East New York Farms harnesses the facility of native youth to assist the neighborhood with recent, wholesome meals

In 1998, East New York residents came together to resolve two growing problems they saw in their community: a lack of fresh, healthy food and stable jobs.

The joint efforts resulted in a more than two decades strong urban farming system that provides East New Yorkers with fresh organic food, employs local residents and trains local youth.

East New York Farms, with its two-acre farms, is the only food justice group in the community, project manager Iyeshima Harris told BK Reader.

East New York Farms. Photo: Anna Bradley-Smith for BK Reader.

“We’re trying our best to provide access to healthy food. In East New York we have a lot of transportation, but we don’t have access to healthy food.”

The first farm, UCC Youth Farm, is on the corner of New Lots Ave. on Schenck Ave. and is filled with garden beds, a small greenhouse, rows of seedlings and all the tools, compost scraps and open air freshness you could hope for.

The second location is in the NYCHA Pink Houses, where vegetables grown on half an acre property are distributed free of charge in weekly fresh food pantries. At both locations, the vegetables are grown organically without pesticides or sprays.

At UCC Youth Farm, crops are grown and given away to community members, and vegetables are harvested and sold at weekly farmers’ markets. “We try to make sure everything is affordable. So the cheapest things are the greens, which cost $ 2 or $ 1.50 a pile,” said Harris.

“The most expensive thing we have is garlic because it takes so long to grow and it’s a hot commodity,” she laughs.

She doesn’t lie – Harris said the team will plant the garlic in the fall and then have to wait a full nine months for it to be ready to eat.

East New York Farms. Photo: Anna Bradley-Smith for BK Reader.

“Another important thing was that the food we grow must be culturally relevant,” she said. “Most of our population is from the South, the Caribbean and East Asia, so we want to make sure we reflect that culture as best we can.”

Harris often said that this means that people come to the last markets of the season and stock up on as much product as possible to freeze for the winter because there is nowhere else on-site to buy them.

The East New York Farms team consists of nine people. Each year the organization recruits 37 to 40 local youth interns.

“Much of our operations are youth-oriented,” Harris said, adding that the internships included more than just farming, including communication, management and independence skills. Many of the interns come back for several years – including some who have been with the company for nine years and will eventually become employees.

“That’s the most rewarding part,” said Harris. “That always brought me back – caring for my community, making these experiences for the youth, I find that really valuable in my work.”

Ayman Bello has been with East New York Farms for five years and is now a seasoned composter. Photo: Anna Bradley-Smith for BK Reader.

For Ayman Bello, who is currently helping build a new composting facility on the farm, it has been the fifth year he has worked with East New York Farms. And why does he keep coming back? “I like connecting with the community, helping and giving back,” he said.

Bello is one of the organization’s main composters. He considers it important to know where your soil is coming from and where it is located. He said the same goes for many members of the community, adding that the most common vegetables snapped up were tomatoes, Swiss chard, and malabar spinach.

If a current organization fundraiser goes well, Bello’s role will grow significantly.

East New York Farms has six days left to raise funds for a new solar-powered greenhouse and composting program that would greatly expand its ability to care for the community, Harris said.

East New York Farms. Photo: Anna Bradley-Smith for BK Reader.

“In East New York, we send a lot of food waste to the landfill and we want it, we want it for gardeners and local gardeners,” she said, adding that the funds would be used to set up a holistic composting program for the community.

“We want to collect leftover food from the residents by bike, bring it here for processing, and then the residents can come and collect them free of charge.”

The greenhouse is intended to extend and extend the growing season of the farm. “We are giving away plants to over 100 people for free, so we don’t have the space to grow and we would also like to give away autumn fruits like garlic.”

East New York Farms. Photo: Anna Bradley-Smith for BK Reader.

For Harris, the motivation to continue expanding the services is based on her passion for the environment and her community.

“I grew up in a culture where community and common spaces matter. If I have that, it also means my community is doing it, ”she said. After emigrating to the United States as a teenager, Harris missed the tightness of her community in Jamaica but found something similar in urban agriculture.

East New York Farms Project Manager Iyeshima Harris. Photo: Anna Bradley-Smith for BK Reader.

“I had the opportunity to be creative and be creative at a young age and I wanted to create that space for the youth after me,” she said. She often said that youth farming was linked to slavery, and she tried to transform that narrative into a narrative of land ownership and empowerment.

She added that the youth interns went camping, apple picking, and beach trips annually, which provided additional opportunities for mentoring and learning.

“Those are the experiences that are important to me, they take so much of them and it changes and shapes the way people see agriculture from slavery to something that brings value.”


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