Monthly Archives: July 2014

Alan: Healthy Food and Healthy Communities

By Alan McCarthy

The community of Bedford Stuyvesant Brooklyn is enveloped by the bloody, enlightened and historical ghosts that have played a part in the founding and evolution of this city and country. Site of some of the fiercest fighting of the Revolutionary War, home to the first Public Library in the U.S, and the site of one of the first African American farm homesteads, established in 1838 by freed slaves fleeing the south that tilled the land south of Atlantic Ave and founded the Village of Weeksville.

Today, strolling through the neighborhood, one can only imagine through the writings of Whitman what natural beauties once were the landscape of this now very urban and changing concrete jungle. Like any inner city neighborhood where the average income is less than $20,000, the streets and avenues that form the arteries that coast through the body of the community are clogged with cheap, fast, bad food with little or no consideration for diet, health or nutritional value.

And although it may appear on the surface that the community has lost contact with its agricultural, self- sustaining founders, if you scratch that surface just a little you might just come up smelling like roses.

Dr. Melony Samuels, founder and executive director of Bed-Stuy Campaign Against Hunger, answered the call for help in the winter of 1998. A young family facing eviction and in need of food and clothing reached out to a neighbor who in turn contacted Dr.Samuels. Not knowing exactly how to help, she emptied her cupboards and packed her car with food and bedding and headed from her New Jersey home to her old neighborhood of Bedford Stuyvesant to assist as best she could in alleviating this family’s troubles. Having helped out and secured the family food and shelter, more calls for help came in and one family in need grew to two, then to five, and today to 12,000 low-income people a week.

In 2006, Dr.Samuels established the first supermarket style food pantry in Brooklyn. Here, families could browse the well stocked shelves and get fresh vegetables and canned goods without the stigma of standing in line for a handout that is often an accompanying pressure point to those in need.

As successful as this became, she realized that a lot of the fresh foods were left behind while people opted to take the canned goods. Inquiries were met with, “Oh, I can’t cook that or I can’t have that juice I am diabetic,” and Dr. Samuels learned that a “full stomach does not mean a healthy stomach”. So she “went back to the drawing board.”

With the assistance of her daughter and production coordinator, Tamara, they conducted a survey among 6000 residents in Bedford Stuyvesant. Their findings showed 35% of residents live in poverty, about 15% suffer from diabetes, and 27% of adults are obese and 94% of central Brooklyn residents have inadequate produce consumption. Armed with this alarming evidence, Dr.Samuels and the staff of BSCAH worked on a Five Point Approach to comprehensively care for the Central Community of Brooklyn.

In 1996, the World Health Organization defined Food Security as, “When all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life” and a Healthy Community as:

One that is safe, with affordable housing

and accessible transportation systems,

work for all who want to work, a healthy

and safe environment with a sustainable

ecosystem and offers access to health care

services which focus on prevention and

staying healthy.

Utopia comes to mind, or maybe basic human rights. Or, one can look at the Five Point Approach of BSCAH.

Health:

Dr.Samuels and staff have developed Health 360. This program focuses on diet and lifestyle related issues. This includes classes on nutrition, cooking, physical fitness and gardening, and farming at a 3,000 sq. ft. garden space harvesting over 2,600 pounds of organic produce which is made available at the pantry. They also provide free health and dental checkups and H.I.V. screenings.

Gen Next:

This is to educate youth and seniors together in an eight week course on managing and sustaining food systems through composting waste food from the pantry to use in the soil of the local gardens and farms and cultivating a bee keeping and a chicken coop.

Reach:

Includes online gardening and nutrition information. Establishing a satellite pantry in the Rockaways and Coney Island after Hurricane Sandy and joining with local schools in those areas to extend their health education classes.

Wealth:

Partnering with other agencies to provide free tax preparation services and a SNAP enrollment program.

Access:

Open 5 days a week with extended hours to meet the needs of the working poor.

Representative Shirley Chisolm, born and raised in Bedford Stuyvesant and the first black woman elected to Congress, once frustratingly remarked, “All they know in Washington about Brooklyn is that a tree grows there.” But, with her as inspiration, the continued work of Dr.Samuels and her staff and the efforts of this community the denotations of the W.H.O. will continue to be realized in this community and have us all coming up smelling like roses.

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Food Security in Bed-Stuy

By Ocasi Benji Levi

It was the end of August, 2013, and the nip in the morning air reminded me that summer is making its way out the door. “I’m running late and the last thing I need is a delay”. Even the wary driver slowing to give the wondering pedestrian time to safely walk across the street was a hindrance. “Come on already” was my thought. As I was approaching the intersection of Nostrand Avenue and Fulton Street, a sense of relief came over me, that “one more traffic light and I can catch the train, great.” The world a blur as I sped past, preoccupied with thoughts of completing the first leg of my relay to work, when from the corner of my eye I noticed the Fruit Cart, for all to see, having a drastic sale on bananas. Dang! I’m my own enemy. I hate to be late, but who doesn’t love the refreshingly sweet taste of ripe bananas? On the train there was a smile on my face while I was chewing. I congratulated myself that the unscheduled break was well worth it because instead of 5 bananas for a dollar I got 6. I win!
Around this area of Bedford-Stuyvesant the Fruit Stand is just one of the many food businesses that compete for your patronage; it’s a just a boulder in a region of mountains. Directly in front of it stands the $1.00 (speaking my language) Halal (no pork) Pizza store with its distant cousins that sell pork, lurking not too far away. However, recently for one reason or the other the pizza spot just north on Fulton was “taken out.” Across the street sits a juggernaut, KFC, but only in name, because it is rarely packed. Then, powerfully occupying the seat of dominance, you have the behemoth McDonald’s to the south. It’s frequently crowded, but I am not a fan. The intersection of Nostrand and Fulton is a mere spec of the full picture of food stores that inhabit the area.

The availability of healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables are meager. What are plentiful are processed foods that are boxed, frozen, or that can be reheated. Let’s begin with the drizzle of Chinese food restaurants. Then the pellets of Bodegas—independently owned stores usually on the corner—are at both ends of almost every block. Grocery store chains such as Duane Reade/Walgreens, Key Food and Food town sprinkle the neighborhood. Included are the two drops of Health Food Stores that are inconspicuously placed along the route, pedaling health out of a bottle, can or plastic bag. There were times in my recall when healthy was determined by the types of foods you ate, along with a lifestyle consisting of exercise and relaxation. During my early childhood years in the Caribbean, foods were considered “fresh from jungle,” meaning you grew them and knew its origins. If a person didn’t grow the type of fruits or vegetables they wanted to eat they would trade or “go a town” (go to the market) and buy it from another farmer.

Over the past six years in Bed-Stuy, locally based organizations have been trying to increase the availability of organic fresh fruits and vegetables (FFV). Agencies such as Bed-Stuy Farm Share that offered members in the neighborhood the opportunity to grow their own organic FFV, have closed operations due to the lack of participation from volunteers. Still other agencies enable local famers to sell their organic FFV to grocers; Bed-Stuy Bounty is one such agency. According to the website, Melissa Danielle, the owner, “believes that local economies are an integral part of a community’s health and sustainability, in which community-based asset development, local accountability, relationship building, and local ownership are prioritized.”

Trying to get an overall understanding, I went for a walk on my usual route down Nostrand Ave and asked some locals their opinions on the subjects of food cost, organic foods, and how value or nutrition determines their diets. I met Mike, a black man in his late 50s, with his bag hung over his shoulder, who was in a hurry. As long as I walked with him he was happy to answer my questions. “No problem, I know how it is to be in a hurry,” I thought to myself. When I asked about food cost he replied, “I eat out often…so about $20 a day.” “There’s one on Nostrand” was his answer when I asked if he knew of any organic food stores in the area; quickly I asked him where on Nostrand, but he wasn’t sure. He felt that healthy food accessibility and affordability was close but below average: “About 4.5,”he said. Jack and Tom, two white men in their late 20s, said they were new to the neighborhood. They spent 30% – 40% of their monthly income on food. They didn’t know of any organic food stores, so I referred them to the Bed-Stuy Bounty website. Jack stated, “Organic foods are not accessible, but there are fast foods.” Tom mentioned that in his old neighborhood around Throop Ave and Myrtle Ave, another part of Bed-Stuy, he knew of healthy food store locations. I took this chance to go back to the Fruit Cart and discovered that it is part if the NYC Green Cart program. Green Carts are mobile food carts that offer fresh produce in New York City neighborhoods with limited access to healthy foods. A Green Cart only sells fresh fruits and vegetables.

What really stuck out was the comparison of Bed-Stuy’s organic food accessibility and affordability to other parts of New York City. Rico, a Hispanic man in his late 20s who lived in East New York, Brooklyn, was really concerned with his health and dietary needs. He remarked that around Bed-Stuy there are more choices than what’s available to him in his neighborhood. He spends 20% of his monthly income on food and carefully decides what he will purchase. He said, “Sometimes I travel to Queens where my brother lives to buy healthy food.” Shannon, an Asian young woman in her early 20s visiting from Manhattan, said that she spends almost 80% of her monthly income on food. “Organic foods are not super affordable” was her response to my accessibility and affordability question. “In the City there’s not really any organic food stores.” As visitors to my community, they were able to give me a different perspective to the organic food availability questions.

So, it would seem that in my area based on the responses of the random interviews and my research, the Bed-Stuy neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York is a front-runner for providing healthy foods. Through the independent organic agencies and City programs steps are taken to ensure the availability of healthy and organic foods. As Gene, a mid-40s black man says, “It is a change from beef and pork to fruits and vegetables….people have changed, eating healthier. I’m older, I can’t digest certain foods.” The change is being energized by education about the health risks and benefits of foods, local availability and local participation by organic farmers. It is essential that the organic foods are affordable and accessible. Spending a majority of your income on healthy food or having to go miles outside of your way doesn’t make too much sense when fast food restaurants, unhealthy as they may be but inexpensive, are 10 minutes away.

Andy: Hidden Hunger and Community Food Activism

Growing up in a mostly middle-class suburb in New Jersey, hunger was not a subject that I really understood. I, like many children, had never had an experience being unable to get the food I needed; my parents provided everything for me. In elementary school I became vaguely aware that some of my peers got a free lunch. I jealously eyed their “beef-a-roni” and chicken nuggets while sullenly crunching carrots.  With hindsight I now know that those kids were getting that free lunch because their families couldn’t always buy enough food. It begs the question; what does hunger really look like in a place where the average yearly income is pushing $100,000 (city-data.com)?

Certainly there is poverty in South Orange, my hometown. There are occasionally a few familiar faces of homeless people milling around the downtown. The town borders a relatively poor area of Newark, and sections of the town are visibly less wealthy than others. Poverty is a big factor contributing to hunger, and while food prices rise, incomes have stagnated for many. To find out about food security and hunger in my town, I started where hunger ends: the grocery store. In a town a little under 3 square miles (Google Maps) there are three large grocery stores, as well as many restaurants and corner stores. The grocery stores vary in food selection. A local grocery, Ashley Marketplace, sells organic produce at prices over twice the non-organic price, as well as specialty foods, such as a $50 per pound Italian salami. The other two, Pathmark and ShopRite, are your typical American supermarkets, offering fresh produce and meats, as well as packaged food at reasonable prices. Restaurants, too, vary in price and food selection. There are a few diners in town, as well as a pizzeria and a couple of bagel shops. The only food chains in town are a Dunkin Donuts and a Starbucks, to adequately caffeinate the commuter population. There is also a weekly farmer’s market from June to August, though the produce selection is limited (picture 1),

AndyW.Picture1

and much of its offerings are luxury goods, such as hand-stuffed olives and organic homemade beauty products (picture 2).

AndyW.Picture2

South Orange is fortunate to have such an availability of food, and most people are in walking distance from a grocery store, but what about the availability of healthy food, and what is healthy food anyway? Walking down the aisles of Pathmark, shelves full of candy and soda tower overhead. Even Ashley Marketplace’s bakery entices pedestrians with the smells of its fresh cakes and cookies every day. These are certainly not healthy foods. It is my belief that a healthy diet is made up of a variety of unprocessed, or minimally processed, food. Though our culture promotes eating out of a wrapper, humans have lived for thousands of years eating only what the earth provided. Foods in their natural state, or lightly prepared, retain more nutrients and are closer to what we have evolved to eat. Also, as evidenced by the current USDA nutrition guide, MyPlate, as well as the outdated food pyramid, our society has and continues to rely on grain for much of our sustenance. Grains are an excellent source of carbohydrates for energy, but often are processed to the point that they lack other nutrients (which may be “remedied” by spraying the grain products with processed vitamin mixtures). Though healthy food such as fresh produce and minimally processed products are certainly available, there is far more heavily processed, unhealthy food on store’s shelves.

In my pursuit of information I was lucky enough to stumble upon a local community garden I’d never seen before (picture 3).

AndyW.Picture3

They have 30 garden beds, and they supply a local charity, Rent Party Pantry, that funds them. RPP is an organization that holds parties in a local Elk’s club, and funds this community garden, as well as other hunger fighting efforts. While there, I spoke to Chris Dickinson, the founder of RPP, a middle-aged man who has lived in South Orange for 20 years. Chris related some very interesting stories about hunger in the area, many of them related to his work on a program called Backpack Pals, an effort of Rent Party Pantry, where they put together bags of food so that children who are receiving free lunches from the school system can have food over the weekend. When I asked him if he knew anyone living with hunger, he told me that the Backpack Pals program asks the students to return the bag the food comes in so they can be reused, and that his neighbor actually returned a bag back to him. This led to a discussion of “middle-class hunger”, which Chris believed was becoming more of a problem. As fewer and fewer people are financially secure for the long-term, more people become vulnerable to unexpected circumstances that can limit time, money, and mobility. He also noted the logistical challenges many people face in maintaining healthy eating habits in our culture, such as time, convenience, temptation, lack of information, and cost. He stressed that strengthening communities to help provide for their own people, using support systems like food pantries and supplemental food programs, is becoming more and more necessary as we face an uncertain future for our current food supplies.

In another serendipitous turn Chad, the young man I interviewed for my last post, was walking past while I was there, and happened to notice me working in the garden. He joined me and I got the chance to ask him a few follow up questions. In our last interview he had mentioned that there was no “overt hunger” in our town, but the implication was that we wouldn’t really know if it was there in many cases. He stuck to that idea, reiterating his beliefs that food security is worse in many localities than the inhabitants might think. He mentioned water scarcity, climate change, and a growing, oversized luxury food market as pressing concerns about food security, locally and worldwide.

As Chad and I finished tying up some tomato plants, the garden manager, Kerri, came over and invited us to a meeting taking place that weekend. The manager of the food pantry across the street from the garden was organizing a meeting of minds for individuals in the community and surrounding communities working against hunger issues. With another turn of fate, I found myself in an open forum on hunger, listening to the people leading efforts not only in my community, but surrounding communities. There was much talk about the “hidden hunger” of our communities, and the working poor, bringing up discussions on how to reach those who need support. While there are many logistical limits and challenges in strengthening these community support structures, many of the most promising ideas and inspiring stories were those that relied on the power of the community to tighten these supports and prevent the most vulnerable members from falling through the cracks: the elderly living alone, poor young men, single parents, all groups that may worry about becoming a burden or who may not seek out support on their own.

While the discussion went everywhere from how to assess need at food pantries to the bureaucratic hurdles to opening food support networks in the community, the largest common factor I noticed was that all of these problems required a personal investment from the members of the affected communities. When a neighborhood keeps an eye out for a senior living alone, there is support to prevent hunger, with compassion. When an assistant principal drives around to deliver food for needy students in order to protect their privacy, there is support to prevent hunger, with dignity. The stores we buy our food in don’t feed us, the work of human hands and minds do. With strong communities working together, hunger can be overcome.

By Andy Warren

Kristine: Urban Investigations in Food Security

Upon doing research on accessibility and affordability of food in my community in Greenpoint, a neighborhood in Northwest Brooklyn, I made some pretty amazing discoveries. When I walk through the streets, I always sense the feeling of a tight knit community, but I had no idea how fantastic it is until most recently. Restoring my faith in humanity, the Greenpoint Food Pantry and Soup Kitchen is certainly at the top of my list, located at the Greenpoint Reformed Church on 136 Milton Street. They turn their sanctuary into a food pantry onThursdays and distribute groceries from the church from 8am-11am. On Wednesdays, they offer a free meal, with a sign that reads, “Everyone welcome, Fast food Greenpoint Church style: from the garden to the community meal plate in under 30 minutes!”. To my amazement, this wonderful group of volunteers manage to feed hundreds of hungry people every week. They have set up a remarkable garden run by volunteers to feed anyone in need of a nutritious meal. There is a large assortment of members from the community that are involved. Below is a picture of a sign made by the first graders, displaying their involvement.

Kristine

They are not alone in this community venture; in fact, it is all part of an organization named The Greenpoint Interfaith Food Team (GIFT). The members currently involved are the Congregation Ahavas Israel, aka the Greenpoint Shul, the Greenpoint Reformed Church, and the Greenpoint Islamic Center. Their purpose is to act as a community based effort to alleviate hunger in the community. The Greenpoint Shul also has a community garden that provides food on a weekly basis to the soup kitchen run by GIFT at the Greenpoint Reformed Church. All faiths aside, they encourage everyone and anyone to get involved, simply as a gesture of human awareness and kindness.

Aside from the amazing efforts for the homeless and hungry, there are also several convenient places for the health and earth conscious individuals. For example, The Garden Market, which is a small grocery store that sells a large variety of organic food from various local farms, including produce, dairy, eggs and bread. And down the street from them, Natural Garden is a market that seems to see the competitive benefits of selling organic food. They have recently put up a sign in front of their market that announces regularly the new organic items they are carrying. Both stores are affordable and accessible to anyone in the area that wants fresh organic, local food as well as a large selection of eco-friendly soaps and cleaning products.

For those that prefer to get their food directly from the farmers, that has conveniently become completely accessible. There are plenty of options, including the Eagle Street Farms, which is a rooftop farm in Greenpoint that covers 6,000 square feet of organic vegetables. They sell onsite as well as provide to local restaurants, to whom they deliver the produce by way of bicycle. And McGorlick Park’s Down To Earth Farmers Market, is an incredible farmers market that is expanding quickly due to its popularity. In the center of a beautiful park, tents go up on Sundays to provide local goods from upstate, nearby Pennsylvania, New Jersey and local urban farms. It caters to just about all members of the Greenpoint Community and can get quite busy from the time they begin at 11am until closing time at 4pm. There you will see everyone from families with children to elderly couples as well as younger individuals that count on the market for their weekly grocery shopping. The market offers composting, clothing and used material recycling and a wealth of knowledge about the food, the farms and practices of sustainability.

McGorlick Park Farmers Market

Kristine 2

Alongside McCarren Park on the border of Greenpoint and Williamsburg is the Greenpoint / McCarren Park Greenmarket. They set up their market on Saturdays from 8am until 3pm on a tree lined street in a high foot traffic area. This market is incredibly busy due to its prime location and its long list of local food suppliers. They have live music by local artists, offer recipes, cooking demonstrations as well as other family activities. This market really is a local weekly event that any member of the community can enjoy.

And for the occasions that you want to eat a meal out, there are now several restaurants that have chosen to use organic, local food for their menus. This includes a great quality Italian restaurant, Fornino, that gets their produce from the local urban farms; the flour for their pizza is fully organic and the meat is local. A few of the cheeses are imported, but with the local farms providing high quality cheeses, this could change. Another local dining spot is a very affordable Korean place, called Little Dokebi. They are all about quality there and get their produce and meats from local farms as well. The list of organic restaurants in my neighborhood is increasing at a rapid pace, as whenever I am searching for a place to meet with friends, it has become increasingly easier to meet my standards of local organic foods. Everything from healthy organic brunch spots to late dinners, the community of restaurants has it covered.

There was a time when eating fully organic, local foods seemed to be out of reach for a lot of people, as it was a costly choice that a lot of people in the community were unable to manage. However, with the increasing awareness of the benefits of eating organically, the prices have lowered and this is in part due the increase of product sales. This has also encouraged more farmers to either head into the city to sell their goods as well as encourages urban farms to expand and increase their goods to meet the needs of the community. Food is not to be thought of in terms of just health per se; it should also be thought of in depth about the health of the land it grows. Buying from local farms creates a deeper connection to the earth and the person working the farm as a team as opposed to the person that heads to the grocery store to buy a heavily processed item that has traveled to no avail, wasting precious resources to provide little to no nutrition. Without nutrient rich foods available, a community can suffer tremendously with health issues of all sorts. Managing a healthy relationship to food and getting to know the food providers can improve the overall health of a community.

There was a time when eating fully organic, local foods seemed to be out of reach for a lot of people, as it was a costly choice that a lot of people in the community were unable to manage. However, with the increasing awareness of the benefits of eating organically, the prices have lowered and this is in part due the increase of product sales. This has also encouraged more farmers to either head into the city to sell their goods as well as encourages urban farms to expand and increase their goods to meet the needs of the community. Food is not to be thought of in terms of just health per se; it should also be thought of in depth about the health of the land it grows. Buying from local farms creates a deeper connection to the earth and the person working the farm as a team as opposed to the person that heads to the grocery store to buy a heavily processed item that has traveled to no avail, wasting precious resources to provide little to no nutrition. Without nutrient rich foods available, a community can suffer tremendously with health issues of all sorts. Managing a healthy relationship to food and getting to know the food providers can improve the overall health of a community.

As time passes, I notice with more frequency the number of people in my local community taking responsibility for both their health and the environment by choosing the good practice of clean, organic, sustainable living. Of course, it is not of interest to everyone at the moment, but education for the matter is on the rise and it seems that every little bit makes a difference. As long as it is available and accessible to all, a change in the right direction is inevitable.

By Kristine Franklin

Greening Greenpoint

by Kristine Franklin

I live in Greenpoint, in a neighborhood that has a combination of young professionals in their mid-thirties and the larger portion of the community being Polish families that have lived here for generations, hence the neighborhood having the nickname “Little Poland”. Research on the internet concludes that the community primarily consists of working class people averaging about $40k to $60k annually with the poverty level around 17%. Crime is very low, most of the crime being robbery, theft and assault, but not at a significant level. According to Zillow, the average property value is about $736 thousand.

As I approached my neighbor, Jack, a Photographer in his mid-thirties who has been living in the neighborhood for a few years, he told me he sees potential in the area and has purchased property for this reason. When I asked him about how he felt about food security in the neighborhood, however, he answered that he does not feel secure about food in this community or anywhere, for that matter. He mentioned that we do have two community farms nearby, but a lot of the food at the local stores seems to be imported from Poland. He is even curious as to whether they are also shipping the meat in as well. As far as pressing community concerns, he worries about the education system as well as awareness of the youngsters of our role as an organism living as part of this universe. To him, sustainability means progress, but in a way that will secure our future and the future of our planet. In short, to sustain life on the planet.

Irene, a lady in her mid 50’s who runs a Holistic Apothecary in the neighborhood, has her own ideas, as she has been residing in Greenpoint for quite a long time. She is pleased to see a lot of new stores, restaurants, and markets pop up that offer good organic choices, so she does not have to go to the markets in Manhattan for her groceries when looking for something healthier. She was not too familiar with the rooftop farms close by, but is glad to learn of them and will certainly be checking them out. Changes in the neighborhood have been good for businesses and more businesses continue to be successfully moving in, so she is glad for the people filling in the nearby apartments. She does, however, hope that it will keep the good qualities of a family neighborhood. Sustainability to Irene is for everyone to do their part, whether it’s recycling or using eco friendly products or helping the neighbors out. She, herself has a large selection of eco friendly, animal friendly, organic products at her store and will continue to learn about and promote these products.

As I walk around my neighborhood, I observe that part of it feels really clean and fresh with some beautiful old trees and a few nicely taken care of parks—the farmer’s market is in one nearby park on Saturdays and another even closer park on Sundays.  Families take care of their houses and plant flowers in front at the first sign of Spring. There are plenty of trash bins around and people in the area seem to show respect and responsibility by using them. When looking from my rooftop, I can see a long row of rectangular plots belonging to the neighbors on my street and the street behind me. The plots are well cared for with lush green grass, gardens, plant covered gazebos. It is clear that they take pride in their property and gardening is a common nice weather activity. Eagle Street Farms, a rather large rooftop garden in the neighborhood, sells its produce to stores, restaurants as well as directly to the community.

Had I taken a different route however, I would have crossed paths with factories and warehouses, loud noises and toxic odors, the especially loud sounds from large cargo trucks driving through the small neighborhoods. From my living space, I hear the distant continuous hum that comes from the constant traffic commuting on the BQE and lately I have been smelling, each morning, the intoxicating scent of fresh tar, and I am certain this can only be a terribly bad thing for a person’s health. I do also worry about the safety of the drinking water, with so many factories and warehouses nearby. I am not convinced the water straight from the tap is okay for drinking. Walking through these streets, there are puddles I avoid stepping in as it is obvious there is some sort of chemical as rain from the sky certainly does not have such an array of swirling colors.

All in all, the community that surrounds me, and likely most communities in an urban area, has a lot of the good with the bad. It would prove helpful for more people to be educated, about sustainability and about how they can do their part in helping continuously improve the state of the neighborhood and the well-being of the people living in it.

Sustainability in Marine Park and Mill Basin

by Jedika Sinaga

I was born and raised in Brooklyn, and have been living here for 22 years. It’s been interesting to see first-hand how my borough constantly goes through many changes. I moved from Cortelyou Road to Avenue M in the 5th grade, around 2002. But for the sake of this topic, I’ll just talk about the neighborhoods near Avenue M such as Marine Park and Mill Basin (District 18).

My parents bought the house for $270,000, which is fairly cheap, especially for a corner house. When I first moved here, I remember being very intimidated because our neighborhood was predominantly African American and we were the only Asian family on our block. Our block used to have tons of teenagers hanging around, and every year during the summer  we had a block party. Growing up I saw drugs being distributed at the local park. I always imagined the house down the block on 38th street was a local New Jack City crack house because of all the people constantly running in and out the house. Needless to say, it’s probably going out of business now because of good ol’ gentrification, but we’ll talk about that later.

Back in 2002, I knew most of my neighbors’ moms were nurses and dads worked for the MTA. I went to my zone school for junior high school, which was Hudde I.S. 240. At the time, my junior high school was also predominantly African American, but there was still a lot of diversity. The school was (and still is) divided into four programs: CIG, Magnet, Nova, and Mainstream (CIG being the “smartest class”, Magnet the second smartest, and so on and so forth). As I would walk home after school with my Korean and Egyptian best friends, you could tell that African Americans hung out with African Americans, whites with whites, and asians with asians. Everyone stuck with their own kinds and that’s just the way it always was.

Now in 2014, things are a lot different. A lot of the African Americans moved out the neighborhood to Mill Basin and Canarsie, while more Hasidic Jews moved in. My neighborhood is still made up of middle class residents. The average household income in 2011 was $70,000 (very pretentious, I must say). We no longer have our annual summer block party, and our house is now valued up to $550,000. The Jewish community has helped plant more trees alongside Flatbush, Flatlands, and Kingshighway. There is a lot less crime, and the crackhead house is no longer in business.

In my interviews I got 3 different perspectives on sustainability and how they felt about their own community. Resident 1 is my sister, who still lives in the Marine Park area on Avenue M with my parents. She is a 20 year old student and has been living in the same area for 10 years. Like most regular citizens, she believes that sustainability is important and has “something to do with recycling before everything that we have learned to love on this Earth will be destroyed.”When I asked her about any changes that she noticed in her community, she reminded me that there is a new sitting area/park called Fraser Square that the park committee built about 5 years ago (Photo 1). She also reminded me that it’s a new spot for people to smoke weed. When I asked her about what she thinks are some of the pressing problems in our community, she immediately said, “There are a lot of stray cats and possums that need to be exterminated”. Well, I guess someone bumped into an unpleasant possum the other day. I don’t believe they need to be exterminated though.

Resident 2, Ms.Minott, is my best friend’s grandmother who is now retired. She is Jamaican, lives on 53rd and K in Mill Basin, and has been living there for 27 years. Ms.Minott made it very clear that she hates litter, dumping trash in the water, and people leaving their drinks on her stoop. Some of the changes she has witnessed are more black people moving into the community and white people moving out. I asked her if that means the property value is going down or are black people getting better jobs. She responded, “It’s still the same crummy house. More single moms are owning houses now. There are more teachers and nurses in the area. The women are the breadwinners.” She also told me that there are 3 new 99 cents stores and more fast food chains opening up like Popeyes and Wendy’s.

My third interview was my friend’s dad who is 54 years old, also Jamaican, works for an insurance company, and lives up the block on 53rd and L. Mr.Browne-Simpson has been living there for 22 years. I asked him what does sustainability means to him, and he says the Earth needs constant balance for food chains. He offered me a scenario where if there is too much food, then there will be too many squirrels, which would lead to too many earthworms… and who likes earthworms? I asked him about the crime in the neighborhood and he said, “you know it’s summertime when you hear the shootings. Every year you get more robberies, shootings and seeing kids try to be inconspicuous doing drugs.” I said, “Well, have there been any positive changes in the community?” He responded, “Yeah the park committee put up a tree here and there… oh, and there’s a new Popeyes.”

As I walked home after my interviews, I’ve noticed a couple of sustainability-related practices. I saw a middle-aged woman hanging up her laundry to dry. I don’t see why more people don’t do that as it saves both money and energy. I also saw an elderly woman putting banana and orange peels into the little patch of soil that she has by the side of her house. It wasn’t exactly the heavy duty compost that Williamsburg princes and princesses are used to but at least it’s something. Lastly, I saw clothing bins in every gas station that I walked by from Avenue K to Avenue M. But despite of all the small-scaled yet hopeful actions of sustainability, I saw even larger-scale problems. There was a hydrant left running on the sidewalk, just letting out all of this clean water. Someone’s AC was on even though it was only 65 degrees outside. And there was a motorcycle gang revving up their engines, blowing out all this black smoke and fumes. Most people are aware of sustainability. Most people actually do care and are educated on recycling and conserving energy. Then there are some people who just don’t care and want to live in ignorant bliss. I think we need to make laws for conserving energy rather than rely on the good hearts of people to want to save the Earth. Sometimes a little push is what people need to help a good cause in motion.

 

Sustainability Awareness in South Orange

by Andy Warren

I wander toward the village on an unseasonably hot June afternoon, my list of interview questions in hand, folded and refolded. I look toward the village, a train rumbles heavily through the valley on a concrete overpass, making it’s way to Penn Station. A long, overgrown park reaches off to my right; broken islands of asphalt mark the outline of an old playground. On the far end of the park is the town’s community garden. I squint through the humid light at a small figure hunched over a raised garden bed.

Sustainability is a value visibly worn in this town, but it can be difficult to see the real efforts being made toward sustainable practices. With that in mind, I asked for interviews with a few locals about their views on sustainability, both on personal and community levels.

The town is South Orange, New Jersey, home to roughly 16,200 individuals (2010 Census). It is a commuter suburb of Newark and New York, and is largely composed of family households. In the early afternoon, the town is without its usual crowds of school-age kids milling about. Sounds of construction are commonplace in the downtown, with two new high-end apartment complexes being built, each adjacent to another recently built housing complex. South Orange has a diverse socio-economic makeup, sharing borders with low-income areas of Newark and Orange, as well as more affluent suburbs such as Milburn and West Orange.

This information sets up some background for the village, but as with all localities, the character of the town lies largely with the individuals. I solicited five interviews with local residents on the streets, in the village, and even in a community garden. I focused the interview on the interviewee’s opinions on sustainability and food security, in the town and at large. Because I was interviewing in the middle of the day, my sample was limited, and ended up being all adults and mostly white individuals. The town itself is demographically white, about 60%, but there are large minority populations as well (2010 Census). As such, the views expressed cannot be interpreted as representative of the whole populace; however, I did notice a few interesting themes.

My interview subjects (in the order interviewed) were:

  • Chad, a 23 year-old mixed race man, currently unemployed, who has lived in South Orange for 16 years.
  • Corinne, a 43 year-old white woman, working as waitress, who has lived in South Orange for 3 years.
  • Eric, a 28 year-old white man, working as an employee at a local small business, who has lived in South Orange for his whole life.
  • P, a 63 year-old white man, a retired postal worker, who has lived in South Orange for 18 years.
  • Ed, a 48 year-old white man, working as a “government official”, who has lived in South Orange for 3 years.

The first question I asked each interviewee (after they identified themselves) was, “In your opinion, what are the most pressing problems in South Orange?” The answers were telling in how each person thought of the town before delving into the more specific topic of sustainability, and may be illustrative of their state of mind without priming. Chad noted many problems, including high taxes, “overcrowded, socially stratified schools”, proximity to high crime areas, and the “niche” businesses that don’t serve the larger community. Corinne replied that parking was her biggest concern without hesitation. Eric came up with no significant problems with the town, and P responded similarly. Ed told me about managing economic and population growth.

Right away I noticed that “sustainability” meant different things to different people. Chad’s answers reflected more interest in socially and culturally sustainable practices. When asked, “How have you seen the community change with respect to sustainability?”, he responded by saying that the town was focused on appearing “eco-friendly” and “green,” but noted that more people are “on the brink economically,” and that gentrification and high cost of living are straining the community. He told me that he believed food security was good, but qualified that there was no “overt hunger”. His efforts to be sustainable were small everyday things, like turning off lights, using less air conditioning and heat, and avoiding plastic bottles and bags. On the other hand, Corinne was unsure at first how to define sustainability in her own terms, but came around to defining it in terms of personal health, such as exercise and nutrition. She believed local government shouldn’t be concerned with sustainability, and said she was only “a little” concerned with it herself.

Eric had very little to say, responding that he had “no opinion” about sustainability and acknowledging little concern with the impact of his lifestyle. P was also a man of few words, but showed more interest in the topic. His definition of sustainability was when something can “keep it up, keep going”. He said he had not seen the community change regarding sustainability, and noted that the two food stores closest to him had closed in recent years. He said that neither his eating habits, nor buying habits were influenced by sustainability. Unlike P, Ed had a lot to say on the topic, which was unsurprising; I approached him in the community garden, an ideal of urban sustainability. He defined sustainability as “responsible use of resources”, and said the subject was very important to him. His responses revealed a concern with energy use, and talked about the development of a dense downtown infrastructure as sustainable because everyone in the town is within walking distance of public transit, and can walk most places. His efforts to be sustainable were focused on using less nonrenewable energy, such as living in a smaller space, driving less, and eating seasonal vegetables.  He was the only interviewee who grew his own food. He showed me his plot in the garden, and was even picking radishes and lettuce from the soil. Of all five interviewed, only P didn’t mention buying food at the local farmer’s market.

One of my last questions was, “What do you think or know about climate change?” Everyone responded that they believed it was already occurring. Chad, P, and Ed all mentioned the belief that human activity drivesclimate change. Only Ed expressed hope that it would end, mentioning recent EPA regulation.

Finally, I posed an open-ended question about any other environmental concerns I hadn’t brought up, to gauge what sort of issues were on their minds. Chad rattled off a long list of worries; rising sea levels, dying bee populations and fisheries, water availability, displacement of populations due to climate change, and more. Corinne responded that she was concerned with litter in the town. Eric didn’t bring up any other concerns. P responded more emphatically to this question than others, talking about hydraulic fracturing and its effects on water availability, and even about the unsustainable state of the economy. Ed filled me in about a cleanup of the Passaic River, and the legal circumstances of the cleanup.

As I walked around South Orange, looking for evidence of sustainable (or unsustainable) efforts, I found a few loud proclamations of sustainability and “eco-friendliness”, as Chad put it. There are signs around town advertising the village’s Farmer’s Market, once a week in the downtown area [picture 1 and 2].

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The market is typically fairly small and offers local produce, as well as some handmade products, such as candles and soaps.

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Nearby the Farmer’s Market is the community garden [picture 3], where residents can grow fresh produce, even if they don’t have a garden or yard at home. Ed noted that this was especially helpful for people living in apartments and condos; he hoped that the garden would be expanded in the future. I also noticed a sign cropping up in yards recently reading “Solarize SOMA” [picture 4] (SOMA referring to South Orange and the adjacent town Maplewood). It advertises a free solar assessment and promotes its website: solarizesoma.org.

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A visit to the website shows that currently 12 homes in SOMA have gotten solar power systems installed on their homes through this service. Another yard sign visible around town reads, “NO DAM”[picture 5], and advertises a petition. These signs refer to a proposed damming in the nearby South Mountain Reservation, a dam around 70-feet high and 800-feet across. The damming met opposition on environmental grounds, and likely emotional grounds as well, as it would flood a valley that is currently a popular location to walk, barbeque, or fish.

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There are also signs that South Orange could be more conscious of sustainable practices. For one thing, although there are solar powered trash compacters in the village [picture 6], the downtown has no recycling bins that I could see. The town may sort the recycling out of the trash, but it seems to me that there should be a simpler solution, even if that is the case.

Andy 6

I also noticed that the town runs two fountains during the warmer months [picture 7]. The fountains are not well maintained, and though some would argue it’s worth its cost, the water used in these fountains is not insignificant.

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An ironic reminder of the waste is a sign posted near a fountain, hidden behind overgrown bushes, reminding South Orange to conserve water [picture 8].

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After my interviews, I met my sister for a cup of coffee before my train. Though I had found a number of people to interview, I found myself distracted by the response I got from many others when asked for an interview. It seemed to me that to many, the topic of sustainability is an unpleasant one, and I met a strange sort of resistance to discussing it, even among those I interviewed. Though the town fosters a culture that values sustainability, much of it is directed at encouraging such a culture, and not active efforts. Despite the distance left to go before a sustainable society is established, there are signs everywhere that that goal is gaining more attention. It’s important to remember that sustainability comes in many forms, and individual efforts can accumulate to enact massive change.