Left: Red Hook Community Farm Director, Saara Nafici leads Administrator Dolcini on a tour with volunteers from Green City Force. Right: Dolcini visits with Ben Flanner, president of Brooklyn Grange, the largest rooftop garden in New York City.
By Lauren Moore, Public Affairs Specialist, FSA Office of External Affairs
Agriculture is most commonly thought to exist only in rural communities, far from metropolitan areas, but over the past seven years, agricultural operations increasingly are found on many rooftops, backyards and balconies throughout urban America, including some of the world’s largest cities.
USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) Administrator Val Dolcini recently visited a few of these operations in New York, New York.
La Familia Verde is a coalition of community gardens in the Bronx. The coalition’s mission is to “sustain the environment and culture of our neighborhood through education, community service and horticulture.”
La Familia Verde pools food together from the community gardens to sell at their farmers market, held annually from July to November. Karen Washington, a member of the coalition, led Dolcini on a tour of the farmers market and the Tremont Community Garden nearby. According to Washington, food is power and it’s empowering to the community they live in.
The administrator also visited the largest rooftop garden in New York City, Brooklyn Grange. Ben Flanner, president of the operation, gave Dolcini a tour. Brooklyn Grange is currently operating on two rooftops, one in Brooklyn and one in Queens, totaling 2.5 acres. The operation produces about 10 tons of produce per acre. Some of the commodities produced include salad greens, herbs, tomatoes and peppers. Aside from produce, they also have poultry and an apiary, or bee yard.
Red Hook Community Farm was another stop on Dolcini’s trip. This 2.75 acre community farm is a project of Added Value Farms, a youth-led urban farming and compost operation in Red Hook, Brooklyn. The area that was once a concrete baseball field now grows more than 20,000 lbs. of produce per year.
It is the largest compost project in the United States that is reliant on renewable energy. The organization’s “farm-based learning programs” bring close to 1,500 students to the farm during the school year. Saara Nafici, executive director of Added Value Farms, introduced Administrator Dolcini to kids working and setting up for the farmers market.
The administrator also toured a Brooklyn-based aquaponics operation, Oko Farms. The farm raises freshwater fish and a variety of vegetables and herbs, all of which are locally sold. During the tour, Dolcini met with staff from the local food pantry and the Northeast Brooklyn Housing Development Corporation, both of which work with Oko Farms to set up their own aquaponics operations. This urban farm also partners with schools that bring students to visit and learn about the farm.
While in Brooklyn, Dolcini met Jason Green, co-founder of Edenworks. This operation plans to build a commercial aquaponic greenhouse by 2017. The greenhouse will raise seafood, produce and mushrooms. The administrator toured the research and development facility where the Edenworks team is researching which microgreen grows best in this system.
In addition to urban farm tours, Administrator Dolcini attended the USDA Urban Agriculture Forum, where he spoke about FSA programs that work in urban settings. Other topics discussed included education, land access and youth involvement.
Dolcini’s last stop was John Bowne High School in Flushing, Queens. This high school is home to the largest FFA chapter in New York State, with 600 students participating in the program. The school has a four-acre farm where students gain experience working with animals, row crops, greenhouses and orchards.
Over the past seven years, USDA has strengthened the connection between consumers, and farmers and ranchers. For more information on FSA programs visit www.fsa.usda.gov. To find an FSA office near you, visit http://offices.usda.gov.