Story by Kritika Kulshrestha
Photos by Kritika Kulshrestha and Manhattan Borough President’s Office
There is more to urban agriculture than just food production. Urban farming introduces communities, children and adults to the value of green spaces in a city such as New York and allows for the creation of an educational environment where children can come and learn the sciences in an engaging way, according to Zach Pickens, an urban farmer at New York City-based Riverpark Farm.
Pickens was one of four panelists talking about “Advanced Urban Farming Techniques” Oct. 14 during the Grow: Urban Garden Symposium in New York City. Also speaking was Cornell University Cooperative Extension-NYC (CUCE-NYC) associate Philson A.A. Warner, who spoke at an advanced urban farming techniques panel. Warner, the founding director of CUCE-NYC’s Hydroponics, Aquaculture, Aquaponics Learning Lab, addressed an audience of about 250 when he described ways to get his pioneering technologies into classrooms across the city.
The urban garden symposium was organized by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer’s office – in collaboration with CUCE-NYC, Randall’s Island Park Alliance and the American Museum of Natural History, which also served as the venue for the event. Its purpose was to identify resources for people wanting to start an urban garden or to take their existing gardens to the next level.
“It is wonderful to co-sponsor an event that brings together so many New York City residents who are passionate about urban gardening,” said Jennifer Tiffany, CUCE-NYC executive director. “The participants in this symposium show the powerful connections between ‘growing food’ and ‘growing people.’”
The symposium kicked off with the “Urban Gardening 101: Where To Start?” panel moderated by Cornell Small Farm Program Director Anu Rangarajan, who questioned the panelists about the key things they did to be successful at urban gardening, the biggest lessons learned, and surprises or benefits they noticed to urban farming.
“We are all about pathways,” Rangarajan said. “We want to support people so that they can get into agriculture and urban gardening.”
“Community gardens registered with New York City Parks GreenThumb have access to soil, resources and connections to organizations such as Cornell Cooperative Extension,” Kenneth Williams, Manhattan outreach coordinator at GreenThumb, told the audience. Some of the biggest lessons Williams said he learned after urban gardening were that it was important to assess the assets in a community and have enough support from other partner organizations and politicians to ensure ongoing preservation.
Addressing a question from an audience member about challenges associated with implementing hydroponics and aquaponics in schools, Cornell scientist Warner said that the learning curve was the biggest drawback. “We at Cornell changed our strategies because we trained teachers in the science department in schools and we went from the community aspect to teaching young people how to producer cleaner, safer food using hydroponics,” he said.
Warner also demonstrated his hydroponics technology at the urban garden fair during the symposium using his mini-hydroponics unit. Participants met with exhibitors like Warner and watched live demonstrations.
“Promoting healthy human development and building strong secure food systems are key objectives of Cornell University’s research, teaching and outreach programs and of Cornell University Cooperative Extension’s work in the city and statewide,” Tiffany said.
“Part of our mission is to bridge Cornell research on urban gardening and urban agriculture with the New York City community programs highlighted today. We hope to continue to partner with Gale Brewer and her staff on the work launched with the GROW report on urban gardening and with today’s symposium.”