Sit and stay a while

Kimia Shahi on bringing her family’s beautiful garden traditions from Iran to New York City.

I moved to New York City days before fall term started. This is the first time I’ve lived on my own and away from my family. I was raised in a small town of Semnan, in Iran, where at least six generations have lived and mutual respect, love and trust has made way for family ties that have yet to be broken. While I come from a diverse family of farmers, social workers, nurses, veterinarians, university faculty, doctors and engineers, the one thing we all share is our love and respect for our food.

Meetings like this one with Emily Finkel, a farmer and food activist from Oakland, CA, would be perfect on an Iranian takht, wouldn't they?
Meetings like this one with Emily Finkel, a farmer and food activist from Oakland, CA, would be perfect on an Iranian takht, wouldn’t they?

My grandfather’s backyard in Iran reminds me of our own urban farm here at NYU. In many gardens in Iran, you can often find a type of bench to sit on called a “Takht.” They are small and made of wood and covered by Persian rugs or blankets.

My family would often gather together in my grandfather’s backyard garden and sit on the takht with food and presents such as fruits, nuts, vegetables, cheese, bread, and various other appetizers. A teapot was always a part of the spread. Each weekend, family would come together and sit on and around the takht, which was always placed near many fruit trees, herbs, and flowers that my grandfather had planted.

I think about my family a lot and that garden.  My immediate family’s migration to United States in pursuit of freedom and better education caused us to separate from the rest of the family in Iran. While my mother and sibling stayed here in America, my dad was unable to secure a job as an ophthalmologist, and so returned to Iran to support us. This year, after twelve years of separation, we were reunited. But the hardships of migration and communication did not separate our spirits from one another and we still remain a family today. I do believe we owe this to strong social ties built within our family back in Iran. Love, trust and belief in community has made this possible.

When asked by the instructor of the Intro to Urban Agriculture class about a legacy project — our final project for the semester meant to help us think about ways to build the farm in its early stages of existence — I immediately thought of building a replica of my grandfather’s takht. This little place to sit in the NYU Urban Farm Lab will hopefully inspire students’ participation and willingness to take care of our home, the farm.

Our urban farm has the potential to be the place where students, mentors, and visitors alike can come together and form a dynamic public discussion around our shared love for food. I believe this piece of furniture can bring everyone together to form a family. Our urban farm stands as a place where we learn about the physical labor of farming. We learn what it takes to grow that food. By creating a welcoming area in our urban farm, we will be able to invite individuals and ideas to come together to strengthen our community. This will enrich our minds with knowledge and uplift our spirits for hopes and constructive actions for a building a better future for food.

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