By Stephanie Alvarado
As a Just Say Yes to Fruits and Vegetables (JSY) nutritionist, I travel through the South Bronx to teach workshops and I've noticed urban gardens popping up all over. Many of the old abandoned lots that once lined the South Bronx are now being converted to beautiful green lush gardens. They're showing up on rooftops too. Access to fresh, affordable produce is one of the biggest issues in areas like the Bronx and urban gardening is a perfect solution.
Other than seeing these small gardens and driving past farms when I travel outside of the city, I have never experienced life on an actual farm or observed one close up. That all changed a few weeks ago when the JSY team took a trip upstate to Stoneledge Farm in South Cairo, New York. Just Food, an organization that supports community-led efforts to increase access to locally-grown food in underserved New York City neighborhoods, hosted the trip so that clients and staff from four Food Bank For New York City member food pantries in the South Bronx could see where the produce they receive comes from.
In my work, I inform clients on how to use unfamiliar produce through recipe demonstrations and interactive discussions. It was a privilege to share this experience with them. One of the farmers gave us a guided tour of the farm. We saw basil, summer squash, cabbage and cilantro. We even picked beautiful, colorful flowers to take home.
While it is the norm for me to be surrounded by buildings and noise, spending time on the farm made me feel different in my soul. Just breathing the clean air and absorbing the breathtaking landscape was an awesome experience that I truly appreciated. As I pulled a bunch of cilantro from the soil, one of the seniors in the group walked over to me and said, "No, you have to get it from the bottom and really pull those roots out. If not, they won't last too long." In that moment I was reminded of my grandmother, who did the same thing for years in her own garden: pulling cilantro from the soil and using it to season her delicious red kidney beans. No "adobo" or "sazon" for my abuela!
It was a wonderful day all around. Getting to experience a farm firsthand has further instilled in me the desire to educate low-income New Yorkers about the importance of eating local produce and of supporting urban farms in the Bronx.
Stephanie Alvarado is a Just Say Yes to Fruits and Vegetables Nutritionist at Food Bank For New York City.