Tanya Fields wins right to start community garden
When she moved to Hunts Point from Harlem in 2003, Tanya Fields saw potential in a neighborhood starved for access to good food and striving for the same economic, political and social opportunities as more affluent neighborhoods.
A young single mother of two, Fields, then 23, soon found that every time she wanted to feed her children good, organic food, she had to leave Hunts Point and travel to the city to buy from Trader Joes, Fairway or “Whole Paycheck,” as she facetiously refers to Whole Foods.
Lacking green space in her own neighborhood, Fields often traveled to Central Park or other parks in Manhattan to give her children an outdoor experience they couldn’t get closer to home.
So four years ago, when Fields looked at the Fox Street playground near her apartment building and saw a scruffy field of weeds, she recruited a few friends and began planting flowers and vegetables on what she called Libertad Urban Farm.
The Department of Parks and Recreation wasn’t pleased. Within months, it took a plan to renovate the playground off the drawing board and took back control of the park.
But Fields, who has battled the city over its plans to build a jail in Hunts Point, joined a lawsuit that led to the shutdown of the notorious NYOFCo sewage plant, worked for Sustainable South Bronx and is now in the process of creating a mobile vegetable market to bring fresh produce to underserved South Bronx neighborhoods, never abandoned the idea of a new community garden in Longwood.
Now the executive director of an organization she created called the BLK Projek, Fields has found her space, a city-owned vacant lot at Simpson and Barretto streets. And in August 2013, she won permission from the city Department of Housing Preservation and Development to create a new Libertad Urban Farm there until the city finds a developer interested in building there.
It’s been four years in the making, but Fields says, “This project came right on time.”
The new Libertad Urban Farm is registered with Green Thumb, the parks department’s community gardening project.
According to parks department spokesman Nathan Arnosti, the housing department has not given up the site, only given Green Thumb temporary use of it. But Fields said that “temporary” doesn’t mean that the farm won’t survive for “one year, two years or 25 years.”
“There’s a bunch of ‘temporary’ gardens all over the city,” she said.
And even if the city finds a developer to build there, Green Thumb will work with the community to find another location.
Plans call for the land to be used in a variety of ways.
Imani Vidal, who has volunteered with the BLK Projek for about six months, said the aim is for residents to “enjoy a bunch of greenery. There’s not much around here,” she added.
Fields said the BLK Project looks forward to working with elementary schools and high schools in Hunts Point to use the land to teach students about the importance of good food and agriculture, a vision Joyce Campbell-Culler, a member of Community Board 2, finds heartening.
“I think that it will enhance the lives of our children,” Campbell-Culler said. “Not enough emphasis is put on health or the environment in our schools.”
Residents will be able to grow, consume and sell pesticide-free produce, Fields said. The farm will include a market. Both by giving people the opportunity to grow their own food and by circulating money in the local economy, the farm will give residents a measure of self-sufficiency, Fields believes.
When she first settled in Hunts Point, Fields recalled, she saw other single moms short on money, opportunity and education. She saw people in her community struggling with mental health and physical health issues.
She wanted to change that.
And she thought she knew how because she was dealing with these issues herself.
“I had the lived experience,” she said.
Now, she says, people can see black and brown faces taking charge of the community and be proud of that.
“That’s important,” she added.