Fresh produce – from the Bronx?
An urban garden in the borough recently collaborated with local youth to assist and better the community.
On Wednesday, August 12, Bissel Gardens, a garden located on Bissel Avenue between Barnes, Bruner and Baychester avenues, hosted their annual Farmers’ Market event.
At the annual event, local teenagers and young adults from the Youth Stewardship Program, ages 14-15, and the Summer Youth Employment Program, ages 16 to 24, sold the garden’s fresh produce to the community and presented their ideas and projects about environmental justice, health and gardening.
During the six-week summer period, these individuals were taught how to maintain the garden – learning how to weed and harvest, among other tasks.
The garden’s projects, which were presented by the teenage group, included ‘The Fresh Vegetables of Bissel Gardens’, which compared and contrasted freshly grown crops at Bissel Gardens with vegetables sold at a local supermarket, ‘Weeds – The Game’, which revealed therapeutic and helpful ways to pick weeds, as well as ‘Touring Bissel Gardens’, a walking tour that shared the history of the neighborhood surrounding the Bissel Pathway, the people who maintain the garden and identifying different crops that grow in the garden.
In total, 21 ideas and projects were presented from members of the garden’s Youth Stewardship Program in front of an audience that included Councilman Andy King, Councilman Andrew Cohen, executive vice-president of United Healthcare Workers Dan Johnson and Assemblyman Carl Heastie, among others.
After the presentations, King announced his commitment to allocate $8,000 to the Youth Stewardship Program.
A barbecue was also held to celebrate the end of both summer program.
“In my opinion, the Farmer’s Market had a more successful year than when I first started here,” said garden volunteer Hailey Cotto, who started volunteering three years ago with the Youth Stewardship Program and was given the position as project director for this summer’s group.
Over the summer, the 2.2-acre urban farm produced vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers, onions, string beans, collared greens, cucumbers and spinach as well as herbs such as basil, oregano and sage.
The mission of the Farmers’ Market at Bissel Gardens is, and has always been, connecting and strengthening the community’s local food economy as well as providing an aesthetic green-gathering space for residents, while keeping the focus on education, involvement, community and growth.
Gardener and board member Heather Warren-Dombrowa believes that Bissel Gardens would not be what it is today without the assistance of the many helpers and volunteers that have contributed to it.
“Bissel Gardens is definitely evidence that people working together can result in bringing community ideas to fruition,” said Warren-Dombrowa. “To see this garden now as compared to how it looked 20 years ago is a reminder as to how much can get done from just volunteering and non-profit work.”
Bissel Avenue, which was originally an abandoned and unpaved road, was transformed into a garden when a local neighborhood block association began the beautification effort in 1993, and by 1994, the garden was officially named Bissel Gardens, Inc.
As the years went on, Bissel members and thousands of visiting volunteers worked to create the five areas that now make up Bissel Gardens – The Propagation Area, The Children’s Garden, The Community Garden, The Food for Others Garden and the Farmers’ Market Area – each area striving to create projects that will assist and better the community, the Bronx and New York as a whole.