By Michelle DiMuzio, Slow Food USA Editorial Intern
The Slow Food NYC chapter has been operating the Ujima garden for over a decade, a community garden based in East New York. We spoke with Kendall Singleton, Slow Food NYC Board Co-Chair, to learn more about the garden and to chat about their current fundraiser.
Can you tell me more about the Ujima Garden and how it got started?
Kendall: Ujima began (back in 1994!) as a community garden associated with the NYC Parks Department, and after lying fallow for a period, Slow Food NYC took on operations in 2010. The garden is located in the East New York neighborhood of Brooklyn, a community with high rates of obesity, diabetes, and food insecurity, as well as with the highest concentration of fast food restaurants anywhere in New York’s five boroughs.
What is Slow Food NYC’s role in the Ujima Garden?
Slow Food NYC, with the key support of our lead gardener Jonathan Blumberg, manages the Ujima Garden as a site to exhibit and teach the Slow Food principles of making good, clean and fair food accessible for all. We coordinate with local schools to bring their students onsite to the garden for hands-on learning, and we’ve partnered with community organizations to launch a free produce distribution program, delivering the produce that we grow and harvest at Ujima to neighborhood partners that can get this food to our neighbors in need.
What do the educational programs at Ujima entail?
In typical growing seasons, we host tuition-free educational programs where up to 2,000 neighborhood children have the opportunity to learn about sustainable growing practices and nutrition education. These farm visitors may get to see organic farming techniques in practice, and then harvest basil in order to see a pesto-making demonstration in action. We also host summer interns through NYC’s Summer Youth Employment Program.
What are you currently growing at Ujima?
We’re growing a wide variety of produce, like horseradish, beans, Egyptian walking onions, basil, eggplant, squash, and cucumbers. Ujima’s garden beds are also home to many Ark of Taste foods! Some examples are: San Marzano tomatoes, Pippin’s Golden Honey sweet pepper, White Velvet okra, and Moon and Stars watermelon.
What will the funds from the fundraiser go towards?
In recognition of the ongoing food insecurity in East New York, we’re currently seeking funding for 1) lumber to purchase and install additional raised beds to prepare us for larger produce donations to the community next growing season; and 2) support for the labor and infrastructure needed to operate at a larger scale for the remainder of this season and beyond. We’re fortunate to be partnering with the nonprofit fundraising platform ioby, as they’re matching our fundraising efforts and ensuring that every dollar we receive in donations is doubled!
What are some of the key takeaways from the project so far?
Ujima’s location and scale has lent itself well to expanding from a purely educational and learning site into also serving as a flourishing hub for growing and distributing produce to the surrounding community.
Where do you hope the project will go in the future?
We hope to reinforce the idea of the Ujima Garden as a well-known and welcoming destination for healthy, nourishing food, and nutrition education, and thus make it an appealing and easily accessible alternative to the multitude of fast food options in East New York. We also want to fully utilize our space, and can do so by installing raised beds in the section of the garden that doesn’t yet have these. That will enable us to both scale production significantly, and to increase the number of students we can safely bring back to the garden for hands-on urban agriculture and nutrition education.
What is your favorite food produced by the Ujima Garden so far?
The figs from our fig tree.
Learn more about the Ujima garden and donate to the project through their ioby page.