Urban Farmers Celebrate A Food Oasis In the South Bronx

Harvest Luncheon Brings It All Together

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SUS has created a food oasis in the South Bronx where a wide variety of fruits, vegetables and herbs are grown and honey is cultivated.  See press release.

2016-09-30-NOTG-Pic2SUS has just held its much anticipated 6th Annual Harvest Luncheon. The highlight of the event was a mouthwatering menu of seasonal dishes made using delicious organic produce from its seven community farms located throughout the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens.  This year’s Luncheon took place on September 23 at the 3361 Third Avenue farm, in the Morrisania neighborhood of the Bronx.  The meal was prepared and served by individuals with developmental disabilities who are recent graduates of the Basic Culinary Arts training program at Kingsborough Community College, Brooklyn.  Our thanks to Merle Brown from Tuning Fork Creations for designing the menu and directing the food preparation.

Guests at the Harvest Luncheon enjoyed a guided tour of the flourishing community farm space which is in the backyard of the iconic supportive housing building that has been dubbed by locals as the “Lego” building as its façade of red, gray and blue squares is reminiscent of colorful building blocks. After a stop at the rooftop garden filled with rows of beehives and planters filled with herbs, it was time for everyone to take their seats in the garden for the speeches.

2016-09-30-NOTG-Pic3The first remarks were made by SUS CEO Donna Colonna (right).  “Six years ago we had a vision, and it was pretty big…and that vision was not just about producing product but also supporting people toward a life.  Our farms create opportunities for personal enjoyment, healthy eating and developing new skills, whether culinary arts or horticulture.  It’s also about building community, employment and building hope and resiliency.  It’s about recovery and potential.  There’s so many ways that the farms connect to the work that we do…We had a great harvest this year, and we are rolling out our Urban Farms campaign Growing A Better New York with #GrowingABetterNY.  Part of this campaign is getting volunteers to contribute (like the volunteers who helped with the installation of this farm); businesses to hire people who have gone through training both for horticulture and for culinary arts; and donating – to support the continuation of both the horticulture coaches and building of the farms…You can also promote the SUS urban farming and horticulture by dedicating a stake in your garden towards SUS.”

Gareth Old, (right, below) a partner in the law firm Clifford Chance, spoke next.  Besides being the Chairperson for the SUS Board, Gareth also led a group of volunteers from Clifford Chance in kicking off the creation of the Third Ave urban farm earlier this year.  Clifford Chance then adopted the Third Avenue community farm, giving SUS the resources needed to transform it into a fully-operational urban farm.  SUS is grateful to Gareth and Clifford Chance for helping to grow a better New York.

2016-09-30-NOTG-Pic4Gareth began his remarks by saying, “We [Clifford Chance volunteers] came along, there were 23 of us.  At that stage there was almost nothing here.  One of our groups moved 11 tons of soil from the backyard using nothing more than a handcart…As people who live in the City, we get very few opportunities to really engage with our communities, so this was a wonderfully tactile, practical and successful way of giving something back.  It was a fantastic opportunity! I’m so proud that Clifford Chance has adopted this farm and am proud that we will be able to continue that relationship going forward.  I think this is an embodiment of success, education, expertise and passion that SUS brings to everybody.” 

2016-09-30-NOTG-Pic7SUS Urban Farms now reach over 400 clients each year each of whom enjoys the benefits of therapeutic horticulture.  This year SUS had 30 individuals participate as employed part-time urban farmers who are developing new skills while performing the horticulture that keeps the sites functioning.

In the four years that Urban Farms Manager Mike Hollis (below) has been with SUS, the organization has gone from having just six community
gardens in Brooklyn to over 30 sites across four boroughs, including community farms and rooftop gardens.

2016-09-30-NOTG-Pic5Third Avenue is SUS’ first community farm in the Bronx. The Urban Farms team has been supporting more SUS landscaping needs – moving from vegetable gardening to a full-service edible and ornamental landscaping operation.

2016-09-30-NOTG-Pic6During his remarks Mike said, “A site this size can produce about 500 lbs of food over the course of a season, which means that Urban Farms can now generate over 5,000 lbs of food annually! While most of this food is distributed directly to residents, our production this year has been enough to support a full season of participation in farmers’ markets, showcasing our local honey, herbs, and vegetables for the public. And all of this growth can be expected to continue.”

He added, “I’m very excited about a product development initiative…Over the past year, the Urban Farms team has been working on recipes for pickles, mustards, and honey products, some of which are available to sample in the courtyard today, and I look forward to bringing an SUS
Urban Farms product line to next year’s markets. 
I’m also very excited that the skills of our team in all aspects of landscape management have given us a solid footing to begin offering services outside of SUS, with a plan to found a landscape management subsidiary over the next year, gradually bringing our skills to the broader NYC community while creating job opportunities for our individuals.”

Next to speak was Urban Farmer John P. (right), The audience chuckled pleasantly when John P. began his speech with a hearty, “Good morning!” followed by a glance at his watch and an equally hearty, “Good afternoon!”

2016-09-30-NOTG-Pic8I have learned so much in the past four years, especially this past season, and my confidence has soared (which I try to keep to keep in check!)  From now on I have the opportunity to supervise fellow workers and volunteers.  I work with so many special people…  Thanks so much.  Enjoy lunch – I know I will!”

2016-09-30-NOTG-Pic9After eating the delicious lunch guests enjoyed a leisurely visit to the sunken courtyard where they found Valerie S. (above, center) at the market table enthusiastically promoting SUS’ Urban Farms produce such as honey, pickles and cookbooks.  She cried out to passersby, “Honey!  Honey!  Honey! The best honey in Brooklyn!”

Then, referring to the sale of the honey, she stated proudly, “I sold nearly $300 worth of honey today!”

Also seated in the courtyard next to the market table was one of our guests, Jeanne Mullgrav, Executive Vice President of Capalino + Company.  Jeanne was keen to praise the “Lego” building and its brand new urban farm, “The environment is so tasteful and respectful of the community it serves, and the message that comes across loudly is, ‘this is a welcoming place.’”

Click on the arrows below to see the event slide show:

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