“That’s a park?!” Sparking dialogue through urban interventions

A couple of months ago, NYCGo launched the See Your City campaign aimed at getting New Yorkers to check out local places they might not otherwise travel to -- Van Cortlandt Park and Arthur Ave. in the Bronx, St. George in the forgotten borough of Staten Island, Carroll Gardens in Brooklyn, and others. Naturally I …

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Luanda, Kapuscinski, and the Geography of Daydreams

Luanda -- a city I’ll probably never see, but which for whatever reason exerts a very strong pull on me. Other places have had the same effect; I’ll know next to nothing about them, have zero practical reason for ever visiting, and yet something about them -- the idea of them -- stays lodged in …

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Brooklyn Pastoral: the Grange’s Alia Ornstein on RIF and Urban Farming

Interview I conducted for RIF with the Brooklyn Grange’s Alia Ornstein.

Growing Together

I’m wandering amidst a sea of hot peppers – Hungarian wax, serrano, golden cayenne – when Alia Ornstein waves me down from the opposite end of the farm, her tell-tale floppy farmer’s hat distinguishing her from the rest of the Brooklyn Grange staff and trainees. She’s just wrapped up a meeting with a Grange partner and can now spare a few minutes to speak with me before returning to the important work at hand – the beds that need tilling, the chickens that need feeding, the CSA shares that need bagging.

Alia enjoying lunch with the RIF participants. (Photo: Koray Ersin)

A former lawyer, she moves purposefully past the trellised cucumbers, a rake in her hand though I can just as easily picture a briefcase full of case notes and legal briefs. She shakes my hand and pulls a couple of chairs into the shade of the rooftop’s big generator…

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Denise’s Story: From the Congo to New York

Piece written for the Refugee & Immigrant Fund (RIF) on a program participant, Denise, and her experiences as a refugee in New York.

Growing Together

Denise is a refugee and asylum seeker from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a nation crippled by colonialism, ransacked of its resources — first by the Belgians, then by its own inept rulers — and fraught with ongoing conflict. A spillover of violence from neighboring Rwanda has plagued the eastern portion of the country for two decades, and has given rise to the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war; the area has been called “the worst place in the world to be a woman,” though men and children suffer, as well.

The emotional effects of the hardships one inevitably endures living in such a place are not immediately apparent in Denise who, diminutive and with an endearing smile, comes across as a sort of fairy godmother. I saw her eyes light up upon entering the greenhouse on her first day at the farm.

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Day 1 at the Farm – Hope Grows in Brooklyn

Piece written for the Refugee & Immigrant Fund (RIF) this past April.

Growing Together

An unexpected cold front has coated the city in a fine slick of ice and powdery snow and bitter winds whip along the narrow streets of this corner of DUMBO in Brooklyn, stubborn winter seemingly unaware that it is nearly May. Temperatures have dipped into the 40’s, though with the wind blowing off the nearby East River it feels even colder — colder, certainly, than the tropical African climes most of our group is accustomed to.

Today is the first day of the 2014 growing season for RIF’s newest group of participants — refugees and asylum seekers rebuilding their lives in New York. Through RIF’s Urban Farm Project and in partnership with Brooklyn Grange, the world’s largest rooftop soil farm operating in Brooklyn and nearby Long Island City, Queens, they will spend the next six months learning the ins and outs of the city’s exploding urban agriculture scene. From…

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