What is your favorite thing about urban farming?
Being someone who needs to interact with non-human nature every day, I appreciate having a place to see the birds, either as they migrate through, or as they build their nests in the small amount of pseudo-wilderness available to them here. Sometimes they stop by for only a few hours. I saw some purple-finches and a yellow finch the other day, and I’ve fallen in love with the pair of mockingbirds who’ve claimed the Ward’s Island main garden site as their territory.
How did you get into urban farming?
It’s been a long time coming. While starting out as a way for me to find personal autonomy and improve my psycho-emotional health, gardening has become a way that I can play a role in encouraging other people to reclaim control over their health, environment, and communities.
Working on an urban farm has been a dream of mine for 10 years. At 19, I abandoned a budding neuroscience degree and moved to northern Vermont to find a connection that had been missing in my life. Coming from a family with abuse, addiction, and control issues, I needed to heal from trauma and build myself back up into the vibrant person I knew I was. As I was withdrawing from school and meeting with professors to let them know I wouldn’t be completing projects and experiments I was working on.
One of them, a dance ethnologist named Deidre Sklar, who approached dance and everything else in life from a framework of social justice, asked me a very important question. ‘After you’ve learned how to grow food and found the connection you’re looking for, how are you going to improve the world instead of retreating to an insular community of people privileged enough to drop out and disengage from the oppression that’s happening every day?’ I told her that I’d move to a city and educate people about growing their own food.
I’ve become increasingly aware of the need for humans to empower themselves and their communities by learning any and all modes of self-sufficiency. As the direction of our government and capitalist system are causing increased dependence, poverty, and health problems, communities can resist and create their own modes of resilience by reclaiming a connection to the land they’re on and the manual labor of food production.
I know a little about growing food now, so I’m here to share what I know, help build gardens and create more access to fresh food, and stay connected.
What’s your favorite thing to eat?
Where to start!? I’m obsessed with food. In the simplest terms, I’d say any sweet fruit that can be picked and eaten immediately. There’s something deeply feral and fulfilling about pulling things right off the vine or tree and popping them into your mouth. It’s even funnier to forgo use of your hands and just use your mouth to retrieve the goods.
What’s your favorite thing to grow?
It’s a tie between peppers and dry beans, but what I love about both of them is the immense variety that exists today. There are endless colors, sizes, and flavors that have been bred and prized by humans all over the world for thousands of years and it amazes me that I can participate in facilitating such a vibrant lineage.
What do you do in your spare time for fun?
I cook like crazy. Making elaborate meals and baking are how I expend most of my creative energy. I also read and write as much as possible, and love dancing and riding my bike.
What are you planning to grow in the future that hasn’t been done before at Project EATS?
I’d love to set up a woodland garden that’s full of native medicinal and edible plants like wild ginger, ramps, bloodroot, and American ginseng as a part of connecting future urban agriculturalists to an idea of what this land may have looked like before the city was built, and educating them about sustainability in wild harvesting, the role of wild plants in indigenous pre-colonial cultures on the East Coast, and most importantly encouraging constant awareness and discussion around the United States’ displacement of native peoples and how we can continue to live on and utilize this land in a way that is at a bare minimum no longer oppressive and ideally reparative.
What do you see as the most valuable skill you can offer to further the mission of Project Eats?
I have a strong background in Cooperativism. I lived and cooked in a huge co-op in college that utilized a modified consensus system to make decisions. Taking the opinions of 120 people into account and creating governance that everyone can live with is no small feat. I’ve also lived in a few other cooperatives, started a cooperative homestead and helped convert a business I co-owned to a collaborative management system. I believe that learning to work together and take everyone’s feedback and needs into account is the best way for communities of people to create powerful movements and change in the world. As we work to connect and empower neighborhoods in New York, I want to introduce cooperative theory and practical horizontal decision-making structures to avoid creating mini-capitalist or hierarchical systems within these communities…to keep the power in the hands of all.