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June 2011

Farming the Five Boroughs

At the Volky Flower Garden in the Bronx, residents weigh and record their harvest as part of a project that will calculate the value of produce from community gardens and its relative contribution to food production in the City.
Any foodie, or friend/child/parent of a foodie, knows that “locally grown” usually means fresher, more nutritious, and better for the environment because of fewer pesticides used and gallons of gasoline burned to get it to market.

But when New Yorkers think “local,” rolling hills upstate or in New Jersey come to mind—not a roof garden in Queens or a vacant lot in East New York. But urban farmers like Mara Gittleman, the brains behind Farming Concrete, are changing how people, and the City, think about food grown in the five boroughs.

Community gardens and urban farms are sprouting up all over the country and, as with so many things, New York has more than any other city. But in order for these green spaces to feed more families and get more support and recognition from the City, we need to know just how much produce they harvest.

Enter Farming Concrete, a project that has given 100 produce scales and log books to community gardeners around the City so they can weigh and record fruit, vegetables, and herbs going to farmers’ markets, schools, feeding programs, and community residents. A $49,000 grant to Farming Concrete is supporting Crop Count 2011, a citizen science project that involves the 400 food-producing gardens in the City.

“The act of collecting data helps calculate the value of produce and its relative contribution to food production in the City,” says Gittleman. It is also used to monitor a garden’s growth in capacity and help build membership.” Gardeners have also, unexpectedly, used the scales to weigh plant refuse and compost—an important part of City gardening where good soil is not taken for granted.

“The harvest from these gardens, especially in neighborhoods where affordable fresh produce is hard to come by in stores, can add significantly to a family’s ability to eat healthy,” Gittleman continues. “In a lot of neighborhoods, they’re the only green space that people have close by. It’s inviting, it’s open, and for some it’s a place to reconnect to the land. A teacher might have a plot and bring her students by, and then those students might bring their parents. No one thinks this is going to replace industrial agriculture, but it’s a step toward redefining people’s relationship to what they eat.”

Read about seniors taking the lead on bringing fresh produce to their communities>>

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