Sun rise over New York City is an invitation for natural light to ward off the artificial glow of night. The daily grind commences on schedule, setting off a swarm of 8 million people that envelop the concrete jungle. Like sturdy redwoods, sky scrapers loom above, casting shadows that carry on a slow waltz around tight corridors as the sun advances. The beating heart of this vibrant metropolis breathes life throughout an intricately woven vast global network. Nestled amidst the sea of grey and glass is what most what consider to be an “anomaly in the matrix;” an inherent contradiction to the normal cookie cutter organization of grid development. This abnormality happens to possess the most natural qualities of all living beings. Despite its relatively limited space, it yields an incalculable, exponentially greater impact on the surrounding environment. It’s only fitting that this beautiful oasis acts as a breeding ground for health and wellness, sustainability, and nutrition. I’ve grown to call this area the splotch of green in a sea of grey, but it’s officially entitled the Battery Urban Farm.
Located at the southern tip of Manhattan, the historic Battery is the official home of the Battery Urban Farm. The origins of the farm started with the planting of a seed; a simple request from an environmentalist club at a local high school. Their interest in growing an edible garden at the Battery attracted a lot of attention from the Conservancy that manages the park. In their eyes, this project had great potential to enrich the neighborhood. Little did they know BUF would go on to influence the lives of thousands of young students, volunteers, and countless benefactors who receive donated produce.
In the 3 years since its conception, the Battery Urban Farm has grown from a small plot of raised soil beds, to a sprawling 1 acre center for urban agriculture. They believe in three core principles:
- To empower New York City children and community to make healthier eating choices through garden education.
- To inspire and encourage the creation of edible gardens in communities throughout NYC and globally.
- To cultivate a broader awareness of sustainability through responsible waste management and gardening practices.
These tenants act as a guiding light in which the farm’s staff can create a thriving natural environment for people to explore. It’s a transformative experience for everyone that visits and a wonderful service to the community that is starved by urban development.
As it is, there are far too few places in New York City in which people can experience the farming process Sure, there is Central Park, Forest Park, Kissena Park, and a handful of other protected and maintained land that fall under the public domain. However, most (if not all) lack a vital aspect that really hits home in a city known for its amazing culinary prowess. These parks don’t do enough to utilize their open space for urban farming projects. New York City’s Department of Parks & Recreation handles over 28,000 acres of land. Just think about that; the Battery Urban Farm is just 1 acre out of 28,000 thousand, and it has provided an enriching learning experience for over 2000 young students this year alone. Needless to say, most of the public park land largely untapped and sorely needed to properly nourish our industrialized food culture.
You can find a wide variety of edible, organically grown whole foods around BUF. To name a few; fresh tomatoes, beets (golden & crimson), zucchinis, summer squash, cucumbers, carrots, a wide variety of beans, onions, garlic, peppers, all sorts of kale, green & hot peppers, and many other delicious veggies. That’s not even including all the herbs and edible flowers. Some of these could end up on your plate if you jump on the opportunity to join BUF’s Community Sponsored Agriculture program. Their CSA is an organized weekly pick-up in which sponsors receive an assortment of the produce that’s harvested around the farm. It’s a great way to support all of the Battery’s wonderful programs.
The NYC community plays a major role in the BUF’s development. A large number of public schools utilize the farm for its enrichment and volunteer programs. The most common thread amongst them all is a heightened sense of appreciation and excitement for organic foods. They get to participate in a fairly unique experience, something most urbanites aren’t usually exposed to. Growing your own food is very intimate process. Much like raising a child or fostering an animal, the individual is responsible for taking care of a living being. Its health depends on the love and care of its planters. I’ve witnessed this relationship from seed to blossom and it never ceases to humble me. Regardless of whether they enjoy eating it, kids will always take ownership of something that they helped grow. It’s empowering for them; instilling a valuable lesson about responsibility.
Quite a few of the enrichment classes do in fact get to eat the produce that they grow. Thanks to the Garden to School Café Program, the Battery Urban Farm delivers produce to two downtown public school cafeterias: PS 3 John Melser Charrette School and PS 397 Spruce Street School. That excitement for farming that many of these kids develop transcends the enrichment visit into the school itself. It will ultimately influence their overall aptitude in school. Proper nutrition correlates to increased brain functionality, stronger focus, and more energy to last the entire school day.
It’s no coincidence that urban farms are beginning to sprout all over New York City. The desire to live healthfully is a growing tide that will inevitably transform the way our society engages with food. My own involvement with the Battery Urban Farm as their outreach intern has grown to compliment my other passions. Sharing the knowledge of food cultivation is an incredible way to empower people to take their health more seriously. Like NEO waking up to the Matrix, people come alive at the farm when they realize how amazing the food tastes and that it’s all part of a closed cycle which doesn’t harm the environment. It’s therapeutic for the mind, exercise and nourishment for the body. Even the tourists that pass by the farm leave with a more positive notion that the beauty of nature can flourish in all sorts of places.
It’s so profound to think that a small farm can have such a huge impact in a city like New York. We’re better able to appreciate the connected-ness of everyone and everything when we plug into the earth. Remember that it all started with a small group of students who just wanted to grow some vegetables. The ripple effect that it created is far from reaching its full potential; yet it has already cemented the seeds of positive social change. All it takes is determination, creativity, and a wild imagination to invigorate a splotch of green in a sea of grey.