S:US Urban Farms: Gardens Of Hope
Walk into April’s apartment and through the back door you’ll step into a courtyard full of garden beds with squash, tomatoes, marigolds, basil, spinach, thyme and blueberries.
For the past four years that April has lived on the first floor, she has managed this urban farm oasis on behalf the 15 other residents of the S:US building on Classon Avenue in Brooklyn, which provides a permanent home for adults with behavioral health challenges. The urban farm, which gets just enough sunlight, is April’s sanctuary. Every morning she visits the garden to pray, meditate and tend to the fruits and vegetables.
“I feel privileged. It’s very beautiful out here. It has helped me take care of my body and reminds me that living a saner, healthier life is possible.”
April shared her sentiments about her experience working in the urban farm during S:US’ Fourth Annual Harvest Luncheon held September 12, where she explained the impact it has had on her health and wellness, work ethic, sense of purpose and overall quality of life. The luncheon, attended by individuals served by S:US, staff, community partners and volunteers, celebrated the season’s successful harvest of organic produce at S:US residences throughout New York City. In partnership with Candle Cafe, S:US presented a farm-to-table menu featuring selections made from produce harvested by S:US urban farmers.
S:US’ Urban Farms, ranked one of the coolest in New York City, is open to all people served by S:US who are interested in agriculture as an employment pursuit or casual hobby. This includes formerly homeless veterans and people with histories of mental illness, people with developmental disabilities and people living with HIV/AIDS. In the past year, April and S:US’ other urban farmers cultivated over 2,000 square feet of land and harvested 3,000 pounds of produce, including 57 unique species of fruits, vegetables and herbs.
In the first year that April began gardening at Classon all of the plants died but she tried again and again and today the produce she grew from seeds is abundant. The garden has become a convening place for the residents in the building and when the harvest is prime, April cooks many of the vegetables and shares them with her neighbors, extending health and wellness benefits of the garden to them as well. April’s experience has ignited her passion for fresh produce. April now works as a coordinator for a Community Supported Agriculture vegetable share targeting low-income community residents.
Looking back on her past, April chuckles as she recalls believing there was no way she could take care of another living being. For years she wanted a dog and a garden and now she’s proud to have both. April plans to continue gardening for a long time. For her, it has been a path to recovery and has helped her focus on her other interests.
It is because of the stability provided by S:US and the opportunity to be engaged in urban farming that April says she was able to turn her life around. “S:US has had a profound impact on my life. Anything is possible, no matter how many times you fail.”
To view photos of the Fourth Annual S:US Harvest Luncheon, visit S:US’ Facebook page.