Volume 20, Number 48 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | April 13 - 19, 2011
Downtown Express photo by Terese Loeb Kreuzer
Students from Millennium High School with Parks and Recreation Commissioner Adrian Benepe (far left) at the opening of the Urban Farm at the Battery on April 11. The students came up with the idea for a farm.
Farm finds unlikely home
BY Terese Loeb Kreuzer
With speeches, a song and a parade, ceremonial planting and some food, a one-acre farm opened at the Battery on Mon., April 11. Parks and Recreation Commissioner Adrian Benepe reminded the crowd that the land at the southern end of Manhattan dates back to farms that sustained the 17th-century Dutch settlers of New Amsterdam. He was talking to 200 school children ranging from first graders to seniors, who were about to become urban farmers.
Over the next two years, 683 students from eight schools within walking distance of the Battery will grow vegetables such as lettuce, tomatoes, beans, carrots and squash, at the urban farm. They will learn about organic farming techniques from the Battery Conservancy’s horticultural staff. They will eat what they grow and share the produce with chefs Wade Burch of Merchants Hospitality and Zak Pelaccio and Kevin Pomplun of Fatty Cue, all of whom have food kiosks within steps of the farm. The students’ experiences at the farm will infuse their studies of history, science and civics. They will learn how to cook what they grow.
Though New York City’s public school system has many problems, the genesis of this urban farm shows another side. A group of students at Millennium High School, which occupies three floors of a former office building at 75 Broad Street, wanted to start a garden at the school, “but it’s hard to do that in an office building,” said one of them, an 11th grader named Sylvie Edman. The members of the Millennium High School Environmental Club, under the guidance of teacher Joyce Kong, thought of approaching the Battery Conservancy to see whether they could start a little vegetable garden there.
“They came to see us on October 28,” the Battery Conservancy’s President Warrie Price recalled.
Quickly the idea snowballed. With the approval of the Parks Department, one acre was set aside for the project. New York designer Scott Dougan and architect Shane Neufeld volunteered their services and created a planting footprint in the shape of the Battery’s beloved wild turkey, Zelda, who has been living in the park since 2003. They also created an architectural perimeter for the farm.
Around 6,000 bamboo poles that had been on the roof of the Metropolitan Museum of Art last summer and early fall as part of a project by Mike and Doug Starn were up for grabs. The Battery Conservancy wrote a proposal and won. Neufeld and Dougan designed a bamboo palisade to surround the farm.
Because so many people had volunteered to help, the Conservancy had been able to get the farm going without spending any money. But then soil needed to be trucked in. The Conservancy, which receives no government money, took $14,000 from its operating budget to pay for the soil. The Conservancy was able to obtain gardening tools from the Parks Department but there were additional expenses such as tubing for irrigation and machines to move the soil into place.
On the opening day of the farm, Sylvie Edman and Suji Kim, two of the members of the Millennium High School Environmental Club, looked at the kids from P.S. 276, P.S. 896, the Lower Manhattan Community School and their own high school, who were busy digging and planting. “I wasn’t expecting it to become this whole big thing in the end,” said Kim. “It’s awesome. It kind of hit us this morning, like wow! We inspired this movement of urban farming!”
Price said that one of the benefits of the farm is that it will rehabilitate the soil that was dug up during more than five years of subway construction. The plan is for the farm to be on the east side of the Battery along State Street at Pearl for two years. Then the land will be used for the Battery Garden bikeway that will connect the east and west sides of Manhattan.
But an urban farm may be a hard thing to relinquish. What then? Commissioner Benepe indicated that the Parks Department would cross that bridge when it came to it, but that maybe a small part of the farm could be preserved.
“There are 600 community gardens around the city,” he remarked. “It’s an unstoppable movement.”
People from the Lower Manhattan community are welcome to help with the farm and perhaps to take on a plot of their own. For more information, go to www.thebattery.org.