Pockets of The Bronx and Yonkers are considered food deserts, which is a basic term to describe a community that lacks constant and accessible sources of fresh produce for healthier meal options. As one walks down Broadway, it is easy to see that discount supermarkets do not always carry a sufficient amount of fresh and affordable produce.
However, at Manhattan College, students and faculty have created a sustainable garden atop the school’s parking garage to slowly reverse the food desert affect locally.
The rooftop garden at MC was started in June 2012 by Nathan Hunter, who is now an alumnus of the college.
“We started it really as a cool project and as a pilot project for what could be done with the space above the rooftop. At the time I was beginning to read and learn about the cool methods of growing food in an urban setting and wanted to be a part of that movement,” Hunter said.
He now works for Groundwork Hudson Valley, a company that deals with community development. Groundwork partners with the college’s rooftop garden and the Yonkers farmers’ market to bring local communities freshly grown produce.
Nathan said that he “wanted this credible organization to help guide the summer interns and in return receive produce from the rooftop farm to help fuel their healthy community initiative.”
The fifteen beds of greenery atop the parking garage have created a relationship with the community that provides even more than the basic knowledge of the importance of fresh food. It all starts with planting different types of food and periodically harvesting throughout the summer and autumn.
During the summer, students take internships with the garden. The interns do everything from planting food and harvesting to building brand new plots to grow more food.
“Weekly, we usually did watering in the garden, keeping up in the garden and planting,” Lilliana Calix, a summer intern at the garden, said.
“Usually Thursday or Friday we would harvest vegetables from the garden and go to Yonkers and sell the food at a local farmers’ market for a low income area,” Calix said.
Not only does the garden provide food to the local farmers’ market, but those who work at the garden teach kids in the community the science of how their food is produced.
“We went to Marble Hill Community Center three times a week and taught the kids about gardening…and healthy eating,” Angela Benevia, a summer intern at the garden, said.
“One thing about working in food deserts is that the kids do not know where their food comes from,” Calix said. “So learning where the food comes from, that it comes from a seed, is a big part of it too, learning that your food process doesn’t start in the grocery store.”
This learning process is not exclusive to the younger kids in the community. Teaching and learning also comes into play in an economics class at Manhattan College, taught by Provost William Clyde.
As a professor, he said he sees the value in learning through immersion.
He explains that with CURES (Center for Urban Resilience and Environmental Sustainability), one project included an urban farming piece.
“There are areas that do not have sufficient fresh food around here. The solution a lot of cities have adopted, as an alternative to getting farmers to bring food here, is to grow food in pockets, like in a vacant lot,” Clyde said.
With the Arches program, Clyde is teaching economics this semester and has utilized the garden as a teaching mechanism.
“Food distribution, food growth and what causes these food deserts, that is all economics driving it,” he said.
The students in his class work in the garden, harvest the food then bring it to the farmers’ market in Yonkers.
They work for a few hours then reflect upon their experience using terms from their class, linking what they did to economics principles.
“What was really special about the farmers’ market is that it brought food to this ‘food desert,’” Benevia said.