Battery Urban Farm: NYC’s Little Treasure

by Janah Campbell

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New York City is a fast fun-filed location, and a hot spot for many tourists. However, the city never ceases to amaze, and holds a tiny natural treasure in its lower region called Battery Urban Farm. Battery Urban Farm, an educational farm which teaches children how to farm and grow food, was established in November 2010. Located in Battery Park, the farm can easily be accessed by public transportation, with the closest stop being the Bowling Green subway station. It is also a project of the Battery Conservancy, which is a non-profit organization that works in partnership with the NYC Parks Department. Battery Urban Farm grows plenty of fresh vegetables and select fruits, oats and plants such as basil, pole beans, carrots, broccoli, strawberries, tomatoes, lettuce, okra, popcorn and many others. One of the many important goals of this farm is to get their fresh foods into school cafeterias and teach students the importance of freshly grown foods. As a class of eager journalism students studying at New York University, we interviewed Lauren Kaplan, who works as the Project Coordinator and in Volunteer Services, to find out a little more information on the Battery Urban Farm.

Q: How do different classes or different schools go about reserving a spot for themselves?

A: “We have that information on our website, but basically they have to email me and fill out a form and it basically comes on a first come first serve basis. For the most part the same schools that we’ve been working with are the same ones that we’ve been working with since the beginning. So when the farm first started we went and we reached out to a bunch of different schools, and the ones that were interested came and started working with us… The process is set up such that anyone can sort of apply and there’s no cost, but it just tends to be that we work with a lot of the same schools”

Q: What was the motivation for opening the farm in the first place?

A: “That’s a good question, that’s usually what I start with. So the farm started in 2011, but it really started before that in about November of 2010 when a group of high school environmental club students from millennium high school approached the battery conservancy and asked if they could grow vegetables in the park and so the battery conservancy instead of giving them a little plot decided to create an urban farm.”

Q: What kind of challenges do you face being in such an urban area?

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A: “Well squirrels are a big pest for us. Somebody once saw the fence and asked if it was a deer fence and I had to remind him that even though he’s from New Jersey and most of the farming he sees is out there we don’t really have deer in the park. Deer are not a problem, squirrels are. We have a lot of humans 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 with their dogs in the park who are not supposed to have dogs off leash but they do anyway. Dogs will come in if they run around the farm they can really destroy things. So those are some challenges just to the space itself. On the one hand we are very public and accessible which is great for learning and education that’s what we want this space to be but we have those kinds of challenges that are difficult to  control.

Q: How did you recover from Sandy?

A: “Good question, so the biggest devastation to the battery was our office. We were located in a low ground office just over there at one new york plaza. We lost the entire thing it flooded floor to ceiling. We lost everything that was in the office all of our files our documents, our materials, everything. That was the biggest loss. That we did recover from with grants and help from the city and we now have a new office space. The park itself had a lot of salt damage because of flooding and so we reached out to other areas that have had this kind of flooding damage and basically asked them how they dealt with it and our cultural staff is very knowledgable. They basically swept out the soil with a lot of water, tried to get that salt to recede, and we cut back a lot of our parenial plants not here in the farm but in the garden to get rid of the salt damaged materials. A lot of the plants have come back so that was really successful.”

Q: How did you get involved with the organization?

A: “I got involved because I had been working in the publishing for a number of years, but I grew up in a very rural area and I’ve always been very interested in the environment and nature and plants. I grew up in eastern Long Island, Northfolk. There are a lot of small farms beautiful area, wineries and vineyards…I decided I wanted to do something I felt more passionately about. Something I absolutely feel really strongly about.”

Q: Are you vegan?

A: “I am not, no and I don’t think you have to be vegan or vegetarian to support this movement. In fact, many people are going to eat meat, they’re never going to give it up. I think that it’s just as important to learn to value vegetables, to eat less meat and more vegetables, but also think about where your meat is coming from. Here we focus on how food is grown and where you get your food and how that’s important to your diet and to the environment, a lot of the natural cycles we all rely on, the same is true for meat, we just happen to not be able to have cattle in the farm here.”

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