Across the boroughs, you can find many farmers markets where farmers from the surrounding areas bring their produce into the city weekly to sell. I never thought I’d see a farm in Brooklyn, so when an old friend on Facebook posted that she’s working there, and preparing yummy and refreshing samples from the produce grown there, I had to get in on it.
“I didn’t know your mom studied agriculture!”- Chef Samantha, the homie.
Samantha is a chef instructor who has been teaching in the city for the past five years. She graduated from the Natural Gourmet Institute for Health and Culinary Arts and immediately focused her career on helping people heal with food and work past their food based struggles. She’s been working with The Sylvia Center for the past year working with urban youth in the New York City Housing Authorities settlements and now with Added Value on their Red Hook Community Farm.
I was beyond excited to see her at work, especially with the teens. I even asked another friend Nathalie, vegan blogger for Doose, to come along because I knows she’d love the experience as well.
As I arrived on the farm, there were rain-soaked compost heaps being turned to prevent them from rotting. I immediately saw Samantha walking through the pathway and she brought me over to her tent where I met Becky, Judelys, Manny—who was busy preparing another batch of cucumber limeade—and Nellie. I was surprised to learn this was their Summer Youth Employment* assignment. The teens interacted with the farm patrons with such confidence, I was very impressed. I watched them prepare a basil salsa, using the tomatoes grown on the farm. Nellie chopped those tomatoes with conviction! Manny then explained to me they didn’t have cilantro so they improvised with basil, and I must say, it was a great twist. Nathalie said it reminded her of pizza!
Nellie and Manny went from sous chefs to tour guides, filling me and Nathalie in on every detail imaginable about the farm.
What was once an abandoned baseball field became an opportunity for Ian Marvy and Michael Hurwitz. Both previously working in social services, they’ve worked with kids who had been in juvenile detention facilities and were now out in the real world with little to no support system. This was the inspiration behind Added Value. A non-profit co-founded in 2001, Added Value youth-led urban farming and compost operation whose objective is to create opportunities for teens to expand their knowledge base, develop their leadership skills, and positively engage with each other, their community, and the environment. From day one, Added Value has mentored countless youth, provided hundreds of elementary students with educational programs, and worked with thousands of volunteers to farm and compost in the city.
Last year, Added Value arranged a deal with the New York City Parks Department to turn it into a working farm that would employ youth from the neighborhood, educate school kids on sustainable food-growing practices, and produce food.
Nellie explained that the farm now has elevated soil: previously, the soil was directly in the ground, but Hurricane Sandy hit. Two and a half feet of water flooded and ruined all the crops and soil. During the clean-up, all of that contaminated soil was pushed to the outer perimeters of the field. We walked through the rows where we saw okra flowers, watermelons, tomatoes, swiss chard, and peppers, amongst a variety of other vegetables. There was a large bare patch that was just harvested for selling.
They make their own compost—it’s a good way to get the community involved, too. I learned about fast composting: when a lot of weeds are pulled, layer and combine them with wood chips—your nitrogen and carbon elements. The heat kills the seeds and everything starts decomposing, and over the course of a few month—soil!**
They have a beehive! Not the Winnie the Pooh type you’d typically think of when you hear “beehive,” because I was expecting to see one of those hanging from somewhere. The beekeeper, Tim, comes to the farm and does demos on how to open the hive and harvest honey. Nellie told us he has a Queen Bee he used to mate and cross breed, so now they have black and white bees, bumble bees, and honey bees.
I learned how garlic grows! It takes up to two years just to get a head of garlic. Bulbs can be replanted for the following season, producing bigger bulbs—that’s exactly what they’ve been doing on the farm. They recently harvested approximately four thousand bulbs of garlic, cured and beautifully hung under one of the tents.
Did you know there’s purple basil? I surely didn’t! I was amazed. AMAZED! I bought a bunch for my mom, along with some kale, callaloo***, and purple okras. I bought a bunch of sage for myself to dry out and eventually burn. The smoke from dried sage actually changes the ionic composition of the air, and can have a direct effect on reducing our stress response. Cleanse your aura guys!
Without a doubt, I’ll be back. Next time, as a volunteer. The people are great, the kids are amazing, and I love what they’re doing for the community. Samantha explained to me the Added Value CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) Program that offers a weekly produce share of vegetables grown on the farm. At the beginning of the season, you pay a set price based off your household income, volunteer 8 total hours for the season, and every week for 22 weeks you can pick up your fresh, locally grown produce. An example of what you can take home from a week’s harvest: 5 lbs eggplant, 2 bunches Swiss Chard, 2 lbs cucumber, 2 bunches collards, 2 lbs sweet peppers, 3/4 lb hot peppers, 2 bunches arugula, and 4 ears corn. They’re no longer taking members for the 2016 season, so I’ll try to get in for the 2017 season.
Nathalie vlogging alongside me was so much fun. I’ll definitely be linking up with her again for another adventure. Finding a restaurant that can accommodate her vegan diet and my love of red meat was an adventure in itself. Hope and Anchor! It’s a really cute diner in Red Hook with a pretty great burger menu. Check out Nathalie’s vlog episode for Doose’s below for our day at the farm and a sneak peak of our burgers, coming in the next post.
Check out Added Value and their work on the Red Hook Community Farm.
*I worked with a summer camp for my Summer Youth Employment assignments when I was their age. I just did it for the free amusement park trips. Oh to be 16 again.
**My mom composted at home for a while, throwing in onion skins, broccoli stalks, carrot and banana peels, pretty much any “waste” from cooking. I’ve never seen soil though. Now that I think about it, I probably didn’t even look.
***As I’ve said in an earlier post, my family is from the Caribbean, so when I hear callaloo, the first thing I think of is the dish, so seeing this vegetable was very new to me!