NYCHA residents cultivate urban farms

Farms in New York City are pretty common. But when the farm is in the middle of a NYCHA housing complex, now that is uncommon. The urban farm at the Howard Houses in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn is one of six citywide that are part of a NYCHA program called Building Healthy Communities.

It's primary goal is to help underserved communities get better access to healthy organic foods and learn more about the impact it has on healthier eating habits. Manning the farms are NYCHA residents who are trained by agriculture experts.

"We have actual farmers in-house that are training them, but we have our local organizations that are managing our farms with to train them in the field," program director Jennifer Tirado said.

"I never knew that people that grew up in this type of environment would ever think about growing in our area and the way we live," trainee Shanique Green. "It's different"

Whether it is beets or collards or parsley, the housing residents determine what crops are planted in their complex. And once the fruits and vegetables are grown, the tenants can come and get some just like any farmers market. It costs them just scraps—literally.

"So imagine a banana peel, an orange peel," Tirado said. "They provide us with organic food scraps, and it doesn't have to be organic, just scraps period, and we give them produce."

NYCHA's urban farms operate for 10 months beginning each May. And at the end of that cycle, the other trainees transition from core members into the workforce, as the program helps them find jobs in a horticulture-related field where they proudly show off their green thumbs.

"So it's nice to learn about carrots and how they're a root crop so you can't take them out, once you take them out the ground that's it, you cannot grow them anymore," trainee Lisa Kelly said. "You have to wait until they're in season again. So that's something that I like, yes."