Green City Force is turning unused space in New York City's public housing into urban farms, and working with young people to educate themselves and their community about how to reap the nutritional benefits.
"Green City Force is an organization that works with AmeriCorps that provides jobs for youth coming from the New York housing communities. They work with students ages between 18 and 24. They work for a full year in learning sustainability, farming. They build out a farm," said Jennifer Tirado, the organization's Urban Farm Director. "It's really neighbors changing communities in the same neighborhoods that they're from."
Andrew Lewis is one of those neighbors. He grew up in the South Bronx and worked at Target before joining Green City Force, where he is now a team leader for a group that focuses on public education at the four farms located in public housing operated by the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA).
"Before I started this program, I had zero experience farming. I didn't know anything about growing any vegetables, growing any plants, or any garden knowledge," said Lewis. But now he is working with a team to impart their knowledge of farming and fresh food to other NYCHA residents. "My team, we are the food educators. We educate a community on the ways to cook different dishes with all the produce that's grown on the farm."
Green City Force is not alone in their efforts to educate their community on cooking with fresh vegetables. They are working with the Sylvia Center, a non-profit that teaches cooking skills to public housing residents.
"It's important to learn how to cook because that's the first way you can really take care of yourself and protect your health. It's a tradition that's slowly dying in homes. We're all so busy," said Samantha Pagan, Program Manager at The Sylvia Center. "The time around the dinner table is disappearing and with that we've seen our health get worse and worse. We're not eating fresh food anymore. Things are processed. It's important to bring that back."
On July 19, 2017, Green City Force and The Sylvia Center teamed up to host an Iron Chef -style competition at the Bay View Houses Farm in Brooklyn, where the team members of Lewis's team showed off the cooking skills they learned through the program. Dishes ranged from a rainbow salad to Swiss chard spring rolls to a fresh garden salsa.
"It's about the core member and it's about them changing personally and professionally," said Tirado. "And in turn changing the community."
New York City's Cabaret Law outlaws dancing inside any establishment that does not have a cabaret license.