The Battery Urban Farm is in full swing this summer
On the east side of the historic Battery, the Urban Farm sprouted up last year with the help of the Battery Conservancy and a team of enthusiastic local farmers. Tilling fresh soil and tending a wide variety of organic vegetables, students from local schools work at the farm alongside volunteers to learn all about growing food from seed to harvest.
Camilla Hammer is the farm manager of Battery Urban Farm which functions as an educational project and provides a space for the downtown community to learn about the values and practice of sustainable agriculture, including composting and Lenape American Indian farming lessons.
The one-acre farm is marked by an eye-catching bamboo fence just off State Street that, as seen from above, is shaped like a turkey -- in honor of Zelda, the Batterys resident wild turkey. Inside, several hundred part-time farmers are growing everything from arugula and chard, to herbs and onions, to tomatoes and squash.
Hammer is a seasoned agricultural specialist who first learned farming in rural India as a break from her study of EnvironmentalPhilosophy at New York University. She is now sharing her international sustainable-agriculture and basic farming skills to the BatteryUrban Farm.
LowerManhattan.info asked Hammer about her experience on the Urban Farm, and how it has become a fun and functional part of the downtown landscape.
How is the Batterys Urban Farm filling a need in Lower Manhattan?
Hammer: As an educational farm surrounded by a diverse community of tourists, commuters, and a burgeoning residential population, Battery Urban Farm has a unique opportunity to fill a variety of needs.
Our first priority is to provide a space to educate urban children about growing and eating healthy food. Many of our downtown schools have recently been forced to slash budgets, and their art and music programs have suffered. In this environment, finding funding for school gardens is certainly not a priority -- and yet there are many teachers, parents, and school administrators who would like to teach their students about growing and eating their own food, and the variety of lessons inherent in garden education. Battery Urban Farm provides both the space and the educational programs to do just that.
Though the primary focus of our educational program is for our student farmers, we also seek to educate and inspire the public. We do this every day, simply by providing a beautiful agricultural space for tourists and the downtown work force to enjoy many of whom stroll through the Battery on their lunch hour or on their way to the ferry, and stop to ask what's growing. We also have special volunteer days and seasonal events, where we actively engage the downtown public with educational, hands-on activities. For our downtown residents looking for a chance to get their hands dirty on a bigger scale, we have created our monthly Battery Urban Farm Saturdays, where they can come down to the farm one Saturday a month to take part in a workshop, volunteer, and buy some of our delicious veggies from the Farm Stand.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the thousands of pounds of organically grown produce we harvest every season is fed right back into the mouths of the downtown community. During the months when school is in session, our produce goes to two of our school cafeterias as part of the Garden to School Cafe program. During the summer months we offer a weekly Farm Share where downtown residents can pick up a weekly bounty of fresh veggies -- truly as local as you can get.
How is working in such a historic and tourist-heavy location as the Battery affected the Urban Farm?
The Battery is one of the more unique and diverse parts of Manhattan I have experienced -- certainly not a place where you'd expect to see an urban farm! The history of the Battery is very important to us here at the Battery Conservancy, and we felt it was important to tie that historical connection in with our farm-based education programs. Each class that visits Battery Urban Farm participates in both a Dutch Farming Lesson and a Lenape American Indian Farming Lesson. Both lessons highlight the traditional planting methods of the two groups who farmed on this land before us. In the "Looking Glass Garden," a themed educational space within the farm, we have both traditional Dutch and Lenape "Three Sisters Gardens, to show children how (and what) the people that came before us grew on this land. So many kids (and adults!) that grew up here have a hard time imagining the Financial District as farmland -- but it was, and that's important to remember.
One of my favorite parts of working here at The Battery is interacting with all of the many tourists who walk through and past the farm every. We get to meet people from every country you can imagine, many of whom have projects like ours in their country, or grew up on farms, and are very surprised to find something like this here in NYC. It takes a lifetime to even scratch the surface of all there is to learn about farming and plants, so its my pleasure to get to hear stories and learn from gardeners whose experience comes from all over the world.
What has surprised you most about the Urban Farm experience?
Honestly, after watching the farm grow from its inception, what has surprised me most was the overwhelming enthusiasm and support for the project. When the farm first started, we anticipated a lot of the red tape that usually comes with any kind of public project. We expected a lot of people telling us no, you cant do that. And we were told this would be a temporary project -- in place for just one year. But the enthusiasm and support that the Battery Conservancy received from our community -- especially downtown schools and families with young children -- has been huge. Having worked on many different kinds of farms, I was expecting to be supported mostly by the local food community -- so often in other jobs I've felt I was preaching to the converted.
What has been so exciting for me is witnessing the incredible diversity of our community, not only those who are interested in this kind of work, but who already are working in their own ways to change the food system, either personally, or in the community at large. When people wander into their farm, so often their face lights up in a certain smile that lets me know they are a fellow farmer or gardener -- almost everyone who comes in has a story to tell, or a memory that is reawakened when they walk in. The fact that weve grown so quickly is largely a reflection of the level of interest and support weve received from our neighbors -- without whom the farm would not be what it is today.