To our Friends and Supporters,
The first snows coated the farm last week, signaling for us that it is time to slow down, reflect, and appreciate the season that is coming to a close. We’ve experienced so much this year as a community, both positive and negative, and yet I sense that this is just the beginning of change to come. East New York is at the intersection of many current policy issues: affordable housing, police reform, school improvement, food security, and environmental restoration. The East New York Farms! Project has worked for the last sixteen years towards making our community healthier, more livable, and more responsive to these issues.
In addition to growing food, our youth interns are learning about social change and playing a role in it. We discussed redlining and urban disinvestment in our summer workshops, and how similar patterns of demographic change played out in Ferguson. We met with Rep. Hakeem Jeffries to discuss opportunities for young people, joined the Peoples Climate March, and hosted a Youth Food Justice gathering for 10 groups from across the Northeast.
This year we celebrated many successes of our Youth Program alumni. Celeste Leandry received the Just Food McKinley Hightower-Beyah award for her commitment to urban agriculture, community leadership, and social justice. We also saw six recent alumni start college in every corner of New York State, and saw others start or continue careers as teachers, nurses, parks police, and chefs.
Our Gardener Assistance program has increased its reach: we distributed plants, compost, and supplies to 70 gardeners, held 26 workshops for the community, and sold produce grown by 48 gardeners at our market, while four other gardeners ran their own stands. We helped rebuild 40 garden beds at the Louis H. Pink Houses, and have laid plans to start a community farm there to build positive relationships and improve healthy food access.
Our markets continue to be a hub for health, community, and good food. We held 39 markets in all weather, crowned a new “Pepper Boss”, started outdoor Zumba classes, and held monthly arts events highlighting Brooklyn artists. Youth and adult community educators gave 84 cooking demonstrations throughout this year East New York and Brooklyn featuring local and seasonal ingredients, and two mini-grant recipients started free cooking classes.
Our work was covered by Al Jazeera, The New York Times, BKLYNR, and AM New York. We are also not immune to yellow journalism from the New York Post, but we responded with truth and clarity, the community rallied on our behalf, and Grist took note.
This year United Community Centers celebrated 60 years of organizing for change in East New York, and it is clear that our project is as relevant as ever. If our work resonates with you, I would encourage you to make a donation or consider becoming a “60 for 60” monthly sustainer. Most importantly, I encourage you to stay engaged in your community and support grassroots groups committed to change around issues that are important to you, as I truly believe that they are leading the way towards a better future.
East New York Farms!
It was with disappointment, but with little surprise, that we read the article “The Root of All Evil” in this Sunday’s New York Post. This article is the third that Gary Buiso has written concerning lead contamination in NYC garden soils--his fear-mongering, faulty reasoning and sham investigative reporting are typical of the New York Post. These articles undermine the efforts of Cornell University scientists, the Parks Department, and greening organizations across the city who are working to educate the public about lead risks, and they undermine the work our organization has done to improve food access, build relationships, and address inequality in our community. With little support and with few other options for accessing fresh produce, NYC residents in every borough have transformed blighted vacant lots into vibrant and productive gardens, and Mr. Buiso seems intent on shaming and attacking them for their work.
I spoke at length last week with Mr. Buiso and Mr. Feuerherd about our awareness of the tests, our communication and support from Cornell University and GreenThumb (NYC Parks Department), our farming practices, and our efforts to support and educate urban gardeners in safe growing practices. I spent nearly forty minutes explaining our use of soil barriers, regular applications of compost, and our use of wood chips and cover crops to build and maintain lead-free soil. In the past two years we have partnered with the Department of Sanitation to distribute over 5000 bags of NYC Compost to East New York gardens, and applied over 10 cubic yards of new compost to our farm. Mr. Buiso makes no mention of this in the story. Why? Because well-reasoned science, proactive responses towards risk reduction, and transparency do not make for good cover stories in the Post.
While we agree with the author that there should be more support from the city for soil testing and public education about lead contamination, we take issue with the article on many fronts:
Misinterpretation of data: All of the soils tested at the UCC Youth Farm (our main growing site) were below guidance values for lead published by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. The article mentions a carrot that was tested with “nearly three times the safe amount of lead”. This is false. One carrot tissue sample in the 2011 test showed .12 parts per million (ppm) of lead, with the European Union guidance values for vegetables at .1-.3ppm depending on the crop (the US has no guidance values for metals in vegetables). Buiso uses this single “smoking carrot” to defame our farm and market, but his conclusion is based on an incorrect understanding of the test results.
Specious reasoning and guilt by association: The article lays out a manipulative and deceptive line of reasoning: “Some gardens in Brooklyn tested for high lead levels in 2011 and 2012. Some gardens sell their produce at markets. Therefore, garden produce sold at markets is toxic.” The two gardens with high lead levels that he mentions, Classon-Fulgate and Hart to Hart, are not in East New York nor part of our market, and yet Mr. Buiso attempts to link their test results with the produce sold at our market.
Accusations of secrecy: We are public and transparent about our work, and we are proud to grow food without pesticides or chemical fertilizers. Our farm is open to the public to see our practices at work and speak with our growers. Even knowing the reputation of the Post, we still allowed the reporters into the farm. Growing food in the city is a public act, and a great way to start conversations about sustainability, food safety, and the health and environmental risks posed by industrial agriculture.
The legacy of lead contamination in our homes and soils is an unfortunate component of urban life, and it is one we take very seriously. Just as we would not vacate every building in this city built before 1978 (the year lead paint was outlawed), we need not abandon gardens where lead is present in the soil, but we must address the problem with education, remediation, and good practices. We test our soils regularly and follow the Healthy Gardening Practices recommended by Cornell University and GreenThumb, and we applaud their ongoing efforts to provide gardens with the educational and material resources they need to keep lead out of their produce. Rather than attempt scare tactics to smear community gardens, perhaps Mr. Buiso could have explored the substantial budget cuts faced by the GreenThumb Program in recent years. GreenThumb provides support to registered community gardens citywide, but these cuts affect their ability to distribute soil, compost, lumber and other supplies that aid in healthy soil management.
New Yorkers grow their own food because high quality fresh foods are not available or affordable in their communities, and will continue to do so as long as this is the case. Community gardens enhance our neighborhoods, contribute to cleaner air and water, and provide opportunities for physical activity, food production, and social interaction. Farmers markets throughout the city that work with community gardens are improving diets, improving neighborhoods, and constantly improving the soils and gardens that produce our food. We lament the reactionary and misinformed articles published by Mr. Buiso and the Post--this kind of journalism is truly toxic in the way that it pollutes any possibility of real dialogue, real education, and real action when dealing with lead in urban soils. We stand by the work that we do, and stand with gardeners across the city who have worked hard for their communities.
East New York Farms! Project Director
United Community Centers
On October 11,
2014 East New York Farms!/United Community Centers hosted a “Regional
Rooted In Community Youth Summit" with participants from 10 projects
arriving from 5 states in the Northeast. The day started with a breakfast
of Brooklyn bagels, laughs and energizers led by interns from East New
York Farms. Youth learned West African, West Indian music,
Latin, and hip hop dances representing the diverse cultures of East New
With the goal of
developing youth leadership and a youth voice in food justice, we spent the
morning in workshops facilitated by participating groups. The Urban Nutrition Initiative taught about “Media
and Food Choices”, Cultivating Community taught about “Helping Seniors Eat
Their Veggies”, the Center for Environmental Transformation taught about “Food
Systems and Hunger.”