BROOKLYN, N.Y. — Amidst the pouring rain, a crowd gathered at Green Valley Farm in the Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn, late on a Friday afternoon, March 31. Huddled in the greenhouse, they celebrated the promised expansion of the community garden, now that the legal battle to keep the land in community hands is behind them.
Back in January, Mayor de Blasio cancelled plans to sell the city land to a private housing developer for just one dollar. The Mayor’s announcement came after a protracted multiyear fight about the future of the Green Valley Community Farm, including eviction threats and legal action.
“The Green Valley Community Farm victory ensures that farmers can continue the garden’s 20-year legacy of growing and distributing fresh produce to Brooklyn residents,” said Paula Segal, attorney at the Community Development Project of the Urban Justice Center and founder of 596 Acres. (596 Acres is a nonprofit organization that advocates for community land access, and triggered a campaign to save the farm after uncovering a list of 18 active garden sites that the New York City Housing Preservation and Development department was willing to sell to developers for only one dollar.)
Community farms are among key community-stewarded spaces that give vitality to New York City. A recent report by the Citizens Committee for Children of New York finds that Brownsville faces considerable economic disparities and poor access to critical resources. As a result, 40 percent of Brownsville residents live in poverty and 45 percent rely on food stamps — more than double the rate for the city at large. The community garden gives residents greater access to fresh, locally sourced food, while maintaining community control over the land to ensure that it is used to meet the needs of residents.
“Green Valley gardeners have been tilling the soil with one hand and reading eviction notices in the other for the last two years,” said Brenda Thompson-Duchene, of Isabahlia Ladies of Elegance Foundation, which operates the food production programs and market at Green Valley. “Now we can turn our energy back to healthy foods that help Brooklyn residents thrive and continue to ensure our garden is an oasis for all our Brownsville neighbors and New York City residents.”
Spring will usher in new growth for the community garden as a planned extension breaks ground. The farm will expand its current greenhouse to accommodate an aquaponics system. Aquaponics is the fusion of aquaculture (raising fish) and hydroponics (growing plants in water, without soil).
“The new aquaponics system will give Brownsville residents more access to fresh, locally sourced food and the opportunity to build even greater food security and community autonomy,” said Mara Kravitz, director of partnerships for 596 Acres.
The farm also hosts a green market in partnership with the Department of Health. The market sells fresh produce at affordable prices and accepts Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program(SNAP) vouchers (commonly known as food stamps).
For the dedicated community members who braved cold March rains to celebrate the victory, the farm clearly is an important cornerstone in Brownsville. Neighbors spanning at least three generations mingled while enjoying homemade soup, carrot cake and cookies. The scene felt more like a gathering of friends in someone’s living room than a groundbreaking.
“Being close to the land and producing our own food nourishes our bodies and souls,” said Thompson-Duchene. “We’re not only growing plants and — soon — raising fish; we’re revitalizing our community and bringing much needed resources here to Brownsville. Through this farm, our community and neighbors are benefiting from the land — instead of developers reaping in profits at the expense of our community.”
More photos from the celebration are available upon request. Renderings of the aquaponics system also are available. Please contact Amy Lebowitz (email@example.com) or Loretta Kane (Loretta@caminopr.com) for photos and/or drawings.