In celebration of Earth Month, our 2% for Justice commitment for April will support East New York Farms!, a Brooklyn-based agricultural organization focused on empowering youth and community members to connect with la tierra through agricultural, nutritional, and composting education programs.
Located in East New York, Brooklyn, ENYF! runs a variety of programs aimed at organizing youth and adults to address food justice in our communities by promoting local sustainable agriculture and community-led economic development. ENYF! is part of a larger organization, United Community Centers (UCC), which is a front-line service provider and organizer in East New York.
We were grateful, this month, to engage with their team to learn more about the work that they do!
Tell us about East New York Farms!
The East New York Farms! project began in 1995 when the Pratt Institute Center for Community and Environmental Development initiated a planning process where community residents identified the community’s natural and human resources.
These resources included: (1) over 60 community gardens, more than any other neighborhood in New York City; (2) dedicated community gardeners, with their links to block associations and other local organizations, and; (3) one of the highest concentrations of youth in New York City, roughly one-third of the population. ENYF! leverages these resources into an innovative revitalization strategy that increases community food security and empowers local residents to meet their own needs.
ENYF!’s mission is to work together with residents of all ages and cultures to address their community’s challenges, celebrate its strengths, and provide services that improve lives.
What programs does ENYF! has to offer the community?
ENYF! focuses on four areas: community gardener organizing, public marketplace development, youth urban agriculture internships, and community nutrition. Our organization mobilizes local youth through internship programs, partners with local urban and rural agri-businesses, preserves community gardens as valuable open spaces, generates income for urban and rural farmers, and increases access to nutritious food for over 11,000 low-income African American and Hispanic adults, families and seniors, many of whom suffer from the highest level of nutrition-related illnesses in New York City.
One of our most popular programs, the Farmer’s Market, was created to give local consumers access to fresh, sustainably-produced produce. We have two community-run farmer's markets that offer fresh and affordable food. Together we serve over 14,000 consumers. Since 1998 we have been providing fresh produce, homemade crafts, and a safe public space for families in East New York, Brooklyn. Our market is the only place in East New York to find local, organic produce; including Caribbean specialty crops like karela, bora, and callaloo.
Additionally, we have our Community Nutrition program. This program was created to promote good nutrition amongst residents and to help provide access to healthy food for people at all income levels. Under this nutritional program umbrella, we also have a food policy council of local residents, governmental, and nonprofit agencies that work together to prioritize community needs and create change.
Lastly, our Compost project which has been in operation for over 15 years, is now processing over 4,000 pounds of organics, creating constructed topsoil, providing clean soil to local residents, and providing learning and leadership opportunities in STEM to local youth and green job skills development. We keep our operations local and are continually working to divert biodegradable waste and keep composting in the community.
What impact have these initiatives have had on the NYC community?
In 2021, we collected and composted 5,000 pounds of organic waste, produced over 19,000 pounds of fresh produce from the UCC Youth Farm and the Pink Houses Farm, provided 20 stipend internships, and gave 24 mini-grant distributions to local community gardeners and food producers.
We use urban agriculture as a method for involving disadvantaged youth in learning the values of teamwork and civic responsibility. Through addressing local food access issues and learning about sustainable food systems we give tees hands-on experience that reinforces science and math concepts that are taught in schools. Simultaneously, our farmers' market generates local income by providing direct marketing opportunities to community and backyard gardeners, struggling small family farms in rural areas surrounding New York City, and local entrepreneurs.
Our market has been a catalyst for so much change in East New York. We now work with an ever-growing network of gardeners and many of the over 60 community gardens throughout East New York. Not only does the project recruit community gardeners to grow and sell crops at the farmers’ market, but it also provides them with agricultural training, basic supplies, and hands-on assistance with environmentally friendly gardening methods, including composting, rainwater harvesting, water conservation, and organic pest control. The market program also supports gardeners in advocating for the preservation of their gardens.
The main goal of ENYF! is to work with residents to increase local food supply in a sustainable way, while also working to resolve the many years of disinvestment and neglect towards our community, by investing in our youth and capitalizing on the assets that we have. The community members that participate in our programs walk away with a greater understanding of the implications of their work in sustainability and food equity & justice realms.
As we approach Earth Day, why is it important for everyone to think about and address food injustice and sustainability issues in our communities year-round, making these kinds of programs the norm instead of the exception?
The reason why it is important for individuals to think about and address food injustice and sustainability issues is because people need to be more aware of the less fortunate and understand that even in a country as prosperous as the U.S., some people go days without eating or receive less significantly less nutritional value from their meals than others due to lack of access. It is also important to acknowledge the food workers that make our lives better directly and indirectly. Programs like ENYF! are important because they bring awareness from the ground up. Youth interns are exposed to a lot more outside of growing food. They learn about financial literacy, college readiness, sex education, time management, and community relations. Programs like ours are vital because it provides youth with their independence. They are able to have income for themselves that they use to take care of their families or their personal needs. Our program also brings awareness to community members and allows them to play a role in environmental justice. Whether that be learning how to recycle properly or composting efficiently.
How can our community get involved with and support East New York Farms?
People can get involved by volunteering at our farms and community, lead a workshop for our youth interns, donate to help support the longevity of our programs, or give us a shoutout on social media for the work we are doing in the community.