In pop culture, New York City is a concrete jungle. But the reality is that the city is full of gardens, and gardeners devoted to increasing the city's quotient of green community spaces, home grown food, and healthy soil. And hundreds of these enthusiastic gardeners and food activists gathered last weekend for workshops, conversation and inspiration at Making Brooklyn Bloom fest at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.
Owen Taylor of Just Food was just one of the activists at Making Brooklyn Bloom working to improve the connections between city communities and the farmers who grow their food -- in this case with a special focus on communities lower on the economic ladder, which still often find themselves without a good supermarket nearby that provides affordable and varied fresh foods. You may have heard of Just Food recently thanks to the group's new City Chicken Guide to safely and legally raising chickens and harvest fresh eggs right in the city.
Between bites of a New York-grown apple, Taylor described Just Food's efforts, which are pretty inspiring: the group runs a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program in all five boroughs, and also takes on the issue of "food security" with its City Farms effort, which supports city gardeners in growing, distributing and marketing more food within their own neighborhoods.
Elba Cornier of Olympus Garden Club told me a lot about the frustrations of Fort Greene-area gardeners who fear they will lose lovingly cultivated green spaces to the Atlantic Yards development. Olympus, which is only about four years old, works with other garden clubs to share knowledge and further the love of gardening -- and Cornier, at least, sees it as part of a larger goal of making the city much healthier and more livable.
In early afternoon, a standing-room-only crowd packed into the BBG's auditorium to hear keynote speaker Joan Dye Gussow, author of "This Organic Life: Confessions of a Suburban Homesteader," hold forth on the state of food and agriculture in the U.S. -- and she was not feeling sanguine. Calling the global trade in fruit and vegetables "sending chilled water around the world," Gussow made a great case for instead reviving local food networks, especially after last fall's spinach, tomato, lettuce and scallion scares -- the result of crops being concentrated into a few types being raised in a few massive growing areas, instead of distributed around the country and closer to the people who eat them.
The annual Making Brooklyn Bloom day is part of Brooklyn GreenBridge, a community horticulture program run by the BBG, and sponsor of the yearly Greenest Block in Brooklyn Contest. If you're looking for advice on your garden or windowbox, or to make connections with other garden, farming and windowbox devotees, GreenBridge seems like a great place to start -- call 718-623-7250 to find out more about its' street gardening clinics.