Urban Farm - Community - Education
In the days leading up to a sombre September anniversary in NYC, the spotlight in today's blog is focused on a heart-warming story of community in this mother of all cities. Oh & in case you are wondering: NO this has nothing to do with Gordon Ramsey! I too did question when I first read about it, esp as it is food related... But no, Hells Kitchen is an area of Manhattan and 'Hells Kitchen Farm Project' is actually an urban rooftop farm – located on the rooftop of Metro Baptist church in Manhattan, just down the road from Port Authority Bus Terminal.
On my last trip to NY, I paid the project an impromptu visit. I turned up on the doorstep of the church and made my way up several flights of dark steps, wondering what the bleep I was doing... but when I got to the top, the light poured through & a little urban oasis opened up - totally unexpected. So, there & then I got stuck into harvesting green beans, chillis and coriander (or cilantro as it's known in the US of A!) Not my typical activity whilst in New York but a fascinating day & a heartwarming success story of community spirit. I was so glad to have experienced a little piece of it. Linda, one of the volunteers and local residents kindly showed me around & talked me through the history of the project.
The Story of HKFP
The project started in 2010-2011 when the church, along with a housing development company, various other organisations and a group of volunteers decided to tackle the problem of a lack of healthy food for local residents in this patch of New York. Rates of obesity and diabetes are higher than the average in this neighbourhood. It is the sad truth that for low income families in many cities, processed/refined crap is cheaper and more readily available than good fresh food.
Poverty... in Manhattan?!
Now this story of poverty in New York surprised me. You think of the biggest of the big smokes as being affluent and thriving. However, whilst this may be the case for some, it is a world away from the reality for many others. As Linda explained, in urban areas, when the demand for housing grows, previously deprived areas become gradually 'gentrified'. With this you get the addition of sky high rent, boutique stores, expensive health food shops, trendy coffee bars... and so the price of everything goes up, including basic food items. For the long time residents of these areas, this hike in the general cost of living becomes unsustainable, so what you get is unseen poverty – right in the middle of one of the biggest financial hubs in the world - Manhattan. What this project does is tackle at least 3 problems: access to fresh food for better health, education on healthy eating and an aim to create a stronger community network.
It's amazing just how much can grow on 1 rooftop! Hundreds of pounds of veg/fruit are produced each year. I was astonished at our harvest after just a few hours and yet each week this rooftop keeps providing, with the produce changing from season to season. The garden beds? Kiddies paddling pools – around 50 of them, which provide around 1000square ft of growing space – ample for a small community. Being light in weight they make ideal rooftop planters (obviously even loading of weight is important on a roof garden!) They also make their own compost on site to feed the plants. Pests (such as those pesky urban pigeons) are kept out with the help of wire and mesh.
The Food Pantry
Produce also goes towards the Rauschenbush Metro Ministries Food Pantry (well that's a mouthfull in itself!). Each Saturday they distribute food to members of the community in need. Every person is given enough supplies for 3 days – including some of the fresh produce from HKFP.
Community Supported Agriculture
It is not just what grows on the rooftop, the project is also involved in CSA – that is 'Community Supported Agriculture. This is where a group of people in a community put funds together to buy entire crops from a local farmer, sharing out the harvest between the members. This makes fresh produce much cheaper, cutting out all the middle men and packaging costs. What you have is fresh food for cheaper! Great idea.
A Sanctuary & a Place to Connect
Finally, it's not all about food and physical health... It's also a really nice way of bringing people in the community together, a kind of sanctuary in the hustle and bustle of NY. From experience, I can say that it was a beautiful chilled-out space, just to hang out for a few hours. Genuinely lovely people too. The farm is also a hub for education, providing a learning environment for children – with a focus on healthy food, urban farming and sustainable living.
Without the know how & hard work of all the volunteers, this place would not survive. This is the devinition of 'community'– caring & sharing. A cheesy but true catchphrase!
Onwards & Upwards
So next time you're in a city – look up 🙂 How many other unused roof spaces could be put to good use?? And if you're ever in NYC and fancy doing something a bit different & contributing towards this good cause, just drop in - it's an open house event! An extra pair of hands is always welcome, even if just for an hour or so. Plus the view of the skyline from a green roof is awesome enough in itself.