by Hwi Yong M Shin
It’s a surreal feeling walking a dozen steps away from bustling inner-city of downtown Manhattan into a lush green vegetable garden and you find yourself wondering how many New Yorkers are aware that there was a farm in their own backyard, one known as the Battery Urban Farm. This one acre large farm, shaped in the outline of a turkey, finds its origins on the November of 2010, when a group of environmental club students from Millennium High School approached the Battery Conservancy and asked if they could grow vegetables in the park. Instead of giving them a small plot of land however, the Battery Conservancy gave them an entire farm. Today, the Battery Urban Farm runs non-profit educational programs for schools in Manhattans, from organizing field trips to donating their produce to school cafeterias. The Journalistic Inquiry Class of NYU visited Battery Park on October 16th to interview Lauren Kaplan, Project Coordinator and Volunteer Service Coordinator for the Battery Urban Farm, to learn more about their current struggles and future prospects of this fascinating gem in New York.
Journalistic Inquiry: What larger role do you think the Battery Farm is here to address?
Lauren Kaplan: Our three main goals here in the Battery Urban Farm is; (1) to teach kids and the New York community about eating good food, (2) to teach them about sustainability through garden education and (3) to try to improve their interest in eating new foods and trying new vegetables.
Journalistic Inquiry: The Battery Farm was hit hard during Hurricane Sandy. How well are you recovering now?
Lauren Kaplan: The biggest devastation to the Battery Conversancy was actually to our office. We were located in an underground office and it was flooded from floor to ceiling. We lost everything in that office; our files, our documents, materials, but we recovered with grants and help from the city and we now have a new office space. The park itself suffered a lot of salt damage because of flooding. We had to flush out the park with a lot of water in order to get the salt out of the soil and though a lot of the plants have come back, we did lose much of our winter crop.
Journalistic Inquiry: What kinds of challenges do you face farming in an urban area?
Lauren Kaplan: Squirrels are a big pest for us in urban area. We also have a lot of people coming in and some of them will pick from the plants we were planning on picking with kids or giving to schools so that can be an issue. People also have dogs in the park. Dogs will come in and if they really run around the park they can really destroy things.
Journalistic Inquiry: What agricultural challenges do you face here in an urban environment that you wouldn’t have to face in a rural one?
Lauren Kaplan: We do have some litter in the farm but it’s not a huge problem. We just clean that up. We do potentially have the problem of soil compaction because of the number of people who walk on the soil, compressing it and making it difficult for the air and water to reach the roots. So compaction can be a huge problem and in the city a lot of the city a lot of the soil can be contaminated with lead so we brought in new soil from Long Island.
Journalistic Inquiry: Since you’re so close to the city, is the Battery Farm a target for criminal activity like theft or graffiti?
Lauren Kaplan: The only kind of theft we see is vegetable theft for the most part and as much as that can be an issue, it’s understandable and a part of us feels like we’re here to serve the community anyways. We have had a wheelbarrow stolen during previous ears, but otherwise there haven’t been many problems.
Journalistic Inquiry: Are the squirrels really that big of a problem?
Lauren Kaplan: They are a huge problem. [Laughs] I used to think they were really cute and I guess I still kind of do but I also really don’t like them now. They bury nuts everywhere and they especially love to do it on the beds that we have just raked flat and cleared for planting. It disrupts the planting all the time. They will chew holes in the irrigation pipes when they’re thirsty. I left a muffin in my bag once but by the time I got back it was no longer mine. There was a squirrel sitting on my bag with my muffin.