Between the blocks of stunning graffiti in Bushwick lies a newly renovated building that will soon become a community center named Mayday. Located steps from the Jefferson stop on the subway's L line, the space at 214 Starr Street will host a bar, fair-trade cafe and events area (with profits supporting free public programming and social justice initiatives), and will also operate as a co-working office space once it opens this fall. One of its first programs will be adult education classes led by Make the Road New York.
But atop of the community center building is perhaps where the biggest work is left to be done. Enter EcoStation:NY, a young grassroots non-profit devoted to supporting food security, environmental justice and community health—a big part of their work is making sure that people have access to affordable, locally-grown produce as well as the opportunities and skills to do it themselves. The altruistic organization is planning to transform Mayday's combined 10,000-square-foot rooftop and terrace into urban gardens, calling it Farm-In-The-Sky.
While Farm-In-The-Sky had a temporary trial run on another rooftop a few years ago, the combination of Hurricane Irene and the roof's old age led to its closure, until EcoStation could find a new viable space. They're now launching a Kickstarter to raise $30,000 to make Farm-In-The-Sky a reality and do work that goes well beyond merely growing fresh herbs and vegetables. It will be a space for youth to practice teamwork, leadership and responsibility—as well as becoming versed in the issues of social justice, equity and food—and remain involved in every step of the process, from planning to planting. The bulk of the Kickstarter is funding paid stipends for 14 kids as part of a summer internship program. While there will be adult supervision in the form of three co-managers, it's really the students who will be tending the greens and hosting workshops and cooking demos while becoming instigators of change in the community.
Sari Gonzales, one of the co-managers and a soon-to-be Farm School alum, told us of one example of how the project will be led by students. "We did two design sessions so far: one for the roof and one for the terrace. It's really all student-driven—we sat down with them and said, 'What do you want to grow? What containers are you going to grow them in? What challenges do you think you would have?' They came up with a design, and then we hauled four tons of soil to the terrace."
Farm-In-The-Sky is embracing sustainable, DIY techniques, such as using recycled containers and building movable raised beds themselves, but is also raising money to purchase solar panels, an educational water catchment system and more. "The first year, it's all going to be donated to the Ridgewood-Bushwick Senior Center," says Gonzales. While the rooftop farm isn't large enough to provide meals every day for the more than 2,000 elderly residents, the EcoStation team asked for requests; since there is a big Latino community, many wanted to see hot peppers and herbs such as cilantro, which Farm-In-The-Sky will focus on. "The second year is going to be a combination of donations and giving volunteers and students access to the food, and also provide some of the food to our local markets, because we have five local markets out in Bushwick," she continues. Farm-In-The-Sky will be able to feed more people as it will be able to produce 6,000 pounds of food annually, doubling EcoStation's annual yield to 12,000 pounds (as they also have Bushwick Campus Farms up and running).
We live in a concrete jungle, so being able to eat what you're growing—it connects so many different ideas and concepts.
"A lot of people don't know that they have different options," says Gonzales. "That there is a farmer's market in Bushwick where they can get affordable produce that's organic and local. Many people think they just have to [get their food from] the bodega." She finishes, "We live in a concrete jungle, so being able to eat what you're growing—it connects so many different ideas and concepts."
Transform Farm-In-The-Sky from a few sketches into a reality by donating to their Kickstarter—and scoring a bag of local greens or even a dinner at Momo Sushi Shack in Bushwick.
Lead photo by Nara Shin, all other images courtesy of EcoStation:NY