Preschoolers and Ph.D.’s pitch in on an urban farm

Downtown Express photos by Tequila Minsky  N.Y.U. Associate Professor Jennifer Berg spoke about the N.Y.U. Food Studies Program and the value of the Urban Farm while her colleague Amy Bentley looked on, above. Meanwhile, Zubin, 4½ (with container of tomatoes), lower left, and fellow preschoolers harvested crops from their rows in the garden. N.Y.U. student Alex Wolf, below, showed that the garden’s composter is ready for action.

Downtown Express photos by Tequila Minsky
N.Y.U. Associate Professor Jennifer Berg spoke about the N.Y.U. Food Studies Program and the value of the Urban Farm while her colleague Amy Bentley looked on, above. Meanwhile, Zubin, 4½ (with container of tomatoes), lower left, and fellow preschoolers harvested crops from their rows in the garden. N.Y.U. student Alex Wolf, below, showed that the garden’s composter is ready for action.

BY TEQUILA MINSKY  |  Just inside the fence on the north side of Houston St. between Wooster and Greene, behind one of the Silver Towers, a swath of land was lush with vegetables this summer. Last Thursday, the eggplants, bell and hot peppers, melons, tomatoes still on the vine and herbs in abundance were harvested. New York University’s Urban Farm completed its first harvest season.

Students, faculty and volunteers involved with the N.Y.U. Food Studies Program helped themselves to the fresh produce. Children from University Plaza Nursery School who had worked two 25-foot beds this summer walked through the rows, taking a last look at the summer crops, and left with dozens of fresh tomatoes.

Only half of the 125-foot-by-25-foot plot was in cultivation this year.

“We got started late,” said Associate Professor Jennifer Berg, director of the N.Y.U. Steinhardt Graduate Food Studies Program. Berg and Amy Bentley, associate professor of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health at N.Y.U. Steinhardt, developed the project.

“This is a landmark site and we had to wait for permits before we began planting in late June,” Berg said. Green Grants, from N.Y.U.’s Office of Sustainability, sponsored the N.Y.U. Urban Farm.

“We want to create an urban farm lab that serves as an outdoor farm classroom to allow for and promote research in urban agriculture and food systems on the undergraduate, graduate and doctoral levels,” Berg explained.

Volunteers and students worked the plot this season, and one bed was allocated for residents of Silver Towers.

A new, recently finished three-bin compost system, built with the collaboration of the Lower East Side Ecology Center, is ready to begin composting organic matter. Graduate and undergraduate students in the program will maintain the year-round farm.

The day after the harvest, the picked-clean plant stems were pulled up or plowed under to make room for cold-weather crops, like kale, broccoli and kohlrabi — which have a two-month growing season — to be harvested in November.

New York City gardening has come a long way since Liz Christy and the Green Guerillas founded the first activist urban garden in 1973, just blocks away at Houston St. and the Bowery. As for N.Y.U., the university’s Master’s in Food Studies was formalized in 1996.

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