before the vaccine came out, especially if you are fighting the virus in areas with high diabetes and obesity levels, you need to start eating healthy,” explains Washington.

Figueroa-Reyes agrees.

“Forks said we have to go into these unused spaces and grow food,” he says. “There is a joint effort to organize agricultural centers with the idea of ​​growing more foods that boost immunity and delivering them to where they are needed most.”

Through the Bronx Green Up program, the New York Botanical Garden has a long history of providing technical support to community gardens. When a pandemic struck, we would work directly with the farming centers in the community to scale up our efforts. Host bi-weekly zoom meetings to help resolve issues, share resources, and distribute crops. We offer more than 10,000 plants of herbs and vegetables.

“We worked with longtime community partners at the start of the pandemic and realized that food insecurity has always been a big problem in the Bronx,” says program director Ursula Chance.

“Now there is definitely more interest in community gardening and more urban agricultural space,” she says.

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