There is a compact vegetable garden hidden between T1 and T2 buildings that many on the Kingsborough campus see, but don’t understand why it’s there. It is surrounded by a chain-link fence with a small metallic gate. There is a peeling red wooden sign that says KCC Urban Farm, but make no mistake, there’s a wild, blooming and bright association of people and ideas associated with everything that goes on inside.
As the sun rises above Kingsborough yard, there is a lot of work that needs to be done on the farm and thanks to KCC employees and students, it gets done. Throughout the day, you can see students turning over piles of compost, watering planting beds and harvesting the crops. You smell the earthy air, freshly cut greens and marigold flowers. Buzzing bees and butterflies fly around the garden and bring a sense of serenity. Even in the cold winter months, there’s work being done in one way or another.
The KCC Urban Farm is the first farm on the territory of a campus in CUNY that was established in 2011. There are thirty-two planting beds; nine of which are used by the faculties who bring their students to the garden on a regular basis. Although it is a quarter of an acre farm, there is a great variety of veggies and berries.
“In order to have all of this bounty right now, there is so much work has to happen even before,” said Glenda Ullauri, a Farm Educator. “If you don’t feel the soil, if you don’t feel the seed, if you don’t see the season it’s hard to grasp the complexity of growing food in the city and in this climate.”
Ullauri started working at Kingsborough Community College as an assistant farmer in the Fall of 2015. Since then, she obtained a degree in Environmental Anthropology and rejoined the crew in April 2017.
“The farm was established through an organization called Project EATS. The school was interested in exploring urban farming and Project EATS needed land,” said Ullauri. “When the Project EATS was here everything that was harvested here was sold to restaurants in the city to sustain the farm. In 2013, Project EATS moved on and Kingsborough took up the farm as a part of the Center for Economic and Workforce Development.”
Kingsborough students, as well as a farm crew, are incorporated in every step of gardening and farming. They plant the seeds, water the garden, build and turn compost piles and harvest.
Cris Izaguirre is the Farm Manager and began to work at the farm after Hurricane Sandy as an assistant. In August 2015, he became a Farm Manager. Izaguirre is in charge of planning, ordering supplies and seeds, and training students.
“It takes at least a growing season to train a student. All the work is seasonal,” said Izaguirre. “We are not doing the same work in the springtime or in the fall or in the summer. Everything changes and as we move along. It is continuous training.”
To keep a count of how much of the crop they harvested, the KCC farm crew weigh the yield and record the results. For instance, in a season, the farm produces over 3,000 thousand pounds of tomatoes. This year, they planted potatoes for the first time and in just one planting bed, students harvested 12 pounds of fingerling potatoes.
Food distribution occurs from June until the second week of November. It is usually on Thursdays from 11:30 to 1:00 pm on the territory of the farm or at V231.
By the first week of December, the farm is shut down. However, the farm crew orders materials and supplies and plans for the next season. They pull everything up and cover the crop, put everything away in storage.
“In December, we usually have a meeting when we reflect on the season. And we ask students what are they looking forward to planting for the next season,” said Ullauri. “With that information and also with the information the farm manager has, in terms of what the Culinary Arts Department likes as well.”
Mildrid Velez, a Liberal Arts student and a farm employee, finds the gardening experience more than relaxing. She believes that hands-on jobs are certainly soothing.
“I have been working at KCC Urban Farm since July 2017. I enjoy working outdoors and the exposure to sunlight always keeps me in a good mood,” said Velez. “I find the farm to be therapeutic. While I do solo activities, like weeding or harvesting, I meditate at the same time. Finding my peace of mind and practicing breathing techniques while enjoying the fresh air.”
Students not involved with the farm can get involved as well. Every Wednesday is a volunteer day. From 2:00 to 4:00 pm you have a chance to participate in an agricultural process. Togetherm the KCC farm crew and faculty, as well as students, can enjoy the hands-on experience and learn more about what it takes to maintain a sustainable food system.
“The KCC Urban Farm has introduced me to many new crops that I’ve never heard of before. The farm has opened many discussions where we learn about crop origins, food justice/injustice, and climate change,” said Velez. “And creating a safe space to discuss topics that we don’t get to open in classrooms.”
Photos By Svitlana Kovalenko