By Brooke Elliott
Living in New York it can be hard to find a real sense of community. So much is happening at once that finding natural comforting places is a challenge. For some people, a walk in central park is enough to cure the passing blues, but another great option is participating in a local urban farm. At NYU we are lucky enough to have our very own farm where students can get together and find positive ways to spend some time. However, NYU isn’t the only place where small farms create a positive influence on the community of the people who live near them. Across the country people from all different backgrounds are coming together to grow and harvest food for others to enjoy.
My biggest interest in the field of farming is the way that it farming can create an environment where communities come together to grow food and learn about healthy organic eating. Across the country, awesome urban farms like the Milwauke based farm, Growing Power, are creating farms where people from all different socio-economic levels can get together and learn to grow healthy food that can sustain their communities. These movements have inspired me throughout my life but I never really thought that I had the power to take action. However with a little bit of research I learned that there are so many awesome opportunities. Anyone who wants to help make a difference is capable when they put their mind to it.
My senior year of high school I decided that I wanted to get involved in helping to bring community garden to a government housing project in my town, Armstrong Court. Through my families involvement in an organization called the Junior League I found out that they were already planning a small urban farm for the adults in the community and originally I planned to help with creating the adult garden. However, when my family and a few members of the Junior League went over to explore the property, we noticed an open plot of land right next to the community’s daycare program. We decided the plot would be perfect for a children’s learning garden, where they could learn the same farming skills that their parents would use in the larger adult focused community garden.
When the project started we were a little disheartened. Not many of the children in the community seem to care about helping to build and set up plant boxes or with laying down the soil. However, as the day went on and we started bringing out plants the children started to get more excited. While some timidly watched from their windows, others came running over to the garden to ask what types of vegetables we were planting. They wanted to know what they would look like when they were full-grown; many of the families living there could not afford fresh whole foods.
The youngest children had a blast digging small holes in the dirt for their plants, while older children got more involved with harder tasks like raking and carrying heavy bins of plants. We all continued working until the end of the weekend and as time went on the community spirit consistently grew. The experience brought so much joy and taught me a lot about the power of community spirit. Their was not much for kids to do at the daycare center but now they have their very own veggie and fruit garden to take care of and observe.
Over the next several weeks my family and I continuously went back to the children’s garden to check on its progress. The children would constantly run up to us and tell us all about the progress of their beloved plants. They were proud to have a garden that was all their own and not run simply for the adults. The staff of the daycare center told us that throughout the community kids and parents alike are more interested in healthy living and fresh food now that they have crops that they could call their own. All of the harvest belongs to the community and they do not have to worry about high grocery prices to supply their families with fresh organically grown food. It is exciting to know exactly where the food on your plate comes from.
Creating small community gardens is a great way to help contribute to your community. If you come from a smaller town, like me, look up small local volunteer organizations and try to set up a meeting to discuss a potential project. Many of these organizations have great fundraising strategies to help raise money to support projects that they stand behind and believe in. Even if your local volunteer organizations are not interested in starting a new project with you they may be able to guide you to similar opportunities that are already happening in your town. In my town, the Junior League loved hearing from students and young people who want to get involved. I went on to work on several more projects and events with them and was amazed at how seriously they took all of my suggestions and input.
If you are a full time city dweller there are other ways to get involved as well. My primary NYC farming experience has been through the NYU urban agriculture class but there urban farms popping up around the city that may be grateful for an extra hand. If you are an NYU student and don’t want to commit yourself to the urban agriculture class, NYU also has an urban farming club that meets weekly on Wednesdays.
For more inspirational community building farms check out the website for growing power! http://www.growingpower.org/