East New York Farms!

It’s hard to know where to even begin when introducing East New York Farms!. After a week spent working alongside them, witnessing many of the different aspects of what they do, it wouldn’t surprise me if I had completely missed ten programs they run. Powerhouse is most definitely a fitting term. (*power with rather than power over, *house used as a sense of home)

dsc_0994-e1538702317422.jpg
East New York Farms! UCC Youth Farm

East New York is the most easterly area in the NYC borough of Brooklyn. It is an area shaped by post-war white flight (the migration of white folks out of racially mixed areas into racially segregated areas, in this instance out of East New York and in to Queens), blockbusting (a process by which real estate agents convinced white people to sell property much undercost through the generation of fear of non-whites moving into the neighbourhood, before selling on to black families at overinflated prices, a process that was made possible after the removal of legislation around segregation in housing), mortgage discrimination and redlining (the systematic denial of services to people in certain areas, often high in non white folks, services such as banking and insurance). The 60s-80s continued this ravishing through planned shrinkage of the area, with the city bulldozing much housing into the ground, and refusing to invest in the services needed. Property prices had plummeted and people continued to leave. East New York is shaped by this history, and one positive sapling bursting through the crack in the pavement is the number of urban gardens which have sprung up on vacant lots since this time – East New York is a wash with them. And many of them are huge.

East New York suffers many of the ills characteristic of areas of deprivation: high levels of incarceration, crime, obesity and diabetes, school dropout, food poverty and food access issues. In the context of all of this, ENYFs! was born in 1998 (they celebrated their 20th anniversary at the end of my week with them). Their mission is to “organize youth and adults to address food justice in their community by promoting local sustainable agriculture and community-led economic development”.

DSC_1000
Youth interns at ENYFs!

Youth work is central to the work that they do. The farming is the root to this work rather than the other way round. Around 35 youth from the East New York area engage in 9 month long internships supporting all aspects of ENYFs! work, including running the three urban farms (UCC Youth Farm, Bay View Houses Farm, Pink Houses Farm), working with local community gardeners, and the running of market stalls. All of the interns are paid, working mornings in the summer and after school during term time. Working alongside first year interns are returning interns who come for as many as 3 years in a row, with opportunities to take on more leadership each year. A central part of the internship is education around social justice, racial justice, politics and leadership.

DSC_1046
The community gardener share table

Another central aspect of the work done at ENYFs! is support of 25 community gardeners. Some of the ways this is done are through workshops, plant sales, technical support, labour support (through the intern program), and through distribution support. Distribution support is done through a share table at the twice weekly markets, to which pesticide free gardeners can drop produce which will be sold on their behalf. ENYFs! take a very small cut of this.

ENYFs! supports the running of three urban farms and one community garden (much of the produce of which is sold at the share table at the markets). I have spent much of my week working on the farms and with the lovely individuals that make them tick. The UCC Youth Farm, run by Jeremy, is a ½ acre plot right next to the 3 train line. This is the longest established site and hosts most of the youth interns. The produce from the Youth Farm is sold at the community markets.

Pink Houses Community Farm is a similar size and is located on the Pink Houses estate. The site was initially set up by local residents and is run by a committee of residents along with ENYFs!’ farmer Kelly. Through the growing season they run two market stalls a week giving out the produce grown to local residents for free or donation.

Bay View Houses Farm is a wopping 1 ½ acre site run in partnership with Green City Force AmeriCorps (Young adults who hold their highschool diploma who over the course of their programme move around a series of green jobs including 6 urban farms). As with Pink Houses, the produce grown at Bay View Houses is given away to residents through farm stalls.

All three sites are a wash with beautiful vegetables (bitter melon, long beans, spinach, collard greens, coriander, aubergines, chillies, sweet potatoes, okra, tomatoes to name just a few) many of which are culturally appropriate to local communities. They all collect food scraps from the local community to turn in to compost. (Community-run composting is a huge thing right across New York, with many urban farms offering to take food waste for composting. The NYC department for sanitation run Master Composter courses to train people up to support community composting initiatives across the borough. Frederick wears the Compost Counsellor hat here at ENYFs!)

An important part of ENYFs work is it’s two weekly markets, running June-Nov, selling vegetables, herbal remedies, natural products, homemade food, and cosmetics. The markets are the only source of organic produce and Caribbean speciality crops in East New York, and are a vital source of fresh vegetables in an area with limited options. ENYFs! started with the markets and in 20 yrs hasn’t missed a Saturday market (a consistency David Vigil, the executive director, felt was important in cementing them in the local community). The markets accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits and Health Bucks which are coupons distributed by the NYC Health Department that give people an extra $2 for each $5 of SNAP benefits they spend on fresh fruit and vegetables at farmers markets (as do many markets across New York).

ENYFs! is a non-profit and has a budget of about $600,000 made up mostly of small grants (which they feel gives them more flexibility rather than getting tied to funding targets), with smaller amounts brought in through produce sales and market stall fees. They have a staff of around 10 which includes a couple of past interns, a number of people who are East New York residents, which is racially diverse and holds a number of different languages. ENYFs! is so much more than the staff though, it’s the interns (current and alumni), the gardeners, the stall holders, the eaters.

That’s a lot of information, they do so much! Hit the next post for learnings and reflections.