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Growing vibrant community hubs in NYC neighborhoods, one raised bed of produce at a time

When it comes to fresh produce, there’s local and then there’s local.

New York Restoration Project (NYRP) transforms relatively small pieces of the city’s urban fabric into bountiful community gardens that generate fresh produce for some 2,000 New Yorkers who might not otherwise always have access, right in their neighborhoods. The nonprofit runs 43 community gardens across all five boroughs, but also helps local organizations like churches, public schools, and New York City Housing Authority residences create and utilize their own community gardens.

A recent grant from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF), made as part of the Foundation’s $100 million global COVID-19 relief initiative, supported NYRP’s burgeoning Urban Agriculture program. During this time, NYRP constructed 126 raised beds at 18 partner organizations in local communities, hosted workshops like one on preserving vegetables and herbs in the Bronx, and offered guidance to community gardeners through individual technical consultations.

Growing healthy, fresh-as-possible produce that would otherwise have cost tens of thousands of dollars to purchase and distributing it through mutual aid partnerships to those who needed it most is a primary focus of NYRP’s Urban Agriculture program. But the gardens serve a host of other functions in their communities as well.

Grills built into the space offer the chance for cookouts. Projector screens mean being able to hold movie nights. Students from nearby schools come to visit and learn. Just as what’s planted in the beds is determined by the community gardeners who tend them, the flexible garden spaces serve the needs of the communities they’re located in. And on a basic level, the gardens provide verdant, peaceful oases in often crowded and chaotic cityscape that surrounds them.

SNF’s support sits at the intersection of two key priorities of its pandemic relief initiative: getting food to those who need it and reimagining how public spaces can be set up to be inclusive for all and useful to as many as possible. The SNF-LC Agora initiative, for example, sought to reactivate Lincoln Center’s iconic campus with outdoor programming for New Yorkers of all stripes, including by collaborating with Food Bank For New York City on free food distribution.

A number of other past SNF partners have sought to connect New Yorkers, especially kids, with local food production, from Edible Schoolyard NYC, which builds gardens and kitchen classrooms for public schools, to the Edible Academy at the New York Botanical Garden, which hosts hands-on programming to help families learn about growing produce and herbs.

The 2021 growing season is drawing to a close and winter fast approaching, but that doesn’t mean NYRP’s Urban Agriculture program is slowing down. After all, winter is really just the pre-season for next year’s planting season.