Some of you may remember a piece I wrote a few months ago, suggesting that the globalization of food production, while, apparently, economically viable, seemed a bit problematic. The importation of fresh and frozen produce from China and other far-away places, while viable in the short term, is both unsustainable and unethical: it consumes energy and resources and takes food away from places that themselves are having food shortages.
The answer I offered, the farmers market, has been taken to its highest form in Red Hook, and I’m just sad that I didn’t know about it sooner. There is a farm growing on the Brooklyn waterfront, the Red Hook Community Farm, and in addition to producing fruit and vegetables, they are selling their produce (alongside other farmers’) at their own market, supplying a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture, a by-subscription food service) while creating jobs for local kids.
Red Hook Community Farm operates under the aegis of Added Value, a group that was formed in 2000 to try and help local kids with no resources and few prospects. Added Value opened a farmers market in Red Hook in 2001, after the neighborhood’s only supermarket closed. The neighborhood, filled with low-income families, was already suffering from higher-than-average rates of diabetes and obesity, and other diet-related health problems, and the disappearance of virtually all fresh food would have driven those rates even higher. Instead, the farmers market opened, making all kinds of produce available to area residents, and actually donating thousands of dollars worth of food to individuals who needed it.
In 2004, Added Value closed the loop of food production: they reclaimed a city-run, underused asphalt sports field and covered it with soil, converting it into a working farm. Now kids who need jobs work the farm alongside volunteers and trained horticulturists. They learn and earn money, becoming better prepared to be working adults. Grade-school age children visit the farm and learn where their food comes from, and the importance of eating healthfully. Farm produce fills the greenmarket and is sent to CSA members and the Red Hook Senior Center, feeding the neighborhood; a small group of local restaurants also buys greens and veggies from the farm. Hoop houses allow the farm to produce year-round.
So, to recap, starting with a two-acre plot of paved land, a committed group of people has managed to: 1) improve a compromised environment (air quality) 2) provide jobs and education in a health-giving and environment-improving field (pun intended) 3) improve community health both through the farm itself and the consumption of its produce 4) give the community a regular, free venue for meeting and socializing 5) provide food for the needy and elderly 6) provide a venue for education for kids of all ages 7) generate income while providing local businesses with local produce.
Sounds to me like a program that should be implemented in every low-income neighborhood, and probably every neighborhood, period. It wasn’t that long ago that the United States was involved in WWII, and Victory Gardens were planted and maintained to help feed our citizens and soldiers, and to help us win the war. We’re at war again, and while I’m afraid vegetable gardens won’t help us win against the insurgents in Iraq, or the idiots in Washington, they could help us win the wars against global warming (by reducing energy consumed in transporting food), obesity (by making healthy food available in places it’s been hard to get), and poverty (by making healthy food available to everyone).
Come down to the Red Hook Community Farm’s second Annual October Harvest Festival, on October 21st, and enlist.