URBAN AGRICULTURE + FOOD JUSTICE

A YEAR IN THE LIFE: 2011 YEAR-IN-REVIEW
EcoStation:NY, Brookyn’s Bushwick-based nonprofit organization dedicated to food justice and environmental awareness, had another year of impressive growth in 2011, initiating innovative partnerships, and launching projects of great impact.

Bushwick Farmers' Market, bringing fresh food from family farms to the neighborhood, continued to grow, promoting locally-grown food and healthy eating habits. Bushwick Campus, home to four progressive charter schools, also became home to Bushwick Campus Farm & Greenhouse, spearheaded by EcoStation. And, high atop a building in East Williamsburg's industrial zone, Farm-in-the-Sky, a prototype rooftop farm, took shape.

Despite setbacks and obstacles, including a few brushes with Mother Nature, it was a year full of exciting, challenging work - and not without its share of rewards and celebration. Herewith, a recap of EcoStation's activities in 2011...
EcoStation:NY extends our deepest thanks
to our supporters in 2011:
Green Guerillas
Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez
Council Member Diana Reyna
Citizens Committee for New York City
Brooklyn Community Foundation
William & Mary Greve Foundation
Partnerships for Parks
The Fund for Public Health in New York

...and to our community partners as well:
Bushwick Campus • Just Food
El Puente Bushwick Leadership Center
Make the Road NY • Chrissy's Cooking Club
Boswyck Farms • Solar One • Grow-to-Learn
Earth Matter NY • Brooklyn Fire Proof
Brooklyn Dept of Health • Dragonetti Brothers

S p r i n g
In March, EcoStation met with educator and longtime friend, Adam Schwartz, to discuss a "garden" for his school, Academy of Urban Planning, one of the then-three high schools of Bushwick Campus. Adam, through a grant from Sodexo Foundation, and in collaboration with Solar One, had developed a "Green Lab" for his students, and he wanted the project and his students' seedlings to have a life beyond the classroom walls.

At the suggestion of Bushwick School for Social Justice principal Mark Rush, an under-used parcel of school property was eyed. The initial idea, to start what would be a temporary garden (with no summer programming component) quickly germinated into a fuller concept, one that would actively demonstrate best practices in sustainable agriculture - and produce food.
The timing of this opportunity was crucial, for after a protracted dispute, EcoStation was forced to withdraw from the Linden-Bushwick Community Garden, and to shut down the Secret Garden Farm and Nature Preserve project.

Moving day was a very sad one indeed, tempered only by the knowledge that we had led the renovation of one of the largest open green spaces in the area, transforming it from an overgrown and trash-filled lot to a viable growing space and native plant sanctuary. We hope that is is put to good use and shared with the community.
Earth Week is traditionally a big deal to EcoStation, and 2011 was no different, with something for the young, the old, and those in between.

We returned to Palmetto Gardens Senior Center for a second year, and we had a joyous time preparing a colorful, delicious and nutritious meal with a squad of vivacious senior volunteers. The live music by Juan Giovanni had everyone everyone dancing! Luckily, our new Bushwick Farmers' Market tote bags arrived the same day, and several were given away as door prizes.

Later in the week we sang "Happy Earth Day to You" with the youngsters at Hope Gardens Community Center, treating them to homemade veggie pizza and an interactive music and dance jam session featuring local musicians and instruments from around the world.

Tandem, one our favorite local bar-restaurants, hosted our Earth Day Eve Dance Party fundraiser, featuring live music by Eva Lou Vossembaumer and Andre Dimapilis on violin and didgeridoo, prizes donated by Brooklyn Salsa Company, and beer by local brewery, Sixpoint Craft Ales.
We broke ground on Bushwick Campus Farm in May, after several meetings with Principals Rush (Bushwick School for Social Justice), Nilda Gomez-Katz (Academy for Environmental Leadership), and Rodney Orji (Academy of Urban Planning), and a campaign to generate interest and support from teachers and students alike. The campaign included appearances at the school during Earth Week with a tabletop display depicting Ecostation's work, our signs asking, WHAT IS SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE? and, IS A FARM IN YOUR FUTURE?

The building of Bushwick Campus Farm was done entirely with students, from the construction of the raised beds, to the harvesting of the last crops in late Fall. Teachers brought their classes, and kids and neighbors volunteered after school. Our friends at Dragonetti Brothers helped relocate young trees, later returning with a massive truckload of dirt. It was a major mobilization effort.

Of particular note is Academy of Environmental Leadership's Green Team, an after-school group led by teacher, Mia Lefkowitz. This group, comprised largely of ESL students, were a joy to work with, and they remain dedicated to the project. (Fast forward to January, 2012: We were happy to be able to take twelve Green Team members to Northeast Organic Farming Association's winter conference in Saratoga Springs, where the students were exposed to the wider world of organic farming – thanks to a scholarship from Cornell University.)

The development of the Bushwick Campus Farm was led by Joe Chavez, who had done excellent work for EcoStation as a volunteer intern at The Secret Garden Farm, and was now working in AUP's Green Lab for Solar One. His leadership set the farm firmly on a path to success.
Bushwick Campus Farm is one of a handful of educational urban agriculture projects across the city pushing the envelope in the areas of integrated environmental and health education and public-nonprofit partnerships. Crops grown at the farm are sold at our Bushwick Farmers' Market locations; proceeds of these sales help offset the program's costs.

Many helped make Bushwick Campus Farm a reality: Brooklyn Botanic Garden's Master Composter program students built "lasagna-style" growing/composting beds, and Grow-to-Learn (the GrowNYC/GreenThumb school gardens initiative) hosted a corporate workday sponsored by POM Wonderful. The farm also became a proud member of Just Food's City Farms Network.
S u m m e r
June saw the return of Bushwick Farmers' Market to Maria Hernandez Park on Saturdays, and to the corner of Broadway and Linden Street on Wednesdays. Opening a Thursday market proved frustrating –the opening was delayed due to confusing and sometimes conflicting information, complicated permit requirements, and complex procedural prerequisites. To wit, EcoStation co-founder and Market Manager Travis Tench was asked to participate in Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer's efforts for a unified permit policy for community-based farmers' markets, which resulted in the report, "Red Tape, Green Vegetables." (Note: link opens PDF)

Bushwick Farmers' Market works with regional, family-owned farms and local food entrepreneurs to bring fresh fruits and vegetables to the area, which unfortunately has some of the highest rates of preventable, diet-related illness in New York City.


Our shared passion for cooking and "real food" was on full display during our Bushwick Farmers' Market Cooks! series. Pictured: Just Food Community Chef Christy Cedeño; Chrissy Michaels of Chrissy's Cooking Club.

New in 2011, our Bushwick Farmers' Market Cooks! program at Saturday's market highlighted all the wonderful, fresh ingredients our farmers made available every week –by showing them in action! Back-to-back cooking demonstrations by Just Food Community Chef Christy Cedeño, Chrissy Michaels of Chrissy's Cooking Club, and Brooklyn Department of Health's Stellar Markets Program all featured our locally-grown produce in fun, easy, and nutritious dishes.

In July, Bushwick Campus Farm's first "Youth Tillers" began work for the season. This summer youth training and employment program is a project of Green Guerillas, which has kindly served as EcoStation's sponsor and mentor since its founding. We are working together to expand the program in 2012, and are currently seeking funding to do so.

Also in July, EcoStation was honored to be named one of Citizens Committee for New York City's "Trailblazers." This is a new program of Citizens Committee, which normally supports smaller-scale neighborhood improvement projects. The new Trailblazers program provides more substantial support for innovative projects. We are proud to say that Citizens Committee has supported EcoStation from the start, and are honored by their recognition.

In late August, EcoStation launched another new project, Farm-in-the-Sky at Brooklyn Fire Proof, joining a growing number of exciting urban agriculture projects popping up across the city taking advantage of an under-utilized resource that the city has an abundance of: rooftops.

The lightweight, modular design of Farm-in-the-Sky's "growing pods," using common materials (conduit tubing, wooden shipping pallets), is a model of economy and simplicity, and easily replicated. We have plans to publish the design for all to have access to.

Installation went smoothly, and all was going along just fine. Then, not two weeks after its completion, Hurricane Irene came to town, and the entire operation had to be dismantled and removed until the storm passed. (Our lease agreement disallowing any anchoring to the building itself.) Mother Nature had tested our mettle once again, but our dedicated team soon had the farm back in production.

Its trial run a success, Farm-in-the-Sky will be tripled in size in 2012, growing salad greens and "micro greens," herbs, and small vegetables to be sold at our markets, and to local restaurants.

Farm-in-the-Sky at Brooklyn Fire Proof: the trial run.
F a l l
In the Fall, Maggie Cheney joined EcoStation, and took the reins as director of Bushwick Campus Farm, and has been doing exceedingly well in working with the school's staff and administrators to maximize the farm's educational impact, collaborating with teachers on integrating the learning opportunities at the farm into their lesson plans. Maggie and Joe are both graduates of University of California at Santa Cruz's Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems, well-versed in creating a 100% organic garden, free of chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

September 16 was the farm's big night: the Bushwick Campus Farm Dedication Dinner. It was an elegant and exciting evening al fresco, with students leading tours of the farm while local musicians played guitar, cello, and flute. The all-organic, all-local, and vegetarian meal was lovingly prepared and served by the extended Bushwick Farmers' Market family, and featured an entrée of eggplant, the farm's first standout crop.

Link: "Harvest Time at High School Farm: Bushwick Campus students spent the summer farming, now it's time to enjoy the bounty"
(An excellent article from writer and dinner guest Paul Cox of BushwickBK.com)


Coming Spring 2012:
Bushwick Farmers' Market Green Machine

In October, we were thrilled to receive word that we had been selected as winners of a highly competitive grant from U.S. Department of Agriculture's Farmers Market Promotion Program. Highlighted in the press release as being among the more innovative of the projects selected selected for funding, the sizable grant will go towards the development and deployment of the Bushwick Farmers' Market Green Machine.

The Bushwick Farmers' Market Green Machine will be a waste vegetable oil ("WVO") and solar-powered truck used to deliver market equipment (tents, tables, signs) and vegetables to our primary locations, and enable us to reach into areas in need of better access to fresh, locally-grown produce via smaller, satellite markets, and appearances at community events. Look for a major launch even this Spring!

At the end of October, we were all set to present the second annual ¡CALABAZAFEST!, a cross-cultural celebration of Day of the Dead, Halloween, and Harvest Fair traditions to be held in the central plaza of Maria Hernandez Park. Last year's celebration was so well received and much fun it just had to be repeated.

With the support of Partnerships for Parks, and working in collaboration with El Puente Bushwick Leadership Center and Make the Road New York (with a gererous contribution of craft supplies from Materials for the Arts), we had a solid team and impressive event planned, then... a blizzard struck!

The freak October blizzard of 2011 will live in infamy in our hearts, forcing us to move the event indoors, and all but the most adventurous, to stay home. Mother Nature had won this time - almost.

It was a testament to the character of all involved that the event went off without a hitch at the very accommodating P.S.123, with all the volunteers, partners, and performers braving the storm to deliver a day filled with music, food, and smiles. Musical highlights included Mariachi Tapatio Alvaro Paulino, and the stellar Mariachi Flor de Toloachi, an all-female mariachi band, in their second ¡CALABAZAFEST! appearance.


Above: The intrepid ¡CALABAZAFEST! Crew:
Lowel Clare, Patti Cortez, Mike Taylor, Christy Cedeño, Cristhian Mora, Audra Cortez, and Travis Tench.

Below: Those that braved the blzzard were rewarded
with a day of music, food, and fun!

W i n t e r
In December, EcoStation embarked on yet another new venture, the Holiday Food Fair and Bazaar at The Loom (an unique, indoor mini-mall on Flushing Avenue). The four-weekend event was an opportunity for us to extend the market season, and to work with local artisans and food producers. The folks at Bushberg Properties welcomed our new ideas and were great to work with, as were The Shops at The Loom’s proprietors. Special thanks go to Kavé Espresso Bar for hosting the opening night party, and to Karin at Better Than Jam for making it all happen.

Back at Bushwick Campus, we were partnering with local hydroponics experts Boswyck Farms, planning a greenhouse that would effectively make our operations there year-round. When it became clear that the project would require substantial financial backing, we launched an online fundraising campaign on Kickstarter.com, featuring a compelling video put togeher by volunteer Gabrielle Purifoy.

(Image links to Kickstarter website & video)

On December 16, Brooklyn Fire Proof's sprawling Nut Roaster Studio was the site of our annual Winter Solstice Feast, our annual fundraiser and celebration of the season. An electrical fire at EcoStation headquarters on the morning of the Feast disrupted last-minute preparations, but could not squelch the momentum and excitement that had been growing, especially after receiving the distinction of being previewed in Edible Brooklyn magazine.

This event continues to grow while still retaining its intimate charm. This year, for the first time ever, local restaurants were invited to join in the festivities and prepare samples of their cuisine for our guests. Northeast Kindgom, Café Ghia, Arancini Bros., and Brooklyn Fire Proof East all participated. Many of these restaurants are also customers, and regularly serve EcoStation-grown salad greens and vegetables. Even Manhattan's swanky Hurricane Club joined in, presenting an impressive roast suckling pig. Sixpoint Craft Ales, Amy’s Bread, Roberta’s, and Ronnybrook Dairy also made generous contributions.

Then there was the entertainment! The sweet and quirky solo stylings of Nicole Tourtelot were followed by Handstand Andy and The Handsome Man Band (fronted by Bushwick Farmers' Market's multi-talented manager, Travis Tench). The headliner, Reverend Billy and The Stop Shopping Gospel Choir, did not fail to please, combining humor, sincerity, and social commentary in a stirring performance.

An extra-big thank-you to our host, Burr Dodd, and his staff at Brookyln Fire Proof. The event was amazing!

The final weeks of 2011 were filled with anxiety over the Kickstarter campaign. EcoStation had never undertaken such a large grassroots fundraising campaign, and time was running out: Kickstarter is an "all-or-nothing" fundraising platform, so if we did not raise $15,000 in pledges, the greenhouse project would see no funding at all.

For the final push, we scheduled a restaurant event called Eat to Give at local restaurants Momo Sushi Shack and Northeast Kingdom, who committed to donate 5% of their proceeds from December 26 to our fundraiser. That evening, many EcoStation volunteers and supporters gathered at Northeast Kingdom to dine and support the event. The mood turned from trepidation to jubilation when it was announced that we had successfully met our goal earlier that day!
The outpouring of support from the community in the final weeks of 2011, at the Winter Solstice Feast and during our Kickstarter campaign, was really quite humbling: while we deeply appreciate the support we receive from foundations and government sources, the grassroots community support demonstrated in our hour of need was truly heartwarming, and we look forward to the challenges of 2012 with renewed gusto and determination.
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For more information about EcoStation, email Sean@EcoStationNY.org or call 646-393-9305

EcoStation: NY, Inc. • 130 Palmetto St, Suite 350 • Brooklyn, NY 11221