Bye, bye fast food. Urban farming is making grow-your-own-greens a delicious alternative to eating out.
By Wanda O’Brien
Photography by Eric McNatt
Shontanyce Bailey is sowing a revolution in agriculture… smack dab in the middle of New York’s five boroughs.
The Brooklyn native grew up with an excess of fast food joints nearby, while, contrarily, hard pressed to find a fruit and veg stand anywhere in the vicinity of her home. As the young woman is quick to admit, such proprietors were so foreign to her neighbourhood, she wouldn’t have even thought to look for one. “My mind wasn’t open,” Shontanyce shares. “I didn’t have any knowledge about food and justice and what was really going on.”
Her introduction to a greener diet started when she joined the Green City Force, an AmeriCorps program that engages youth with the environment. Before hands get to work in the soil, the program introduces the idea of healthy eating. And here’s where the light bulb switches on: eating healthy isn’t just about diet, access to fresh veggies is actually a social justice issue, i.e., a question of access.
In the eyes of youth like Shontanyce, this is a problem that needs fixing. “What do I care most about? Poverty, healthy eating, people not having access to be able to afford it,” she asserts.
The young woman’s commitment to the cause is enough for her to swear off fast food, which she admits to have been less than easy. Soon though, this unlikely farmer discovered what she was missing, or more accurately, what she stood to gain from passing on fast and fried. Then, before long, her passion for fresh produce took hold for good. Literally and figuratively.
With Green City Force, Shontanyce developed a green thumb in the city, helping to build an urban farm on a public housing property where the produce is given to neighborhood residents for free.
Not everyone, though, was as excited as Shontanyce to welcome this new green space into the neighbourhood. In fact, during the first harvest, it was difficult to get people to eat anything from the garden. “They did not like it at all,” the young woman recalls. For residents, the farm seemed to be taking something away from their community, rather than giving anything of worth back to it. As Shontanyce shares, her planting was met with comments like: “You shouldn’t build a farm here, the kids need a park, they need somewhere to play.”
Finding it “hard to try to explain the beauty of having a farm in your own community,” she and her peers decided to grow and show, while starting a dialog with community members about the importance of a nutritious diet—fresh fruit and vegetables necessarily included.
Even still, people were reluctant to accept the produce of this new green city gem. But the team didn’t give up. “We would hand out food to people, and be like ‘just take it, try it. It’s for you, it’s free.’”
Today, Shontanyce no longer needs to convince her community of the benefits associated with farm fresh food; now harvest season is a time to celebrate. “They’re excited! They’re like, ‘Oh you guys are back again… you’re helping; you’re doing a good job!’”
Still early days, Shontanyce wants to inspire more people in the area to eat healthy. She sees the farm, and access to vegetables, as a right everyone deserves—regardless of their zip code. On top of this, she emphasizes that nutrition is an investment all people could—and should—benefit from. “Once you start working on yourself and you start eating healthier, your body feels different, your mind feels different… it just feels so good.”
Watch Shontanyce’s full story.