It’s Friday evening, and a sudden chill in the air is bringing in a change of season. Most city-dwellers take this as a cue to start shopping for a coat and maybe pop out the window A/C; not many think of it as a herald of harvest. But on the Bushwick Campus, a farm tilled by students just four months ago is in the thick of its first cycle of production. A group of contributors representing city nonprofits, teachers, principals, and volunteers have gathered here with student farmers to share a meal of their creation.
EcoStation: NY co-founder Sean-Michael Fleming is one of the instigators, and having led much of the cooking himself, he welcomes the group to the tables. He sees Bushwick Campus Farm as "a living symbol of a return to people knowing about their food and where it comes from." It’s in a formerly unused corner of schoolyard at Bushwick Campus, home to an expanding group of small schools, and has included students from the Academy of Urban Planning, Academy of Environmental Leadership and Bushwick School for Social Justice. To Fleming’s mind, the project has a message for all three schools. Food production is equally a matter of social justice, the environment and the urban future.
Bushwick Campus Farm grew, quite literally, out of seedlings sprouted by students in a Campus classroom. This was a Green Lab run by Sustainability Coordinator Adam Schwartz in the spring, but as the students reached the limits of potted gardening Schwartz looked to the Campus’s outdoor assets.
Schwartz – who has taken a break from neighborhood history, but not so much of a break that he can’t pause to tell us of the schoolyard’s history as a 19th century cemetery of 30,000 graves – found ample help from the local experts. EcoStation: NY, the organization behind the Bushwick Farmers’ Market, reconstructed the space with blessings from the three principals and help from the after-school farmers of the Bushwick Green Team. Joe Chavez, an educator with Green Lab sponsor Solar One, took the reins as market manager when planting started in June – later passing them on to Maggie Cheney, his own former instructor.
As nearly half a ton of tomatoes, greens, beans, peppers, onions and other vegetables came in, Green Guerillas Youth Tillers and local volunteers helped with the harvest. Chavez coordinated sales of produce at the Farmers’ Market and to local buyers such as Café Ghia, raising revenue to build up the farm. Just last week, Lee Mandell of Boswyck Farms arrived with his trademark hydroponic flair, adding some vertical planting space just in time to plant a late crop of lettuce and kale.
In other words, it’s been a community effort. And the community is out tonight to enjoy the harvest; even Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez, another supporter, arrives to eat with the young farmers. The menu features Sean-Michael Fleming’s own Eggplant à la Bushwick (the secret ingredient is, predictably, "love"). This is accompanied by a brightly colored salad picked and assembled minutes before by the students; a jumble of vegetarian side dishes; and homemade lemon-basil ice cream.
The food is, needless to say, delicious, and before the night chill sets in more young gardeners stop by to partake in the feast. They talk with their teachers about the season that’s passed, their part in it, and – with a hint of competitive spirit – the involvement of other students and classes. Schwartz mentions one teacher who comes to the garden with an advanced placement class in Environmental Science.
"Which teacher is that?" a student asks, intrigued. "I want to take AP Environmental Science. Sounds way better than calculus."