The Battery Park Urban Farm: Organic Education in a City of Steel.
By Sam Senini
The Battery Urban Farm tucked into the historic Battery district on the southernmost tip of Manhattan is one little acre of greenery striving to make a huge impact on the community. The chilly 9 o’clock morning air and overcast weather does little to cloud the smiling faces on the group of children who have just arrived to tour the farm. A friendly young employee greets us with a smile and steers us out of the vicinity of the young children currently on their hands and knees in a vegetable patch speaking to a tour guide of their own. Meet Lauren Kaplan, the Urban Farm project coordinator here with our NYU Journalism class to tell us a bit more about this curious plot of land that sits in stark contrast to the sky-rise buildings, street traffic and clamor of Wall Street that surrounds it.
NYU: What was the motivation behind opening the farm?
Kaplan: Thats usually what I start with actually! While the farm started in 2011, it really started before than in about November of 2010 a group of high school environmental students from millennial high school approached the battery conservancy and asked to grow vegetables and the battery conservancy instead of giving them a little plot, decided to create an urban farm.
NYU: What do you see as the Urban farm’s bigger purpose?
Kaplan: We have three main goals. Number one is to basically teach kids and the New York City community about growing and eating healthy foods. Another is teaching about sustainability through garden education. And we try to improve interest in trying new [healthy] foods. We work to achieve these things mostly through classes, but I think in everything we do were really trying to focus on making the community more sustainable and increase the understanding and value of food production.
NYU: Can anyone just walk in off the street and get a self guided tour?
Kaplan: Yup, we are a public park and we encourage people to do that. Anyone is welcome, but at some point we may begin locking the gates because we have had an increase in vegetable theft, so we want to keep our valuables safe, and then still have our open hours.
NYU: How did you get involved with the organization here?
Kaplan: I grew up in Eastern Long Island a very rural area, and I’ve always just been very interested in the environment and plants and food. I wanted to something I felt very passionate about.
NYU: Are you Vegan?
Kaplan: I am not, no. And I don’t think your have to be vegan or vegetarian to support this movement. Here we focus on how food is grown, where you get your food, and how that is important to your diet, and the environment. The same is true for meat, we happen just to not be able to have cattle in the farm.
NYU: You said you donate the produce from here to public schools, are these the same schools that come here to take field trips?
Kaplan: They are. I don’t know if they have to, but we’d like to keep it that way because then the food has more impact. In some cases the schools will help harvest. Last spring we would harvest some of the food, and then the schools would come and harvest the rest of it. We would then give them the food, and the kids and the parents would walk it back to the school. That way the kids actually got to see it arriving [from the ground] and then see it the next day in the cafeteria which is kind of nice.
NYU: Do you think that the children walk away from here taking what they have learned and apply that knowledge to their lives in the future.
Kaplan: Short answer yes. We hear reports form teachers that the students know more, they make a lot more connections, they bring up what they learn in the classrooms. We’ve been working on trying to get more of a quantitative measurement on the farm’s impact, such as doing surveys with parents and chaperones whose kids attend the farm classes. The numbers are still changing, but we’ve seen somewhere between 40 and 75 percent saying their kids will eat more vegetables, are more willing to try new vegetables, and more willing to learn about the outdoors.
NYU: What is the general response from the neighboring community?
Kaplan: We’ve had no real negative responses. Besides the people who make very pointed remarks about their dislike for the fence structure. [It is a structure made of bamboo in the shape of a turkey]. The residential community has responded really positively. A lot of people will come down and bring their kids when we have festivals or open volunteer days. This is their park. This is their neighborhood.