Category Archives: Community Gardening

Ruby Bridges Mural by Sharon De la Cruz

A Hunt’s Point Walk: Part 2

You are invited to trace the steps of a few dozen young Americans (ages 16-38) who have walked their neighborhood.  American history expresses itself in stone and paint, plants and asphalt as you will see.  Enjoy these points of interest:

1. Hunt’s Point Riverside Park
2. Bright Temple A.M.E. Church
3. Engine 94, a beautiful fire house
4. Bryant Hill Community Garden & Old NY Townhouses
5. Garrison Park (once envisioned as a sculpture park for the Bronx River)
6. South Bronx Greenway
7. Ruby Bridges Mural by Sharon De La Cruz

This article is dedicated to two active citizens in the Hunt’s Point community: Cybeale Ross has been a Hunt’s Point home owner since 1957.  She has marched with Mothers on the Move for improved schools, traffic-calming street enhancements, and more over the last several decades.  Paul Lipson helped establish The Point community center in the early 1990s after earlier success with Bronx Frontier, a local and popular green business.

Cybeale Ross & Paul Lipson of Hunts Point
Cybeale Ross and Paul Lipson
Hunt’s Point Riverside Park
Hunt’s Point Riverside Park

Bright Temple AME Church DSCN9527 DSCN9422 Hunt's Point Townhouses Garrison Sculpture ParkDSCN9479

Begin at Hunt’s Point Riverside Park now enjoyed in its second and most recent phase.  This waterfront park at the base of Lafayette Avenue was established in the 1990s through many hands after an executive at The Point (a younger Majora Carter) was forced to spend a moment at this former dead end street following her dog’s independent spirit.  The original park had several magical weeping willows and a simple boat launch.  The professionally designed green patch you see today opened around 2006.  It has garnered national attention and won the Rudy Bruner Award for excellence in the urban environment.  Next door is The Point’s Campus for Arts and the Environment as well as Rocking the Boat.

Walk up the hill along Lafayette Avenue to its intersection with Faile Street, named for a wealthy nineteenth century resident according to John McNamara’s History in Asphalt: the origin of Bronx Street and Place Names.  You’ll notice as you go many younger trees planted in the public right-of-way along curbs, on side streets and even with relatively new traffic medians.  Hunt’s Point has had several waves of urban forestry enhancement since the 1980s, especially since the late 1990s.  This short walk takes you past the successful product of three distinct tree planting campaigns!

On your right is Bright Temple AME Church.  This stone neo-Gothic former single-family mansion was built circa 1860 by a family that manufactured printing presses–including for the New York Times in the 1800s.  This building is a great place to consider ethnic succession within Hunt’s Point.  An English-descended family, whose land extended down to the nearby Bronx River, was the first to occupy it.  Some time after the contents of the house were auctioned off following the death of that family’s patriarch, a Jewish Synagogue was established (1919).  In the post-World War II period, Bright Temple AME Church assumed ownership to serve the expanding African-American population.  Skirt Faile Street to see each side of this richly ornamented building.  The church photo you see above was taken around 2005 for Bronx River Sankofa’s founder by the late great photographer and musician Ibrahim Gonzalez.

Without crossing the street, continue along Faile Street until you reach Seneca Avenue.  As you approach this corner, look at the Renaissance-inspired fire department building from the “roaring twenties” on your left.  Engine 94‘s open-air third floor facing Seneca Ave. combined with light-colored terra-cotta decorations contract handsomely with red brick to evoke Old Italy.

Now turn toward the industrial border of Hunt’s Point and walk one block along Seneca Avenue to Bryant Avenue.  John McNamara’s book reports that, “Its proximity to streets dedicated to American poets Longfellow, Whittier, and Drake would seem to be reason enough to honor William Cullen Bryant.”  Once at the corner of Seneca and Bryant, turn left and walk half-way into the block passing the first open lot inhabited by rabbits and chickens.  Several steps ahead, you will see a community garden on your left unusual in its abundance of trees.  You’ve arrived at Bryant Hill Community Garden.  Taino Indian traditions live here under the guidance of local gardener Lucia Hernandez whose circle have succeeded the first generation of gardeners who preserved this oasis at least one generation ago.  Hunt’s Point was largely a walk-to-work district 100 years ago when it was sometimes called “Little Pittsburgh” owing to its abundance of light and heavy industry.  Notice the brightly colored and richly ornamented townhouses across the street from the garden where earlier generations lived.  At that time, German was the Bronx’s second most common language.

Next we’ll see what may yet become Garrison Sculpture ParkContinue along Bryant Avenue to the corner where it meets Garrison Avenue, then cross the street–while walking in the same direction–and look down-hill along Garrison.  Standing at this intersection of Garrison and Bryant avenues, you’ll notice a shabby patch of green with moderately tall trees just a few blocks away where land meets water.  Don’t be fooled by the residential tower in the visible distance; that’s the neighborhood of Soundview across the Bronx River.  While this park-in-progress has long since been declared official city land, no effort to improve it has been completed.  Many times, this waterfront site has been cleaned, composted, planted and re-designed.  Of the formal designs, including one by Pratt for a riverside amphitheater, none have substantially transformed the site and made it a destination for recreation seekers.  Over thirty years of planning and false starts have passed in the process.  Bronx River Restoration Project Incorporated (founded in 1974), predecessor of the Bronx River Alliance (founded in 2001), first envisioned a park here at the end of the 1970s.

In 2003, Alcoa Corp. proposed partial financing for a sculpture park here following on schematic drawings complete with an amphitheater developed by an out of state college.

Turn and walk in the opposite direction along Garrison Avenue to the busy commercial street with shops in the near distance.  That’s Hunt’s Point Avenue.  Find 889 Hunt’s Point Avenue across the street.  It’s a great location from which to appreciate the emerging South Bronx Greenway.  Check it out!  You are surrounded by the following relatively new amenities funded by your federal tax dollars (2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act): uniform tree guards, public benches, many new trees (the ones with small trunk diameters planted off the sidewalk), permeable pavements via Belgian blocked walkways curbside, new stylized lighting fixtures, and richly planted in-street medians.

Sharon De La Cruz and the Urban Art Program of NYC’s Department of Transportation provide us with our final stop, Ruby Walks (Walking Series)Please turn toward the busy Bruckner Expressway whizzing above street level one block away and walk toward it along Hunt’s Point Avenue.  If you’re walking this tour in 2014 or 2015, you’ll see Sharon’s group of paintings depicting a girl in multiples clasped to the wall of the bridge over the train tracks (between Garrison Avenue and Bruckner) here.  Read all about it in DNAinfo, the Hunt’s Point Express and/ or Nilka Martell’s piece in the Bronx Free Press.

EXPLORE Hunt’s Point Walk #1 BY CLICKING HERE.

A Hunt’s Point Walk: Part 1

March 11, 2013 walk with The Point CDCWelcome to our first on-line Hunt’s Point walking tour!

In two parts, you’ll see this New York City neighborhood including the westerly streets that were divided from it by the Bruckner Expressway and now called “Longwood.”  Tour no. 2 is a shorter (1 hour) walk including parks, historic structures, and shout-outs to local civic boosters.  Click here to enjoy that alternate Hunt’s Point journey.

The picture you see above comes from Bronx River Sankofa’s first Hunt’s Point tour.  It was given in March 2013. The final on-street guided tours were conducted in summer 2014.  While most Sankofa tours were attended primarily by those over 25 years in age, it was fun to have a young adult audience for these neighborhood explorations.  Now it’s your turn to make the trip!

Please note that all text in colors other than black are hyperlinks you may click on to explore a site further.  All photos may be seen larger and in greater detail by clicking on them.

WALK 1 (two hour tour) points of Interest:
A. The Point: where community and creativity connect
B. 889 Hunt’s Point Avenue (incubator of big ideas)
C. The South Bronx Greenway
D. Yes She Can Mural
E (5). Hunt’s Point’s Post Office reflects citizens’ ambitions for their neighborhood
F. Corpus Christi Monastery
G. Hunt’s Point Recreation Center
H. P.S. 48 where students and teachers have revived interest in the Joseph Rodman Drake Park Cemetery and Enslaved African Burial Ground
I. Barretto Community Garden
J (10). American Bank Note Company printing complex
K. SEBCO (South East Bronx Community Organization)
L. Hunts Point Library
M. St. Athanasius Roman Catholic Church
N. Casita Maria Center for Arts and Education
O (15). Banana Kelly, an iconic Bronx Street made famous in biographies and hip hop lore
P. Mothers on the Move, a center of local activism
Q. Rainey Park, almost one whole block of green space where housing stood 60 years ago
R. PS 39 building once housed Longwood Arts Gallery, Pregones Theater, and Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Bronx office.  It is now the Holcolm L. Rucker School of Community Research, a high school
S. Police Athletic League (Longwood Center)
T (20). Longwood Historic District
U. Prospect Hospital (where Bronx Frontier was born; See Gardening and Garvey article)
V. Dra. Evelina Antonetty Way
W. Casa Amadeo, where Afro-Caribbean music lives!

START: The Point Community Development Corporation is headquartered at 940 Garrison Avenue (3 blocks from the Hunt’s Point station of the no. 6 train line). This indoor/outdoor youth-focused community center was built a century ago as part of the sprawling American Bank Note Company’s printing complex anchored across the street. It later became a bagel factory before falling into cliche illicit uses by the 1980s. This industrial gem was re-purposed as a youth-centered community center in the early 1990s largely by staff from Seneca Center– formerly on Hunt’s Point Avenue– where they did similar work. As the type of funding Seneca sought began to seem unreliable support for non-traditional youth work like theater, key Seneca staff established The Point two blocks away.

The Point CDC
Please walk north along Garrison Avenue in the direction of the nearest visibly busy street with shops just one block away. That’s Hunt’s Point Avenue. Once at the intersection, turn right and walk a few stores deeper into the Hunt’s Point neighborhood. Stop at 889 Hunt’s Point Avenue where the Hunt’s Point Alliance for Children is located.

 

STOP 2. Many social entrepreneurial projects have been based here beginning with an annex to The Point. The Point leased this storefront for community arts programming here around 2000 before sub-leasing the space to the then new Sustainable South Bronx (SSB) in 2001 founded by Majora Carter. SSB moved to the American Bank Note Co. building we will see later.  Then, for two years–still under lease from The Point–the Bronx Museum of the Arts operated an artists-in-residence program there while administering the Hunt’s Point Fish Parade.

889 Hunt's Point AvenueThe following five years were guided by local artist Alejandra Delphin (already on-site as a BMA artist in residence) who remade the space into a print-making studio (Studio 889), sharing the space through 2008 with Michael Wiggins’ theater group Mud/Bone Collective who have relocated. The current tenant succeeded Delphin who does print and on-line graphic work and programming at The Point.

The sidewalk, street and view farther into Hunt’s Point Avenue from the place where you stand show most of the key elements in our next attraction.

STOP 3. The South Bronx Greenway  is a long-planned and recently expanded linear park and system of park-connectors between Hunt’s Point and Randall’s Island.  Click on the hyperlink that begins this section for a comprehensive impression of how much greener it’s made and may make these places.  The South Bronx Greenway won about $60,000,000.00 from the 2009 federal stimulus bill.  What you see here is a small part of what that money paid for–far beyond this street are new bike paths at the extreme other end of the greenway and more!  South Bronx GreenwayThe cobble-stone walkways surrounding the street trees, uniform tree guards, younger trees planted off the curb, metal benches, sleek new light posts, and generously planted medians that calm traffic are just part of this new amenity.  Omar Freilla of Green Worker Cooperatives, just over a decade ago, developed a survey for locals to express their hopes and wishes for its design once the original Sustainable South Bronx team won a million dollar grant to study and propose designs for this relatively new expansion of the local tree canopy!

Continue to walk in the same direction–southwest–along Hunt’s Point Avenue on the same block until you approach the last apartment building before the US Post Office.  Stop just beyond 823 Hunt’s Point Avenue and look up at the mural covering the stucco-faced south wall.

STOP 4. Yes She Can mural by Majora Carter Group, LLC
!Si Ella Puede!/ Yes She Can was painted c. 2009 (fence panels added later).  Majora Carter Group, LLC hired Goundswell to execute the design concept, which they jointly solicited from community members.  Don’t move, improve has been a Bronx rallying cry since the 1970s and this woman-focused image is a great update to that concept.  Read more about it by clicking here.
Yes She Can MuralTanya Fields worked on this mural for the Majora Carter Group.  Tanya(b.1980-) is CEO/ Founder/ Executive Director of The Blk Projek. She holds a bachelors degree from Baruch College/CUNY in Political Science with a minor in Black and Hispanic Studies. Fields moved to the Longwood neighborhood of the Bronx from her native Harlem in late 2001 in search of affordability. She has had a long history of local civic participation as a member of Mothers on the Move (MoMs), Sustainable South Bronx and other groups. Tanya sees unity between culture and ecology.  She promotes this vision with events centered on healthful food, yoga and more. She means to empower and link progressive African-American women and Latinas in concrete community building that improves housing, diet, social and career experience in sustainable ways that are self generated.

Tanya’s a powerful public speaker and writer. She is featured in the book The Next Eco Warriors: 22 Young Men and Women Who are Saving the Planet, edited by Emily Hunter with a forward by Farley Mowat, published 2011.

You’ll want to see the front of the post office next door so continue a few more steps to the end of the block and turn right onto Lafayette Avenue. Now walk to the middle of the block so you can see the entrance to this low-rise building where it forms the corner of Lafayette and Manida Street.

STOP 5. Hunt’s Point’s Post Office mirrors citizens’ ambitions for the neighborhood.  Cybeale Ross has lived on this block since 1958 and long been involved in preserving it.  Manida’s Street’s 800 block has long been among the best preserved in the whole district.

Hunt's Point Post OfficeBefore this relatively new branch was constructed, earlier generations knew their closest USPS station as the one that remains on Westchester Avenue between Freeman and Simpson–quite a walk!  Mrs. Ross made a point of attending meetings surrounding the establishment of this branch.  The building reflects that wisdom.  Note that vehicular traffic is oriented onto the commercial streets  and away from Manida’s tree-lined calm.  The low-rise scale and planted courtyard were her ideas too.

Across the street on Lafayette Avenue and just beyond Manida Street towers a stone-clad religious cloister you couldn’t miss if you tried.

STOP 6. Corpus Christi Monastery  is located at 1230 Lafayette Avenue.  It was constructed in 1890.  According to the American Institute of Architects Guide to New York City, “The best time to visit this cloistered community of Dominican nuns is on Sunday afternoon, when they sing their office.”Corpus Christi Monastery  This black and white image was taken around 2005 for Bronx River Sankofa’s founder by the late great photographer and musician Ibrahim Gonzalez.

Locals call the field at the intersection of Lafayette and Manida Street Manida Park—not it’s official name—and have come to enjoy it’s modern recreation center visible from our last two sites. Walk along the broad field of this park until you reach 765 Manida Street.

STOP 7. Hunt’s Point Recreation Center (not shown) is operated by the Department of Parks and Recreation of the City of New York.  It is very active with all kinds of activities for all ages 12 months of the year.  It’s also one of the newest recreation centers anywhere in the city.

Our next destination is the corner ahead of us. We won’t be visiting but simply looking over to it where Manida Street and Spofford Avenue cross. Do you see the imposing red brick schoolhouse one block away to your left?

STOP 8. P.S. 48 where students and teachers have revived interest in the Joseph Rodman Drake Park Cemetery and Enslaved African Burial Ground.  See how they publish their research by clicking here!

P.S. 48Bronx African Burial Ground

Take Spofford Avenue one block farther away from P.S. 48 walking down-hill to Barretto Street–which you’ll walk half-of-one-block into for the first green space you see to your left.  You’ll know you’re approaching it because of its distinctive foundation planting outside the fence in the public right-of-way bordering the sidewalk.

STOP 9. Barretto Community Garden was one of the first community gardens in Hunt’s Point.

Barretto Street Garden DSCN9305
Double back up Barretto Street to Spofford Avenue, turn left so you are continuing down the gentle hill —passing Casanova Street—and join Tiffany Street. Now turn right.  Be mindful that you’re on a heavily trafficked commercial route as you head north. The Bruckner Expressway will be visible in the distance. Where Tiffany reconnects you with Lafayette Avenue, a massive twentieth century red brick industrial building will command your attention on your right (across from Corpus Christi Monastery).

STOP 10. American Bank Note Company printing complex (built 1911) is an official NYC Landmark.  Read all about it in its official designation report by clicking here.  This highly productive facility once employed hundreds who worked in three consecutive shifts.  Among it’s many products were South American currencies and American Express Traveler’s Checks.

American Bank Note BuildingTiffany Street unfolds with great sites as we continue toward, below, and immediately on the other side of the Bruckner Expressway above head. Now, at the intersection of the Bruckner Boulevard (at street level) and Tiffany, a powerful community development group presents buildings visible on both north and south sides of the street.

 

STOP 11. SEBCO (South East Bronx Community Organization) was founded in 1968 and has done a great deal to improve the lives of many in the Hunt’s Point-Longwood neighborhoods.  Much has been written about this group over the years.  To your left is a low-rise health center they initiated over a decade ago.  The tall senior housing facility on the right (although it faces the next block: Southern Boulevard) has the name “Sister Thomas Apartments” facing you.  Housing and health are just two of their areas of action.  Father Louis Gigante of St. Athanasius Church and other locals formed the South East Bronx Community Organization (SEBCO) as a community development non-profit. Many came to know SEBCO for having painted on some of the buildings they rehabilitated the words “Father Louis Gigante Rebuilding the South Bronx.” This large declaration was seen for decades from the Bruckner Expressway.  Learn more by visiting their website here.

Looking just one block ahead on Tiffany Street, let’s head to the Renaissance-inspired building at 877 Southern Boulevard.

STOP 12. Hunts Point Library.  This site indicates a rich man’s literacy revolution. The Andrew Carnegie endowment built libraries throughout North American and Britain. The Hunt’s Point Branch was the final NYC branch built under this endowment; it opened in 1928.  At one time, the New York Public Library houses a substantial Latino literature department here.  Today, you would find a similar specialty collection at the Bronx Library Center a few miles to the north.

Hunt's Point Library on Father Gigante PlazaFather Gigante Plaza
This important public building is situated on Father Gigante Plaza, a pedestrian-oriented public open space framed by a gated park and fountain to the south (maintained by SEBCO), Fox Street on the west and our next attraction.

STOP 13. St. Athanasius Roman Catholic Church

Church interiorChurch exterior

Skirt the church building, leaving the plaza, and examine its beautiful westerly windows on Fox Street. Then continue along Fox 1.5 blocks (passing Barretto St.) to 928 Fox Street.

STOP 14. Casita Maria Center for Arts and Education

Casita MariaSouth Bronx Cultural Trail

The Casita Maria Center for Arts & Education has developed their own South Bronx Culture Trail.  Their mission is to empower youth and their families by creating a culture of learning through high quality social, cultural, and educational opportunities.

They welcome kids at the age of six and stay with them until college while providing family learning through the arts.  They distinguish themselves in the plurality of ways in which they attract community members to utilize their services.  Their students introduce their parents to their cultural programs, while their public programs guide parents to wide ranging education programs.  Founded in 1934, they have served many who have gone on to enrich the world through culture, public service, education, and business.  Alumni and program providers have been many.  Some highlights include:

Tina Ramirez, Founder of Ballet Hispanico

Joe Conzo, Jr., Photographer

DJ GrandWizzard Theodore, Hip Hop pioneer

Hon. Annabel Palma, NYC Council Member

David Gonzalez, Journalist and Photographer

Wandee “WanderPop” Candelario, Dancer

Rita Moreno, Singer/Actress/Dancer

Dave Valentin, Latin Jazz Musician and Composer

BG 183, Tats Cru

Lorraine A. Cortes Vazques, 65th Secretary of State of New York

Marta Rivera, Educator

Francisco Molina Reyes II, Photographer

Americo Casiano, Poet

Double back along Fox street to Father Gigante Plaza where the church we visited stands. Now walk away from the plaza along Tiffany Street so that you are seeing low-rise private homes to your left. Join E. 163rd Street two blocks away, then walk along that street to where E. 163rd and Kelly streets cross.  Looking into Kelly Street, take a moment to appreciate the crescent shape of this block as well as it’s early 20th century feel.

Kelly Street

 

 

STOP 15. Kelly Street (aka Banana Kelly) is an iconic Bronx Street.

It’s been made famous around the world by memoirs of locals including General Colin Powell who recall living and playing here.

Walk slowly down this crescent-shaped street toward the park one block ahead.  Next, turn right and find 928 Intervale Avenue.

Mothers on the Move

 

STOP 16. Mothers on the Move (MoMs) is a community organizing group. There has been good power sharing between Latinos and African-Americans here.  Joyce Culler, a long-standing Bronx Community Board 2 member, is a MOMs board member. MoMs works on education, transportation and other issues.  It has been led for over a decade by Wanda Salaman, a modest and highly effective Latina of African descent.

Next door is a convenience shop where you may want to grab a drink and a snack so you can enjoy a break in the park across the street.

STOP 17 (SHADE/REST/BATHROOM BREAK). Rainey Park has athletic fields rimmed with shaded strolling paths and benches and a comfort station.  It symbolizes the Bronx rebuilt.  Similar to most community gardens, it occupies land where housing stood 60 years ago.  Today, it’s a park named for a major local African-American civic leader–William F. Rainey (1920-1985)–who once ran the local Police Athletic League.  Once you’ve enjoyed the charms of this relatively recently renovated park, proceed to the school anchored at its southern end.

DSCN9569

STOP 18. The PS 39 building once housed Longwood Arts Gallery, Pregones Theater, and Cornell University’s Cooperative Extension Bronx office. It is now the Holcolm L. Rucker School of Community Research, a high school.  This is where a young and blessed Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture) attended school too.  Carmichael’s legacy deserves to be remembered as we celebrate so many anniversaries of the Civil Rights Movement.

Public SchoolDSCN9559

Across the street at 991 Longwood Avenue (at Beck Street) is the most recent incarnation of a longstanding children’s play/learning/health institution.

Police Athletic LeagueSTOP 19. Police Athletic League (Longwood Center).  The building you see here dates to 1996.  Since 1914 PAL has been serving New York City’s youth with safe, structured programming designed to engage boys and girls in positive activities that improve their quality of life, present developmental opportunities, and offer the prospect of a brighter future. What started out as the closing of streets by the New York City Police Department to enable the city’s unsupervised youth to play became a city-wide Cops & Kids movement and later national model that brought communities and police together in ways that prevail to this day.

Cross Longwood Avenue into Beck Street. Explore the length of this block until Beck Street meets E. 156th Street.

STOP 20. Longwood Historic District  According to the Lehman College Art Gallery website, “Built at the turn of the 20th century, the Longwood Historic District is an enclave of primarily two and three story row houses constructed in anticipation of the population surge expected into the area.  Real estate developer George B. Johnson purchased the old S. B. White estate on speculation and hired architect Warren C. Dickerson (also known for his work on Mott Haven Historic District structures) to design and construct houses.  By the time that the IRT subway line (today’s no. 6 train) from Manhattan reached the neighborhood in 1904, Dickerson’s houses were completed and clustered nearby.”  Read the complete entry by clicking here.  See a simulation of the old White mansion on the SE corner of Beck Street and E. 156th Street.

Longwood Historic District
Make a right on E. 156th Street. One block away is a white glazed brick building at the corner of Kelly Street.

STOP 21. Prospect Hospital (not shown) is where Irma Fleck hatched a late 1970s green business with help from a veteran of the federal War on Poverty scene.  Bronx Frontier was born here.  See the earlier Gardening and Garvey article to learn more about that Bronx success story.
Continue along E. 156th Street for three blocks until you arrive at Prospect Avenue. Please look up at the street signs on this corner by Public School 130.

STOP 22. Dra. Evelina Antonetty Way was unveiled in 2011.  The street sign is located at the intersection of Prospect Avenue and E. 156th Street.

Dra. Evelina Antonetty WayTake time to reflect and be empowered by the legacy of Dr. Evelina Lopez Antonetty (1922-1984).  “Titi” or “Auntie,” as she was often called, created United Bronx Parents and was a force for establishing bi-lingual education locally and nationally.  Among her hundreds of accomplishments, she protested, periodically shut down filming for, and got twenty jobs for local people-of-color in the filming of Fort Apache, a fictional film set in the Bronx.  Her mural across the street (below) reads her words from 1980: “We will never stop struggling here in the Bronx, even though they’ve destroyed it around us.  We would pitch tents if we have to rather than move from here.  We would fight back, there is nothing we would not do.  They will never take us away from here.  I feel very much a part of this and I’m never going to leave.  And, after me, my children will be here to carry on…I have very strong children…and very strong grandchildren.”

Evelina Antonetty MuralTiti’s daughter Anita Antonetty once provided career counseling services to the youths of Rocking the Boat in Hunt’s Point.  Many were pleasantly surprised to encounter a mature Latina deeply aware of Bronx ecology issues and trends.  Anita continues to make her mark on the Bronx sustainability front through community boards and beyond.

Our final destination for today’s tour is across from the nearest train station. Please make a right on Prospect Avenue and walk toward the very visible train tracks above Westchester Avenue in the near distance. Just before you reach this refurbished and remodeled Victorian Revival-styled train station, you’ll see 786 Prospect Avenue. You have arrived!

Casa Amadeo

CONCLUSION: Casa Amadeo is regarded as a national landmark.  It’s a music store specializing in Afro-caribbean sounds.  You can even buy musical instruments there.  If you’re lucky, you may visit when a spontaneous jam session is happening live in the back room.  The owner, Mike Amadeo, is a musician and composer who is well known in traditional Latin music circles.   The elegant Old Bronx building they occupy once houses both Tito Puente and Celia Cruz.
DSCN9568 DSCN9565

Thank you for walking with us! Bronx River Sankofa invites you to always move forward strengthened by the wisdom of reflecting periodically!

Gardening and Garvey: a reminiscence of 1980’s sustainability in Hunt’s Point

McLymont w Zoo Doo posterAnchored in God and family, Fritz-Earle McLymont, business consultant par excellence, conducted this interview with us on Monday, July 21 at a midtown Manhattan office building. We were fortunate to be granted two hours between his many projects including waste-to-energy initiatives in East Africa. He shared memories of his time directing a once alive and thriving Bronx Frontier Development Corporation–a paragon of social, economic, and environmental sustainability in the late 1970s through 1991 or so. Background information came from an interview with another former Bronx Frontier employee (who still works in Hunt’s Point), the Bronx Museum of the Art’s catalog “Devastation/Resurrection: the South Bronx” dated November 9 [1979] – January 13,1980, and Jill Jonnes’ book South Bronx Rising: the rise, fall, and resurrection of an American City published in 2002 by Fordham University Press. Finally and potently, a contemporaneous account of Bronx Frontier dated 1978 lives on-line at Mother Earth News which proved invaluable. What follows is a summary of the McLymont interview with relevant notes for context.
Barretto Street Garden
Bronx River Sankofa followers may remember our summer 2012 photographer’s tour of three neighborhoods including Woodlawn Cemetery, West Farms, and Hunt’s Point. The last stop in that tour was the public art scene of found objects and folkloric carpentry, a fruit tree orchard, and traditional Afro-Caribbean music also known as Barretto Street Garden (shown above). At that time, our narrative focused on the way the Trust for Public Land under Andy Stone’s direction had orchestrated the legal transfer of that green patch into public park land with Henry Font (deceased) acting as coordinator. Font lived directly across the street in a brick apartment building where relatives remain. During that tour, we hadn’t talked about how all that rich soil—supporting herbs, flowers, veggies, and fruit—got there. This article seeks to address that omission…and more!
Fritz-Earle McLymont became a consequential upstairs neighbor to Mr. Font for almost three years in the 80’s after returning to his adoptive United States following groundbreaking economic work within the Michael Manley government of Jamaica. Once back in the USA, a friend’s call compelled him to revisit a project of Bronx preservationist Irma Fleck he had consulted to before leaving America in the late 70’s. On-leave police officer (Bronx 41st precinct) and Bronx businessman Jack Flanagan convinced him he should take over leadership as Flanagan made his exit from an enterprise much more than a start-up by then with a substantial staff and annual operating revenues worth several million dollars. Fritz related this story that shows yet one more way the green movement is nothing new in the Bronx and that people of African ancestry have made important inputs even environmental insiders often no little about. Because the more popular published accounts of the life and times of Bronx Frontier make no mention of him, it’s the perfect Sankofa moment to reclaim a fuller American history!

Zoo Do poster
Barretto Street Garden remains a monument to the work of many hands over four plus decades. When Font and McLymont were neighbors, along with Freddy Ruffin (a local civic pillar originally from Louisiana living a few blocks away), they gardened heartily. Each man hailed from different parts of the African diaspora and shared a passion for growing his own food and sharing with others. Freddy and Fritz shared a keen respect for the writings of Pan-Africanist Marcus Garvey (1887-1940) and enjoyed a powerful friendship. McLymont’s Bronx Frontier was making vast quantities of compost a few blocks away on the waterfront and was able to steer more than a little to this vest pocket park between Spofford and Randall avenues, very near the later-built Hunt’s Point Recreation Center operated by NYC’s Department of Parks and Recreation.
Jill Jonnes’s book relates that Bronx Frontier went into partnership with the People’s Development Corporation (defunct housing group), the Green Guerillas (co-founded by Hattie Carthan of Magnolia Tree Earth Center), the New York Botanical Garden, and others to form the South Bronx Open Space Task Force. The Task Force was based at 1080 Leggett Avenue  on the same street as the Frontier very much on the industrial perimeter of the Hunt’s Point peninsula.  Bronx Frontier also had a teen-centered waterfront community garden a few blocks away within its composting complex where they processed the popular Zoo Doo organic fertilizer. It was no discreet success. Many papers including the New York Times and Wall Street Journal promoted their visionary product and staff. On pages 321 and 322 of South Bronx Rising, we read:
“Bronx Frontier had an exciting summer in 1978. The Chuck Wagon program, a mobile kitchen in a former bookmobile [mobile library], roved the streets teaching cooking and nutrition. It was extremely well received and was incorporated as a regular feature at a few local schools [and places frequented by seniors in the memory of McLymont]. Over on the “ranch” on the Hunt’s Point peninsula, the giant compost turner was in its test period [shown in the second to last photo below]. Mountainous piles of vegetable waist were being carted over from the nearby Hunt’s Point Produce Market [as arranged early on by Irma Fleck according to McLymont], then laboriously culled of unacceptable debris, then churned and shredded with leaves [from Westchester] and zoo manure. Eventually, this mixture came to be marketed as Zoo Doo, although the veggie component was abandoned as too much trouble. To everyone’s vast relief, it worked. By the end of the first summer, two thousand cubic yards of compost worth twenty-eight thousand dollars had been created. Some was stored, and the rest was distributed to seven new gardens and three that were in their second season.
Bronx Frontier was now inundated by officials eager to see the notorious South Bronx—visitors from Africa, Japan, Switzerland, England, and France. The interruptions became so hard to handle that a weekly show-and-tell was put together, including a bus tour through the rubble to the gardens, those little oases of love and pride.
Bronx Frontier decided to purchase a windmill to generate its own power for use in its composting operation. This elegant machine, tall and slender, was to whirl majestically above the ranch, catching the winds whipping across the small promontory [above the waters of the East River adjacent to the Hunt’s Point Water Pollution Control plant according to McLymont].”

Reference material

The passage you just read filled my mind as Fritz and I began our interview. He had come to the United States after spending formative years in Jamaica and gotten his start in economic development during the federal War on Poverty wherein he helped preserve the Clinton Hill neighborhood of Brooklyn and beyond. The Bronx was known to him from visits with family in the northern borough although he was living in a Tudor City penthouse at that time above Ralph Bunche Park with views of the river and United Nations. Professional contacts connected him to Bronx Frontier founder Irma Fleck who he remembers as a passionate visionary for the whole Bronx. He remembers successfully interviewing with her just several months shy of his fortieth birthday at her Prospect Hospital office (See building in final picture below) within the Longwood neighborhood. During the interview, she queried him on his knowledge of compost—he’d been composting since teen years. It was lights, cameras, action back then in 1976. This seed was so early in sprouting, Jack Flanagan had not yet been brought on by Mrs. Fleck who was a doctor’s wife, her life spanning the Bronx’s transition from Jewish to Latino dominance. Let’s contextualize this moment in Bronx history: President Jimmy Carter had not yet arrived for his world-famous visit (1977) and GreenThumb was not yet established as a city-wide technical assistance resource for community gardeners (1978).
Stewarding economic development and agricultural innovation was familiar to Fritz. He arrived at Bronx Frontier with credentials in the business of agriculture beyond American shores. He recalls spending a lot of time with Fleck who saw real world connections between the beauty of our cityscapes and the health of urban dwellers. For about one year, he developed a business plan, a list of funding options (some awarded during and following his term), and helped groom Flanagan in urban agriculture as a means of community economic development. He arranged and brought Flanagan on a field trip to Canada and another to upstate New York to observe established models. Upstate, a less efficient dairy cow waste composting model provided an important example. Bronx Frontier would go with the Scarab compost turning system captured on page 96 of a Bronx Museum of the Arts catalog shown below in the upper right corner.  Click on the image to enlarge it!
Bronx Frontier scarab machine in upper right corner
Beyond its better known Zoo Doo business, Bronx Frontier also sponsored nine parks (including Barretto Street Garden), ran nutrition programs (initiated by Irma Fleck), operated teen-age pregnancy prevention classes in public schools and community centers (T.A.P.P.), and operated a farmers market at the junction of Bruckner Boulevard and Longwood Avenue. Locals came to enjoy produce sold there sourced both from local community gardens and upstate farmers who would bring their product to the people. Fritz has long been interested in using fresh produce in the service of addressing health issues in the Latino and African-American communities.

Fritz-Earle S. McLymont
The ambition of the group may have been easier to manage because Fritz was deeply rooted in the community. He was one of the few staff members aside from first-line workers who lived in Hunt’s Point. What was his philosophy? “I can’t cook from the living room. I have to cook in the kitchen. If I’m going to work here, I’ve got to live here!” Spoken like a true Garveyite. When I asked what some of the highlights of his tenure (approximately three years) as Executive Director were, he said Zoo Doo and completing a fellowship at Pratt Institute in Community Economic Development offered to leaders like him. Always in good company, Fritz handed over power to his successor with a very stable national model of socially-responsible green business in partnership with major forces for good like Cornell Cooperative Extension and the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Prospect Hospital
Prospect Hospital where Irma Fleck hatched Bronx Frontier.

Note: The author-interviewer, Morgan Powell, first learned of Zoo Doo as a teen summer participant in the Family Gardening program at the New York Botanical Garden around 1986.  His mother paid his tuition inspired by a neighbor’s child already in the program.

 

Learning from Farmers: 5 conferences in 5 months!

Black Farmers and Urban Gardeners–November 8 to 10, 2013

Making Brooklyn Bloom–March 8, 2014

NYCHA Grows With Its Gardeners–March 14, 2014

GreenThumb GrowTogether–March 29, 2014

Just Food–April 5-6, 2014

BUGs Conference 2013

Welcome to my scrapbook of a five month period. During that time, I learned a lot from farmers. It all began at the Black Farmers and Urban Gardeners Conference from November eight to ten in 2013. Aside from re-uniting with fellow food democracy activists, I had the privilege of having my mind blown by great minds like Tiffany Taulton who had this to say on education:
“I’m a member of the New York Permaculture Meet-Up. One of the focus areas of permaculture is to promote biodiversity: polyculture over monoculture. We need to end the monoculture of our educational system that locks our children up for twelve to seventeen years of their lives. They are locked away from their communities, not taught about their culture and community, and then expected to actually care about their communities. We need to take our education back into our own hands and teach our children the skills they need.
There should be more skill sharing, and apprenticeships so that children get the skills they need to succeed in jobs before they graduate. Maybe there should be some involvement with gardeners and education! There are a lot of students not served by conventional schools and a lot of people are unemployed. There should be a way for us to work together on this!”

Karen Washington

 

 

Next, I attended Making Brooklyn Bloom. It’s an annual celebration of community horticulture at Brooklyn Botanic Garden. This year, it was enjoyed on March eighth. Noted community gardening spokesperson Karen Washington provided the keynote address. I was honored she featured me in her power point as she emphasized the importance of storytelling in our field. She flashed images from the central Bronx tours of Easter 2012 which was videotaped and published by Bronxnet. I remain surprised and honored!

Butterfly Project-Charles Vasser
March fourteen saw the New York City Housing Authority annual conference called NYCHA Grows With Its Gardeners. Chuck Vasser dazzled his audience of veteran gardeners as he led them in a discussion of the essential role pollinators play in fruit development and fertile gardens. One by one, he named moths, butterflies, and bees’ impacts on the gardens we love. Find this wisdom on-line at The Butterfly Project  The Butterfly Project is a grass roots, volunteer-led, organization of New Yorkers with a common goal—to promote and assist in the planting of native plants in urban gardens and other public areas in order to create and strengthen resources for native pollinators. They strive to increase education about native plants while supporting the active participation of people of all ages in local community, school, and public gardens. By collaborating with local, city, and state organizations, the Butterfly Project seeks to advance efforts to sustain and increase habitat suitable for local wildlife. Thanks Chuck for distributing this knowledge with your network for all to apply!

GrowTogether
The New York City Department of Parks and Recreation’s community garden assistance program GreenThumb hosted their annual conference on March twenty-ninth. It’s called GrowTogether and attracts large numbers of participants from all five boroughs of New York City.  Ray Figueroa (seen talking to the chicken keeper of Brook Park at right) was a featured speaker.  The vast array of support and networking that characterizes this tradition is reflected in those who table their services. This year, they included:
Cornell Cooperative Extension,
New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets,
New York City Coalition Against Hunger and their Bronx CSA,
Five Borough Farm II of the Design Trust for Public Space,
Farming Concrete,
Urban Garden Connections representing both the Bronx Land Trust and Manhattan Land Trust,
Farm School NYC of Just Food,
New York City Beekeeping,
Brooklyn Queens Land Trust,
NYCHA Garden and Greening Program,
NYC Compost Project,
GreenBridge of Brooklyn Botanic Garden,
Citizen’s Committee for New York City,
Grow to Learn NYC,
Grow NYC,
City Solar,
NYCHA Resident Green Committee,
Bronx Green-Up,
GreenThumb,
New Yorkers for Parks,
Programs for Sustainable Planning and Development (Compost training),
596 Acres,
New York Restoration Project, and
student soap makers whose adult teachers provided them no promotional materials. Their hand made soaps are charming and practical!

 

Finally, Just Food hosted another well attended conference from April fifth to sixth. This year, it was held at Teachers College of Columbia University.

Lil of Harlem World

Lil Nickelson must have been the most fluid food promoter I met during the whole conference aside from Dennis Derryck of Corbin Hill Farm.  She writes a column in Harlem World, the on-line magazine.  Look for her food shopping tips and stories which are usually accompanied by mouth-watering recipes.  Dining with Miss Lil is sure to be essential reading once you get a taste.

 

I had the honor of brief interviews with one featured speaker and a farm student who attended. Suga Ray and Raphael Aponte are both attached to Just Food’s Farm School as current student and alumnus respectively. Here’s what they had to say!

Rafael Aponte

Rafael Aponte (Just Food Farm School class of 2012)
Rafael Aponte (age 30) of the Bronx, founded Rocky Acres Community Farm in May 2013 where he’s raising goats, peppers, onions, carrots, potatoes, basil, Mexican herbs, and cilantro varieties perfect for making sofrito. Other offerings like mushrooms are in development for future seasons—stay tuned! The interview below was conducted on Monday, April 7, 2014 at Giovanni’s Restaurant (579 Grand Concourse, Bronx).
Morgan Powell: How did you select your farm’s name?
Rafael Aponte: “Rocky Acres” was already a sign on site. We kept it. I would rather have a more revolutionary name but the neighbors wouldn’t be able to pronounce it. It’s pretty benign but we added the “community” part.
MP: What exposure to plants and farming did you have before Farm School?
RA: My mother maintained a “jungle” of houseplants which I played G.I. Joe in as a kid. We lived together near the Brook Avenue stop of the no. 6 train. At that time, my dad gardened in the Bruckner right-of-way before his garden got bull dozed, but I was not interested in his garden at all. When I got older and got my own apartment near Yankee Stadium, my mom gave me clippings or her plants. I got bitten by the gardening bug and I maintained those plants. Eventually, I was growing chili peppers and basil plants hydroponically. [laughter]

MP: Where did you attend high school and other schools?
RA: LaGuardia High School of Music and Art and Performing Arts. I focused on visual arts: printmaking, illustration, graphic arts, and photography.

Illness informs my commitment to farming. My class was the last at the elementary school on the Grand Concourse at 148th Street; it was closed because of asbestos. I attended college before cancer made it impossible to sustain my academics. I’m fine now but it’s not normal to be diagnosed with cancer at eighteen year old. I’ve had asthma since elementary school. I grew up in a polluted environment with highways ringing the neighborhood, an active commercial incinerator, and other things in Mott Haven. Sometimes I have to pace myself to get through farming chores but I’ve learned to expand my lung capacity. It’s getting easier.

MP: How do you identify ethnically?
RA: Ethnically, I’m Puerto Rican. Racially, I self-identify as Black. My father is darker than me. Upstate, there are many places where people never see people of color. I think some people think I’m Pakistani. [laughter]

MP: What motivated you to attend Farm School?
RA: It happened by accident. I was working in after-school education in Washington Heights, helping the youth to prepare for and gain admission to college.  I took them to schools all around the region. Somehow, I developed an interest in beekeeping as it was becoming legal within city limits. I attended a conference at Hostos Community College (probably GreenThumb GrowTogether) where many groups were tabling on gardening. There was information about beekeeping there. I subsequently met someone through the Socialism Conference who connected me with Farm School NYC. I don’t think I’d be on a farm now if it had not been for Farm School. That’s where I met Jalal Sabur [seen to the far right in a panel picture that opens this article]. We went on to farm together with my partner Nandi Cohen, a Cornell U. professor, at Wassaic Community Farm.

MP: What is your food sovereignty vision?
RA: I want people to think about producing their own food. I think once you see what goes into your food, it’s paradigm shifting. I also want low income communities to choose where their food comes from. If I can meet them at the right price point to make it sustainable for Rocky Acres Farm, and their getting value for the volume of food they need to consume, I think it’s a win-win.

MP: What’s your strategy to produce and deliver veggies, herbs, and meat to low income communities?
RA: My market is low income residents of Ithaca, NY. New York City is too far away. Ithaca’s a small town and it’s different from the Bronx. It’s more people driven rather than institutionally-oriented. I’ve been talking to my barber about distributing out of the barber shop. In Ithaca, the farmer’s market is very well attended, but not by local people of color. I think it’s not inclusive.

MP: What has been your biggest surprise in farming?
RA: I almost feel my life has separated into before and after farming. I’ve had more than one friend visit me and be scared by the quiet of rural life. Also, there’s a grading system for livestock. It’s made me imagine how enslaved people were graded at slave markets in the past. The experience has grounded me.

MP: You’re seeing things a city person would not typically see. What are some things you wish were common knowledge in the Bronxes of America?
RA: I’ve become a steward of life. Everyone should be a part of that process: seeing seeds develop to maturity. I would like to see a student-centered approach to teaching. My exposure to other learning environments tells me a participatory approach is better than rote learning.

 

Suga Ray (Just Food Farm School class of 2015)
Suga Ray is passionate about community gardening as a vehicle to grow the best seeds of his beloved Queensbridge Houses on New York City’s East River. Originally from south Jamaica, Queens, his family moved to the iconic Long Island City public housing development when he was two years old. It’s been tradition there, like many neighborhoods throughout the city, to memorialize those who pass away before their natural time with bottles of alcohol and candles. But things are about to change in this corner of New York if Suga Ray has anything to do with it. In concert with a vocal local senior citizen, a more enduring ritual of remembrance is coming into view in the form of new community gardens at one of the largest public housing developments in all five boroughs. What became shabby with time will renew itself with constant love and care in the best traditions of community horticulture—that’s the power of living green that all the money spent on ghetto liquor can’t buy.

Suga Ray

These new spaces will serve many needs of a wider cross-section of local residents in all the color and joy of nature. Suga Ray sees these new spaces as therapy for the mentally ill, perpetual job training for an emerging workforce, seasonal work for the formerly enprisoned who need low barriers to career entry and a welcome environment, respite for the bereaved, and enhanced beauty for all to see! He’s dedicated to a multi-generational and multi-ethnic approach that’s already got precedent at Queensbridge Houses. A few modest green patches tended by residents exist. Now it is time to turn up the volume and expand the scale.

Suga Ray’s getting ready to lead this new era in local greening and he’s putting his time and other resources to work. He’s in his first year of training at Farm School with his eyes on the graduation prize for 2015. He’s also looking to share the message of health through life-affirming diet. Food related health and illness are foremost in his mind. A bell went off when an uncle and other cherished elders passed away from diet-related illnesses like diabetes and high blood pressure. That bell had rung even earlier when he endured may months not able to walk from a pinched nerve that only improved when vegetables replaced meats in his own diet. Nearly four years later, he’s feeling his young age without back pain! Success in such an ambitious venture must mean collaboration so he’s linking up with others.
He’s been appointed International Director to Sacrit Kingz by Nyeesha Williams who earlier founded a national network dedicated to young girls called Sacrit Devahood, Inc. Kingz will be a hub of culinary arts, etiquette, arts and crafts based in New York City.  These groups aim to assemble resources to raise a greenhouse at Queensbridge and pay the locals who do the work. They’re not looking to re-invent the wheel.  Colleagues in Newark (New Jersey), Atlanta (Georgia), Los Angeles (California), and Uganda will be providing technical support where applicable. Stay tuned as this man builds his dream through his entertainment company and his blog.

 

 

Two Young Farmers from NYC: Suga Ray and Raphael Aponte

Just Food hosted another well attended conference from April fifth to sixth. This year, it was held at Teachers College of Columbia University. I had the honor of brief interviews with one featured speaker and a farming student who attended. Suga Ray and Raphael Aponte are both attached to Just Food’s Farm School as current student and alumnus respectively. Here’s what they had to say!

Rafael Aponte

Rafael Aponte (Just Food Farm School class of 2012)
Rafael Aponte (age 30) of the Bronx, founded Rocky Acres Community Farm in May 2013 where he’s raising goats, peppers, onions, carrots, potatoes, basil, Mexican herbs, and cilantro varieties perfect for making sofrito. Other offerings like mushrooms are in development for future seasons—stay tuned! The interview below was conducted on Monday, April 7, 2014 at Giovanni’s Restaurant (579 Grand Concourse, Bronx).
Morgan Powell: How did you select your farm’s name?
Rafael Aponte: “Rocky Acres” was already a sign on site. We kept it. I would rather have a more revolutionary name but the neighbors wouldn’t be able to pronounce it. It’s pretty benign but we added the “community” part.
MP: What exposure to plants and farming did you have before Farm School?
RA: My mother maintained a “jungle” of houseplants which I played G.I. Joe in as a kid. We lived together near the Brook Avenue stop of the no. 6 train. At that time, my dad gardened in the Bruckner right-of-way before his garden got bull dozed, but I was not interested in his garden at all. When I got older and got my own apartment near Yankee Stadium, my mom gave me clippings or her plants. I got bitten by the gardening bug and I maintained those plants. Eventually, I was growing chili peppers and basil plants hydroponically. [laughter]

MP: Where did you attend high school and other schools?
RA: LaGuardia High School of Music and Art and Performing Arts. I focused on visual arts: printmaking, illustration, graphic arts, and photography.

Illness informs my commitment to farming. My class was the last at the elementary school on the Grand Concourse at 148th Street; it was closed because of asbestos. I attended college before cancer made it impossible to sustain my academics. I’m fine now but it’s not normal to be diagnosed with cancer at eighteen year old. I’ve had asthma since elementary school. I grew up in a polluted environment with highways ringing the neighborhood, an active commercial incinerator, and other things in Mott Haven. Sometimes I have to pace myself to get through farming chores but I’ve learned to expand my lung capacity. It’s getting easier.

MP: How do you identify ethnically?
RA: Ethnically, I’m Puerto Rican. Racially, I self-identify as Black. My father is darker than me. Upstate, there are many places where people never see people of color. I think some people think I’m Pakistani. [laughter]

MP: What motivated you to attend Farm School?
RA: It happened by accident. I was working in after-school education in Washington Heights, helping the youth to prepare for and gain admission to college.  I took them to schools all around the region. Somehow, I developed an interest in beekeeping as it was becoming legal within city limits. I attended a conference at Hostos Community College (probably GreenThumb GrowTogether) where many groups were tabling on gardening. There was information about beekeeping there. I subsequently met someone through the Socialism Conference who connected me with Farm School NYC. I don’t think I’d be on a farm now if it had not been for Farm School. That’s where I met Jalal Sabur [seen to the far right in a panel picture that opens this article]. We went on to farm together with my partner Nandi Cohen, a Cornell U. professor, at Wassaic Community Farm.

MP: What is your food sovereignty vision?
RA: I want people to think about producing their own food. I think once you see what goes into your food, it’s paradigm shifting. I also want low income communities to choose where their food comes from. If I can meet them at the right price point to make it sustainable for Rocky Acres Farm, and their getting value for the volume of food they need to consume, I think it’s a win-win.

MP: What’s your strategy to produce and deliver veggies, herbs, and meat to low income communities?
RA: My market is low income residents of Ithaca, NY. New York City is too far away. Ithaca’s a small town and it’s different from the Bronx. It’s more people driven rather than institutionally-oriented. I’ve been talking to my barber about distributing out of the barber shop. In Ithaca, the farmer’s market is very well attended, but not by local people of color. I think it’s not inclusive.

MP: What has been your biggest surprise in farming?
RA: I almost feel my life has separated into before and after farming. I’ve had more than one friend visit me and be scared by the quiet of rural life. Also, there’s a grading system for livestock. It’s made me imagine how enslaved people were graded at slave markets in the past. The experience has grounded me.

MP: You’re seeing things a city person would not typically see. What are some things you wish were common knowledge in the Bronxes of America?
RA: I’ve become a steward of life. Everyone should be a part of that process: seeing seeds develop to maturity. I would like to see a student-centered approach to teaching. My exposure to other learning environments tells me a participatory approach is better than rote learning.

Suga Ray (Just Food Farm School class of 2015)
Suga Ray is passionate about community gardening as a vehicle to grow the best seeds of his beloved Queensbridge Houses on New York City’s East River. Originally from south Jamaica, Queens, his family moved to the iconic Long Island City public housing development when he was two years old. It’s been tradition there, like many neighborhoods throughout the city, to memorialize those who pass away before their natural time with bottles of alcohol and candles. But things are about to change in this corner of New York if Suga Ray has anything to do with it. In concert with a vocal local senior citizen, a more enduring ritual of remembrance is coming into view in the form of new community gardens at one of the largest public housing developments in all five boroughs. What became shabby with time will renew itself with constant love and care in the best traditions of community horticulture—that’s the power of living green that all the money spent on ghetto liquor can’t buy.

Suga Ray

These new spaces will serve many needs of a wider cross-section of local residents in all the color and joy of nature. Suga Ray sees these new spaces as therapy for the mentally ill, perpetual job training for an emerging workforce, seasonal work for the formerly enprisoned who need low barriers to career entry and a welcome environment, respite for the bereaved, and enhanced beauty for all to see! He’s dedicated to a multi-generational and multi-ethnic approach that’s already got precedent at Queensbridge Houses. A few modest green patches tended by residents exist. Now it is time to turn up the volume and expand the scale.

Suga Ray’s getting ready to lead this new era in local greening and he’s putting his time and other resources to work. He’s in his first year of training at Farm School with his eyes on the graduation prize for 2015. He’s also looking to share the message of health through life-affirming diet. Food related health and illness are foremost in his mind. A bell went off when an uncle and other cherished elders passed away from diet-related illnesses like diabetes and high blood pressure. That bell had rung even earlier when he endured may months not able to walk from a pinched nerve that only improved when vegetables replaced meats in his own diet. Nearly four years later, he’s feeling his young age without back pain! Success in such an ambitious venture must mean collaboration so he’s linking up with others.
He’s been appointed International Director to Sacrit Kingz by Nyeesha Williams who earlier founded a national network dedicated to young girls called Sacrit Devahood, Inc. Kingz will be a hub of culinary arts, etiquette, arts and crafts based in New York City. These groups will assemble the resources to raise a greenhouse at Queensbridge and pay the locals who do the work. They’re not looking to re-invent the wheel.  Colleagues in Newark (New Jersey), Atlanta (Georgia), Los Angeles (California), and Uganda will be providing technical support where applicable. Stay tuned as this man builds his dream through his entertainment company and his blog.