Despite the rapid growth of Bed-Stuy Farm, there is still tremendous need for fresh food in the community. The Jacksons hope to start another farm on the cracked pavement of a nearby abandoned tennis court, though the land deeds have been tied up in city bureaucracy for years. Some of the delegates half-jokingly discussed staging an international agricultural takeover. Citizen action, including agricultural takeovers, had an important effect in saving New York’s community gardens in the 1990s; Matovu pointed out that by 2009, government needs to recognize the benefits of urban agriculture and prioritize it more formally. “We’re saying to the politicians: people are here, they’re farming in the city – follow them!”
Communities Working Together
Dedicated community members welcomed the group throughout the day. In a very real way, strong community involvement has built each of the three gardens and farms – as well as many others around the city. East New York has NYC’s highest ratio of community gardens to residents (because it also had such a high number of burned out vacant lots), and the East New York Community Gardening Coalition contributes actively to the neighborhood’s thriving farmers’ market. Most recently, Hattie Carthan Community Garden secured a new piece of land from the city, right next to the original site. After a major community effort to clean it of tires, animal bones, syringes, and other trash, the space is being transformed into a raised-bed children’s garden and will soon host a new farmers’ market. Over an internationally-themed lunch at Hattie Carthan, featuring the garden’s early spring greens, one garden member told the delegates, “Even though people may be poor here, they’ll never be hungry, because they can always eat from my garden.”
Before lunch, Hattie Carthan Garden vice president Yonnette Fleming facilitated a community council, a traditional method of connecting and exploring common ground that she regularly employs to engage the community. Delegates shared some of their work on sustainability in their own communities, from tree planting in New York State to preserve biodiversity—to tree planting in Niger to combat extreme desertification. Many spoke about commonalities and inspiration they had found in Brooklyn. “This is more than a garden,” observed Lesotho’s ‘Mota. “It’s a space that reminds people what they should be doing in the world. I see possibilities I’ve never thought about before, for training and community education, even in my family’s backyard garden.” George Matovu had not expected to spend time on productive farms in the largest city in the US. “You have reminded us to remember the land, even in the city,” he said. “And you have reminded us that we should use the land for feeding people — the young, old, the poor, and the rich.”
For more perspective on this event, read here
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