the irresistible fleet of bicycles


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farm or three ring circus? maybe both

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Greenhorns correspondent Julia Caruso spoke with Anastasia Cole Plakias of Brooklyn Grange about the farmer’s perspective on the relationships between urban and rural farms and Brooklyn Grange’s biggest challenge.

It is undeniable that real estate is skyrocketing in metropolitan areas with New York City arguably leading the pack. City dwellers are being pushed out, businesses are being forced to move, and urban farmers’ creativity is being tested. That’s why when Anastasia Cole Plakias, Ben Flanner, and Gwen Schantz, co-founders of Brooklyn Grange Rooftop Farm were looking to purchase land in New York City in 2010, they looked up towards the sky.

Brooklyn Grange began as the largest rooftop soil farm in the world with one-acre of land atop a commercial building in Long Island City. They broke even their first year and two years later they expanded and purchased 2.5 acres of rooftop space above the Brooklyn Navy Yard on a 20-year lease. Anastasia, VP of Brooklyn Grange Rooftop Farm, said that the only way they could be fiscally responsible and create a replicable and scalable urban farm, was by purchasing land closer to the sun. But even with their success it is becoming exceedingly difficult to sustain.

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carbon farming in los angeles

“It’s not humans that are damaging to ecosystems; it’s our extractive culture that is damaging to ecosystems.”

This week’s Kiss the Ground share features Rishi Kumar, founder of Sarvodaya Farms, on how we can use agriculture to repair ecosystems. Savordaya Farms is a one acre farm located inside the city limits of Los Angeles and provides the city’s only urban farmer training program.


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island farm oasis in the middle of NYC

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Here’s an island you’d be down-right lucky to get ship-wrecked on! Greenhorns correspondent Julia Caruso spoke recently with Gabrielle Hayes, the Farm Coordinator at GrowNYC’s urban educational farm, Governors Island Teaching Garden, about the rewards and challenges of educational urban farming and– an idea we especially love– the need for and incredible potential of fostering active relationships between urban and rural farmers. 

Farming and Teaching Against the New York City Skyline
A Walk Through the Governor’s Island Teaching Garden
by Julia Caruso

GrowNYC is an environmental organization most well-known for operating Greenmarket, 52 farmers’ markets around the city, also works actively throughout the city to build community and school garden where they promote hands-on horticulture education for all ages. One such garden, the Governors Island Teaching Garden, is a working urban farm in its fourth year as part of the GrowNYC organization. In a single growing season, April to October, with a half-acre of land they grow 100+ crops and teach 5,000 students between grades K-12 the process and importance of growing and consuming whole foods.

The mission of Teaching Garden is to teach the value of healthy eating, how to grow and use productive green spaces to be better stewards of the environment, and to make sure students always leaving having had a positive experience with nature.

 “Urbanization is making us all extremely disconnected from what we eat,” she said, “we need more educational farms.”

Though visitors are at the mercy of the hourly Governors Island ferry schedule, the planning and traveling is worth it. The reward for the journey can be immediate; some students exclaim that the ferry is their first time on a boat! Taking the ferry and walking around the island gives visitor a fresh perspective of the Concrete Jungle, a closer look at the Statue of Liberty, and a chance to experience food from seed to mouth.

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Gabrielle chose to farm in an urban environment instead of rural because she loves the opportunity to interact and educate the next generation. (The balance between living in a city and escaping it 5x weekly on the island helps to). She is able to create lessons that vary from healthy eating and growing crops, to food justice and ethnobotany, depending on the grade level of the kids.

The Teaching Garden is a wonderful resource for public school children; especially those underprivileged and undernourished as it can open their eyes to food beyond processed and packaged calories. The biggest problem, Gabrielle says, is that with a staff of only two full-time and three seasonal part-time employees, they can only accommodate 100 students a day, three days a week. Many teachers ask to bring their students again, but Teaching Garden cannot accommodate repeat visitors. This is where you lovely rural farmers come in!

Gabrielle would love to see more partnerships between rural and urban farms. “Urbanization is making us all extremely disconnected from what we eat,” she said, “we need more educational farms.”

More and more people do not know where their food comes from. Seeing a “real life farm,” as she put it, might further inspire children to care more about the environment and eating whole, nourishing foods. A school could explore an urban farm and then travel out of the city to see how a large acreage farm operates and how the principals of small urban farming translate. “Urban farms and farmers and rural farms and farmers are very disconnected,” Gabrielle lamented. She believes that the more kids can be exposed to farming, the more they’ll want to be a part of it.

In a nonchalant manner Gabrielle concluded our discussion, “I think it’s [Teaching Garden] the coolest place in New York City.”

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urban farming fellowships in berkeley, california

If you’re between the ages of 21 and 31 and looking for an incredible opportunity to learn about urban farming, listen up! Urban Adamah in Berkeley, CA is now accepting applications for its three-month fellowship program. Not only do you learn the ins and outs of growing delicious organic food in the city, but the program also incorporates social justice training, mindfulness, and progressive Jewish learning and living. No prior experience is needed.

Entering its 5th year of educating young farmers, the fellowship has a fee on a sliding scale between $600 and $3000, which includes housing, food, and all program-related expenses. There are opportunities in the spring, summer, and fall, but apply soon as spots fill up quickly.

Learn more by watching the video above and clicking HERE.


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the conversation continues: hydroponics divorce people even further from the stewardship of the land

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This recent submission to our series on whether or not hydroponics should be considered organic comes from Joanna Storie, a Doctoral candidate in the Department of Landscape Architecture at the Institute of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences of Estonian University of Life Sciences. She takes a similar stance on hydroponics to our last contributor, adding that hydroponics are not sustainable agriculture in that they divert attention from strengthening rural economies and reinforce urban ways of being that divorce people further from the land.

Have something to add? Email submissions to greenhornsblog@gmail.com.

In your recent blog you asked the question on whether hydroponics is organic or not and I have to agree that it is not. The following statement sums it up for me:


“Hydroponics may be a fine way to grow food and it might be an important part of how cities feed themselves in the future, but it’s no more a form of sustainable agriculture than producing wood fiber in a laboratory is a form of sustainable forest management.”

It also worries me that Hydoponics divorce people even further from the idea of stewardship of the land– which is something that makes the urban areas increasingly vulnerable, because– even if they can produce food in the cities using hydroponic techniques– this will not be the sum total of their food supply.

Recently I submitted an abstract for a conference, which took the position against urban-centric ways of structuring our society, arguing that “rural social networks need to be seen as inherently valuable to the resilience of the whole region.”

I think the hydroponics fits into the urban 24/7 mindset, which values cheap food and devalues rural social network,  thus exacerbating the situation of removing people further from the knowledge of healthy food and healthy environments.


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raising hell(gate) in urban farming

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Throughout its seven years, Hellgate Farm has always done things a bit differently than other urban farms in New York City- from raising backyard chickens and housing an apiary, to producing its own hot sauce. Hellgate Farm is not your typical urban farm. Last season, crops were grown in over seven plots of land throughout Astoria and Long Island City, though Hellgate owned only one of them. The team has been able to develop partnerships with business owners and homeowners across Queens and convert unused growing spaces and backyards to successfully grow upwards of 70 crops this season, fill 30 weekly CSA orders, make and sell their own trio of hot sauces, and sell produce to local restaurants!

In 2017, Hellgate is exploring a new and less traveled business model in hopes of attaining maximum sustainability, profit, and community impact. Unfortunately, this means having to temporarily put the CSA aside.

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Like most urban farmers Rob McGrath, Hellgate’s owner, envisions everyone having access to clean, organic, and affordable produce. To this end, he is looking forward to improving the local food system by working with a large acreage organic farm in upstate New York. With more land Hellgate will be able to provide additional CSA shares for the Queens community. Their goal is to offer at least 50% of the shares at a subsidized price in areas with less access to affordable fresh produce, combined with community education programs.

Hellgate’s impact will be far more reaching even by harvesting one half acre upstate than they could ever accomplish with scattered backyard plots around Queens, but don’t worry, those plots are still going to be used!

In order to financially support their mission, Hellgate plans to use the land in Queens to focus on their value added products. Last year they began a partnership with a factory owner in Long Island City that provides them access to the factory’s rooftop. Due to the climate on the roof, the Hellgate team was able to grow a wide variety of peppers, and as such, Hellgate Farm Hot Sauce was born. They have already sold thousands of bottles of their hot sauce and it has been a profitable venture to date. Hellgate hopes to expand their product yield even more this year and get more bottles in the hands of their loyal customers.

Through their partnerships with local restaurants and sales of their hot sauces, ketchup, and other products currently in development, Rob hopes to be able to get their sister-farm started and restart the CSA as soon as possible. Rob notes, “This is a lifetime project, it will only keep growing and developing!”

With the team’s continued hard work, community support, and growing line of Hell-ishly delicious products, Hellgate’s new business model is well positioned to pay off for all of us!

-Greenhorns Contributor Julia Caruso

 

 


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“hydroponics is not organic — it’s not even agriculture”

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Last week we asked the Greenhorns network what you think about the vertical farm. A perennially contentious idea, are hydroponics the way to the future or are they a hackneyed and ultimately artificial solution to the current crises of our food systems. The following submission on hydroponics comes from Matthew Hoffman, a Fulbright Scholar, Norwegian Centre for Rural Research, who argues vehemently that hydroponic farming be removed from organic certification.  Send us your opinions at greenhornsblog@gmail.com!

The farmers market in Jack London Square in Oakland, California was a bustling scene when I worked there in the late 1990s, and my customers liked to tell me how devoted they were to organic agriculture.

I remember one devotee in particular.  Her tote bag bulged with produce and her brow wrinkled beneath the brim of her floppy hat as she stopped one day to study the sign above my new display of organic flowers.  At length she turned to me and said, “How can flowers be organic?”

This was not the first time that I realized a devoted customer had no idea what organic meant.  So I explained to her about how organic farmers take care of the land, maintaining healthy soil and a healthy environment for plants to grow in without the use of synthetic chemicals—and how organic practices apply just the same to flowers and fields of grass as to lettuces and bell peppers.

She nodded thoughtfully and seemed to appreciate this explanation, but then she frowned again and asked, “What does it matter if you’re not eating them?” Continue reading