Inspired by the success of WW2 Victory Gardens, we will roadmap ways to build regenerative, local, agroecologies beginning with gardens.
Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.
Crown Heights is the place we have called home for over a decade. As a residential neighborhood situated in the heart of Brooklyn, our central Brooklyn neighborhood is a destination for foodies (including a feature from the late Anthony Bourdain), but also one of the most food insecure areas in New York City. Rapid gentrification is driving up the cost of living while access to affordable, nutritious foods continues to be limited. In many ways, Crown Heights is a mirror for the larger forces—economic, social, cultural and environmental—that shapes the future of food in New York City.
Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.
Crown Heights is a historic neighborhood characterized by low-lying brownstone architecture and best known for hosting the annual West Indian Day parade, which draws over 3.5 million people every year along its main thoroughfare, Eastern Parkway. It is home to the Brooklyn Children’s Museum, Medgar Evers College, and the Weeksville Heritage Center commemorating the site of one of the the first African American free communities. Adjacent cultural institutions include the Brooklyn Museum and the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens.
Demographically, Crown Heights has the distinct honor of “reflecting the most varied population of Caribbean immigrants outside the West Indies,” according to Wikipedia, and is home to a significant Orthodox Jewish population and the site for the worldwide headquarters of the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic Jewish movement. A working-class neighborhood, people like politician Shirley Chisholm, music industry exec Clive Davis, former Brooklyn Borough president Marty Markowitz, writer Norman Mailer, and hip hop artist Nas were born here. With two very distinct communities calling Crown Heights "home," there has been a history of violence. In 1991, racial tensions between black and Jewish residents exploded in what became known as the "Crown Heights Riots." Even today, almost 30 years later, the communities still tend to live in parallel.
More recently, the neighborhood has seen rapid gentrification where the median home value increased by 194% from 2000-2016, more than any other Brooklyn neighborhoood. And with this alarming increase, rent prices have skyrocketed, driving many long-time residents from the neighborhood. In fact, an estimated 22% of people live in poverty, compared to 21% in all of Brooklyn and 20% in all of New York City. Although Crown Heights has been described as a food desert, an area with limited access to affordable, nutritious and quality fresh foods, there are a handful of notable grassroots efforts to change those dynamics.
Brower Park Farm Stand - Thursdays, Seasonal. Operated by Harvest Home.
Crown Heights CSA - Comprised of over 100 member shares, this community-supported agriculture project has been distributing fresh, organic produce to the neighborhood for over a decade. Seasonal, Volunteer operated.
Central Brooklyn Food Co-op - the only black-led food cooperative in New York City, the founding members of the co-op have been working for the past six years to open a space in the Bed-Stuty/Crown Heights area.
Community Gardens - there are about a dozen community and school gardens located in Crown Heights according to the 2019 Oasis Map.
Despite grassroots efforts to bring in affordable, fresh and nutritious foods to the neighborhood, the pre-existing efforts are atomized. Our hope is that by cultivating stakeholders from across sectors, we can build a local agroecology that can become a model for urban food sovereignty throughout New York City.
Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.
Currently our neighborhood is facing food insecurity at rates higher than the city. Populations living in food deserts, places that have limited access to affordable, fresh foods, are known to have higher rates of chronic disease like obesity and heart disease. In neighboring Bed Stuy, for every grocery store there are 57 bodegas. Although we cannot change the infrastructure of our neighborhood, we can strengthen community ties through conversations around the joy and satisfaction of producing and eating nutritious food.
The biggest challenge to our food system is the convenience culture that surrounds us in regards to food choices. Across socio-economic backgrounds, we are told that eating fast, convenient food is the modern choice. It will take a concerted effort to center the value of connecting with one another and your neighbors over cultivating nutritionally dense foods and meals as the optimal path forward. We believe that food creates connections--between people and people, people and plants, people and the earth.
Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?
Are we feeding the world? Or are we nourishing it? This was the central prompt that the Indigenous activist and seed saver Rowen White recently posed to an audience of young farmers. Pulling this thread, we are asking how might the production and distribution of food not only feed a community but nourish it? How might food sovereignty become the connecting tissue for strengthening and defining community? Our hope is to cultivate food sovereignty through a hyperlocal food agroecology by joining with local stakeholders to educate, build and tend to a network of public/private gardens.
By the end of the second World War, over a third of the produce consumed in the United States was grown and harvested from an informal network of private and public gardens known colloquially as Victory Gardens. Using the Victory Garden model of disseminating information through grassroots community organizations as a primary source of inspiration, our hope is to leverage our expertise as a media company to educate our community on how to grow, cook and preserve their own food. Beyond the immediate educational opportunities, we also see this effort as a starting place to cultivate larger relationships between disparate stakeholders in the community: how might our local library, hardware store, dollar store, bodega, grocery store, restaurants and other small business owners participate in the project?
We hope to bring in community partners through:
Education - Partnering with local houses of worship, cafes, wine shops, restaurants, retail spaces, we hope to host educational workshops for planning, building, planting and caring for your garden.
Garden Construction - purchasing a kit of parts for apartment scale to homeowner scale at the local hardware and dollar stores.
Seed Distribution - The New York Public Library already has a system setup for their seed library. How might we take best practices and partner with our three local Crown Heights Brooklyn Public Library branches to start local seed libraries, stocked with culturally-relevant seeds. Could bodega/corner stores be potential partners in disseminating seeds and information?
Composting - Partnering with local restaurants, grocery stores and block associations, how might we organize organic waste pickup and composting, as the NYC Department of Sanitation’s organic waste removal is currently unavailable in our area.
Phase 2 would involve demos for cooking, sharing and preserving food. Partnering with community leaders, houses of worship and restaurants
By connecting disparate stakeholders through conversations around food, and by gathering neighbors around a table full of nourishing stories, our hope is to strengthen ties between our neighbors, map a path for food sovereignty, and to infuse a sense of cultural pride through flavors.