A Greener New York City

It’s early on a Saturday morning, prime time for the 20,000-plus New Yorkers who participate in community gardens to head out to their abandoned lots-turned-growing-plots to dig in to some dirt.

The scene is no different at 462 Halsey Community Farm. Walking around the Brooklyn-based garden, one finds all the staples of a thriving urban plot: dirt, shovels, greens, bees. But the aroma drifting out of the hidden nature cove in Bed-Stuy is far from that of a bed of roses. It smells more like rotting banana peels and month-old tomatoes.

The small, smelly farm in Brooklyn is one of the more than 600 urban gardens that have popped up across all five boroughs over the past two decades. While the urban farming trend sweeps its way across the city, here’s a look at four gardens with messages that organizers feel are just as important as the horticulture itself.

Garbage to glory

Richelle Trivedi, 462 Community Farm, Master Composter poses with her pitchfork before processing food scraps.

Richelle Trivedi is an urban farmer working to bring locally harvested fruits and vegetables to the tables of her neighbors in Bed-Stuy. Like most farmers, urban farmers spend countless hours plucking weeds, and watering crops. Trivedi, on the other hand, dedicates her time to turning food scraps into what she calls “Black Gold”. As a Master Composter she works with a team to collect, weigh, stir, and send nearly 2,000 pounds of food scraps through a 5 bin processing system each month. Reporter Sage Howard spends an early Saturday morning talking to her about about what it means to be a Master Composter, and her love for turning trash to treasure.

Steam rises as Trivedi stirs fresh food scraps in compost bin at 462 Halsey Community Farm.

-Sage Howard

School’s out, dirt’s in

A student in the program moves potted plants to a different part of the garden so they get better sunlight during the summer months. He’s a junior in high school and has been part of the Brotherhood Sister Sol after-school program for two years.

Harlem isn’t a food desert. That’s the message local organizers of Brotherhood Sister Sol want to spread as they work to educate New York students about environmental issues in the city. While Harlem has historically been labeled a food desert — because of the high percentage of low income residents and the low percentage of supermarkets — Environmental Coordinator for the organization Nando Rodriguez wants to change that narrative to something more positive. He teaches the students who participate in the after-school and summer gardening program that Harlem experiences fresh food inequality, rather than looking at the community as a desert wasteland. Located on 143rd Street between Amsterdam and Broadway in Hamilton Heights, the garden is open to anyone who wants to join and learn about the importance of educating urban communities about fresh food. Here’s Rodriguez’ story.

Students and longtime neighborhood residents alike get a jumpstart on getting the Frank White community garden, sponsored by Brotherhood Sister Sol, ready for the environmental programs which started in June. Students from across Manhattan interview to participate in the garden summer program, which is designed to give young people environmental education experience.

-Nicole Lafond

Fighting crime with lettuce

Latonya Assanah loves Harlem, it’s where she was born and raised. But after spending the past 36 years in the same neighborhood, she’s been exposed to the cycle of poverty and crime and the negative behaviors her childhood friends have developed when they’re desperate for food. That’s not the life she wants for her elementary-aged daughter.

So, she built a greenhouse to combat crime. Listen to Assanah’s story.

-Nicole Lafond

Georgia’s Place Rooftop

Like most buildings in Brooklyn, the sun beams heavy on the rooftop of Georgia’s Place during the summer months, but instead of melting tar, collards and strawberries absorb it’s rays. 24-year-old Zack Simmons is a Brooklyn native, and the urban farmer that tends to the crops that grow on the top of the supportive housing unit that shelters formerly homeless women and men in the apartment building located in Crown Heights. The fruits and vegetables Simmons grows are used in three of the family-style meals the residents eat each week. Though he spends hours gardening alone, Simmons enjoys the peace of mind that comes with work. For him It’s work worth doing because it’s unlike any work you can find in the city.

Zack Simmons sits down to talk about rooftop gardening, and his passion for urban farming in NYC.

-Sage Howard