The locavore movement is enjoying ever more popularity in New York City, with urban farms, chicken coops and beehives cropping up around Brooklyn. And, at Kingsborough Community College, April is the first anniversary of its Urban Farm program — a commitment to sustainable food practices that has already altered the way students relate to their food.
“There is a change in judgment when students get to pick their own [produce] and when they are able to grow it, process it and taste it. And having a farm on campus seems like a natural extension of our culinary arts program because nothing replaces the value of watching food grow,” says Babette Audant, the Kingsborough Community College Urban Farm director and assistant professor of Tourism and Hospitality.
The farming program teaches students about urban agriculture and organic-farming practices through hands-on experiences, says Audant. The half-acre farm features 30 raised-bed planters and yields crops like beets, carrots, tomatoes, string beans, chili peppers, and greens like kale, according to Audant. Much of the produce from the program — a joint venture with the Active Citizen Project — is sold at farmers’ markets located in underserved communities in Brooklyn.
The farm also contributes produce to the culinary arts classes and the student-catering program.
Audant attributes the growing popularity of urban farming with people’s growing interest in where their food comes from. “There is a desire to reconnect with our food and the farm is a testament of [Kingsborough’s] commitment to sustainable practices like composting and buying and selling locally grown high-quality food,” says Audant.
Though Audant considers the farm’s produce organic, it is not USDA certified. “We have the same problem that many small farms do. We can’t afford USDA [organic] certification because it’s too expensive. It takes thousands of dollars and years of documentation. Our food is organic — we know that our farmer doesn’t use chemicals,” Audant insists. Practices used by KCC farmers such as planting marigolds and companion planting — growing different plants together with mutual benefits — help prevent bug infestations.
As the farm’s second summer harvest approaches the future is bountiful, says Audant, who cites plans to add new farm beds for faculty, staff and students outside of the farming program. “Not to be greedy, but I can see justification for expansion in the future — there’s room,” says Audant, who would also like to see beehives and crops like berry plants and apple trees introduced on the farm.