Tag Archives: NYC

This Saturday: Celebrate spring at Chenchita’s Community Garden, Harlem

It takes a village to raise an urban garden, and Chenchita’s Community Garden up in Harlem is no exception. Season after season, they partner up with not only dozens of local residents, but also a network of awesome local organizations, including Five Borough Farm, Urban Innovations and the Marcus Garvey Park Alliance, Harlem Grown, Total Equity Now, the Oberia Dempsey Center, the New York Public LibrarybookBgone, Word Up! Community Book Shop, and Def Poetry Jam.

Phew!

So many good citizens are pitching in to help make the garden a gorgeous, restorative community center and outdoor classroom. But this weekend, the garden’s organizers just want everyone to come out, kick back, get a little sunshine, celebrate, and get excited for the harvests soon to come.

This Saturday, come one and come all to Madison Ave and East 112th street, 11am to 4pm, for a big old celebration. Expect a poetry reading from Urban Innovations artists, some mural-painting, the installation of a brand new Little Free Library (lumber donated by the DOT, books donated by the NYPL), and lots of merrymaking.

What is there to celebrate? Well, last year was a green year for the garden in the other sense of the word, too. We’re talking about moolah. Organizers earned a Citizen’s Committee grant, as part of the Love Your Block initiative, to beautify the garden. And we at ioby are proud to have been a part of the picture, too; Chenchita’s organizers raised money via ioby for a new shed/classroom (the old one had warped and broken down over the winter), easily blowing past their goal of $780 to $962 given. The new shed is in the works; check it out this Saturday.

“The idea is to connect people to the garden and have a celebration for getting the grants, for getting all this funding, for all the projects that we’re going to bring back. It’s springtime, it’s Earth Day,” says Stephanie Wong-You, one of the garden’s community organizers, and Coordinator of Community support at Job Path.

One of the things Wong-You loves most about Chenchita’s is the openness it inspires. Some community gardens, she says, can seem private, or inaccessible. Not this one. “The main organizers there, Angela and Pamela,” says Wong-You, “they’re incredibly dedicated and incredibly welcoming. Anybody passing through is welcome to join or to volunteer or try some mulberries in the summertime. Every time I visit there are always people passing by and asking where Angela is.”

And since locals really feel a part of the garden, they contribute. “A lot of the local stores will donate cardboard boxes and vegetable scraps for the compost,” explains Wong-You. “People will tie things to the fence, or just stop by when the see Angela and drop off compost. Everyone who passes by waves to whoever’s in the garden.”

So grab your compost scraps and come on out this Saturday. Looks to be 64 degrees and sunny!

 

AWESOME PROJECT: Save Farm School NYC!

Onika Abraham, dubbed one of “Mother Nature’s Daughters,” in a recent New York Times piece on the booming NYC urban agriculture movement, came to Farm School NYC as a teacher, initially. She’d been in food justice circles for some time, and knew a little about the school, about the 20 urban ag courses – ranging from botany to irrigation to animal husbandry to advocacy – that they ran each year. She knew that they hired wonderful farmers to teach those much-needed courses to a socio-economically diverse student body, and that they ran a certificate program for their most committed students.

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It made perfect sense that she was pulled in a few years ago, by some of her food justice peers, to co-teach a Farm School core course called “Transformational Leadership”: an intense, retreat-style course that explores the idea of leadership as service, and marks the last time that a particular cohort of certificate students will be together, before they disperse to complete their apprenticeships around the five boroughs, and then spread out to disseminate their newly acquired urban farming expertise.

The surprise for Abraham was that the course transformed her. The students, quite simply, wowed her. She was bowled over – moved by their passion, and by the strong support network they’d formed with each other. She was sold on Farm School NYC; these were, no question, the kinds of people she wanted to work with.

“The people who are drawn to the mission of Farm School—the mission to use agriculture as a means of building communities, self-sustaining communities, communities that address inequities and social-economic and racial injustice—people who respond to that type of mission are some really incredible human beings,”says Abraham, “And that’s what really drew me in.”

Just Food Farm School Visits Brooklyn Grange

So when she learned last year that the director of Farm School was leaving to pursue her lifelong dream and become a farmer, Abraham rushed to apply. “Sometimes we walk by community gardens and we think, ‘oh that looks so beautiful,’ and ‘what a lovely smell,’ and ‘isn’t that better than seeing an empty lot,’” says Abraham. “And those are important benefits of these gardens, but people who see the potential of those spaces as being places to create equitable community as well as wonderful, healthy, affordable food. I think people who are drawn to that really come prepared to work hard.”

She came prepared to work hard, too, which was a good thing, because as fate would have it, Abraham found, just a few months after taking up her new position as director, an enormous challenge sitting on her desk, staring her down. Farm School NYC had hit a rough spot, financially. A very rough spot. The U.S.D.A grant that had sustained Farm School NYC by covering nearly 90% of its budget for the first three years of its life had, to everyone’s shock and dismay, not been renewed in 2014.

The school needed to come up with another way to survive, to move ahead with the 20 courses slated for 2015, to continue to pay their teachers and farmers the same good salary as ever, and to draw up a blueprint for a completely new operating model for years to come. It was an opportunity to create a more financially sustainable business model for the school, to be sure, but a daunting one.

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The good news is that that passionate community that drew Abraham in is as alive as ever – as evidenced especially by the army of volunteers who show up to do everything from enter teacher evaluation data to scout out floating classrooms around the five boroughs. After the bad news hit, some of the school’s teachers and farmers even stepped up to declare that they wanted to teach for free, this year. And though the school has had to put its certificate program on hiatus – they don’t want to accept the next class of certificate candidates until a clearer picture of the school’s future is in place – dozens of people not in the certificate program are signing up to take courses on an individual basis this year, and most of those students already on the certificate track have made the decision to keep right on with their courses of study, undeterred.

Meantime, via an emergency ioby campaign (“Save Farm School NYC!”), the school has turned to its own community and to the larger food justice community in an effort to bridge the gap, while it brushes itself off and gets back on its feet. So far, almost $11,000 of the $25,785 goal has been raised, which means that, at the very least, classes will run in 2015.

“We’re operating regardless,” says Abraham, “and we’ve reached the target that’s the absolute bare minimum target in order to operate in 2015, but we still need the funds.”

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So, the rest of that $25,000, you ask. Why’s it needed? Abraham explains: “The issue becomes, what is suffering because of the cuts we have to make in order to survive? What would be suffering is really the opportunity for us to build a sustainable model for the school. Farm School has such a committed and passionate community behind it, but that is nothing to take for granted and nothing to deplete, and it’s not a sustainable way to grow the school. So I think what we’re really aiming for by naming the $25,000 target, and exceeding that target hopefully in the next year, is to build the capacity for us to be able to really think through a visioning process that can create a sustainable model for the school, for 2016 and for the years to come. That’s what I mean when I say ‘save farm school.’”

If, on the other hand, fundraising stopped right here, and the school were forced to go absolutely bare bones for 2015 – nothing but the usual 20 classes, and paying teachers – then the longer-term future of the school starts to look shaky.

One of the reasons that it’s so important to save Farm School NYC is that the school truly serves the city. All of the city. “We try really hard to reflect the demographics of New York City, and the five boroughs. We mean that geographically, racially, and socio-economically,” says Abraham. “Part of our mission is to serve those communities that are most impacted by food injustice and other types of injustice in the city, so we work hard to support people in lower income brackets.”

The school calculates tuition on a sliding scale, based on household income, the result of which is that about 50% of their students come in at the most subsidized level, or lowest income bracket. “We’re totally committed to that,” says Abraham. “We feel like people who come from these communities are going to go back to their communities and spread this work.”

As valuable as the actual learning that Farm School graduates take away is the support network they gain. One student in the very first Farm School cohort, Raphael, moved out of the city and up to Ithaca upon graduation, and now runs a goat farm. He’s in his second season; it’s hard work, but he was prepared. “He definitely went in with his eyes open,” says Abraham. “I think that having the  education, the foundation and the community of Farm School was helpful for him in establishing himself up there. Having that network to help him find land and finance things I think was really helpful.”

But the staff at Farm School NYC don’t want to be prescriptive about how their graduates go on to put their educations to use. “I really want to see that people are bringing this back to community in some way,” says Abraham. “To me, that’s the most important part of what we’re trying to convey. I think that’s one of the reasons that the first class that students take in Farm School is something called Training of Trainers, and the whole point of it is that we really want to make sure that people understand that we have every expectation that they’re going to be sharing the trainings.”

Making a living in urban ag is a tough row to hoe. No two ways about that. “It’s definitely possible, but it’s hard, as a lot of labors of love are difficult,” says Abraham. All the more reason to save Farm School NYC, and support those who support our urban farmers; it’s some of the best help they get. To donate, and to learn more, click here.

Lastly, if all of this is making you want to dip your own toes into urban ag, here’s a little taste of some of the courses that’ll be on offer (and open to the general public) in 2015:

  • Food Justice
  • Botany – Taught by a Brooklyn Botanic Garden curator.
  • Propagation – everything you ever wanted to know about SEEDS.
  • Growing Soils – composting, soil science, microbes, and more.
  • Irrigation – you’ll get to build an irrigation system in a community garden.
  • Carpentry – Taught by a power-tool-wielding woman! And you’ll leave having built raised growing beds in an NYC community.

 

 

 

Getting Good Done in the Cold & Snow

Those of us in the northeast are currently bracing for Winter Storm Juno, which is slated to pummel us tonight and into tomorrow. But even if you’re not facing a blinding blizzard, late January is still a perfect time to hunker down with a cup of hot cocoa and catch up on your reading.

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To this end, we’re very pleased to drop our latest resource guide to getting good done tonight. The ioby Getting Good Done Guides illustrates five projects any community can accomplish together in five steps.

This one is all about the unique opportunities winter affords for cool communal involvement; it’s called In The Cold. Where else can you learn how to build an all-season outdoor pavilion, throw a successful winter event in your community garden, and harness snow to help your city make improvements to pedestrian infrastructure?

That’s right: nowhere.

We recommend letting it download while you mix up your cocoa, then enjoying both from the comfort of a warm set of flannel pj’s.

We’re always grateful to the esteemed contributors who make our guides possible, and to our readers, who send us actionable feedback and heartening stories about their experiences. Please keep your messages coming!

Please stay safe during the storm, too. There will be a great need for snow-person building later this week!

Fiscal Sponsorship Now Available to All Groups in the U.S.

Today ioby is pleased to announce the national expansion of our fiscal sponsorship program.

Effective immediately, ioby will offer fiscal sponsorship to informal and unincorporated groups in any community in the United States. To take advantage of ioby’s fiscal sponsorship service, you must have a live ioby campaign. See the details of our fiscal sponsorship policy here. To be eligible to use ioby, leaders must live in the neighborhood where the project is taking place, have explicit goals to make their neighborhoods stronger and more sustainable, make no profit and benefit the public, and have tangible, measurable and measured results.

Why are we doing this?

Since ioby’s beta launch in April 2009, we knew we wanted to serve those who many people call “the grassroots.” During our two-year NYC pilot phase, this meant serving the approximately 3,000 groups that steward green spaces across the five boroughs. According to research by the U.S. Forest Service NYC Urban Field Station, we know that more than half of these groups have annual budgets of less than $1,000 and nearly 70% are led by volunteers. The majority of these groups are informal; that is, they aren’t incorporated and certainly don’t have IRS recognition as a 501(c)3 non profit.

These groups, in NYC and in many other places, are critical managers of green space, open space and public spaces. They’re the unrecognized maintenance partners of plazas who run annual or seasonal cleanups. They start beautification projects. They run programs that activate public spaces and bring vibrancy to our neighborhoods. Most are powered by sweat equity, in-kind donations, small cash donations and small grants. And frankly, there is little incentive for these groups to incorporate and become 501(c)3s themselves.

We also found that ioby is a critical source of startup capital for new social enterprises and civic organizations. About 1/3 of ioby campaigns are explicitly startups and go on to raise additional funding from major gifts and grants.

Since our launch, ioby has provided a limited type of fiscal sponsorship to informal groups of neighbors and unincorporated groups in New York City’s five boroughs and Jersey City. In partnerships with the Miami-Dade County Office of Sustainability and the Memphis Mayor’s Innovation Delivery Team, ioby extended this service to the metropolitan areas of Miami, Florida in 2012 and Memphis, Tennessee in 2013. In these communities, ioby acts as a fiscal sponsor for approximately 60% of these citizen-led, neighbor-funded projects.

We surveyed ioby Leaders in New York, Miami and Memphis. Among other things, we found that providing tax deductions for donations was especially important in the lowest income neighborhoods where we work. (It wasn’t as important an issue for neighborhood leaders from wealthier families and neighborhoods, except when those groups were expecting to receive donations of $500 or more.) We’re serious about our mission to support leaders in low-income communities who are working to make positive change, and we believe that being responsive to about the services that matter to them and to their donors.

Why is it so important to fund these small groups at the hyper local level?

Well, for starters, we know that lack of non-profit status is a barrier to receiving philanthropic dollars, especially grants and large donations, but it may also be a barrier to effectively solving complex problems. In “Cultivating the Grassroots: A Winning Approach for Environment and Climate Funders,” by Sarah Hansen, we learn that environmental organizations with budgets higher than $5 million consistently receive more than half of all philanthropic dollars, leaving just half the pie for more than 80% of organizations. Hansen’s paper smartly argues that allocating funding explicitly for grassroots organizing in front line communities can effectively support national policies by mobilizing demand for change. But this citation from the Urban Institute only includes groups that have filed a 990 or 990-EZ with gross receipts of $25,000 or more, groups that are in many cases 5 to 25 times larger than a typical ioby Leader’s.

If this expert article assessing the landscape of the grassroots is looking to groups 25 times larger than who ioby typically works with, is anyone studying social change at the block level? What about the important work at an even more grassroots level?

Maybe more importantly, we believe that neighborhood leaders are not just underfunded and untracked, but that they’re an overlooked source of innovation to solve local problems that we believe can and already have demonstrably contributed to climate mitigation and resilience at the local level. To the ioby cofounders, this is worth underscoring. In this crisis, we can’t turn away from this important fountain of radical innovation.

Finally, resilience depends on the strength of community fabric. We believe more funding made available to these groups builds capacity and the strength of local networks. You can read more about ioby’s approach to neighborhood resilience here and here.

Awesome Project: The Mudtrails of Manhattan

A thirty-minute subway ride from downtown Manhattan, at the very northern end of the island in Washington Heights, is Highbridge Park. Like most New York City neighborhoods, Washington Heights has its fair share of bodegas, barbershops, and restaurants. But Highbridge Park’s crowning glory, Ft. George Hill, makes this neighborhood different. A rugged mass rising directly to the right of the subway exit, the hill is home to the only mountain bike trails in Manhattan—winding, two-foot wide paths through a forest, over knotted logs, up and down mossy boulders, and beyond what you thought you knew about New York City’s parks.
Before Highbridge Park was a mountain-biker favorite, it was a mess. The International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA), a non-profit that evaluated the condition of the park in 2005, noted that it had been “a refuge for drug dealing, prostitution, and illegal dumping.” The joint efforts of the Regional Trails Program, the New York City Mountain Bike Association (NYCMTB), and IMBA resulted in the park’s transformation, removing several truckloads of trash and over 1,200 hypodermic needles during the process.
None of this would have been possible without the advocacy efforts of IMBA, the co-founders of the NYCMTB, Dawson Smith and Jamie Bogner, and Concerned Long Island Mountain Bicyclists (CLIMB). The combined activism of these groups convinced the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation to allow the trails to be built, marking the first time since 1991 that bikes were allowed off-road in the city’s parks. The design included some beginner trails, a number of intermediate and advanced trails, and a BMX dirt jump course.
The amount of advanced trails outweighs beginner trails, however, leaving less options for novice riders to practice the sport. The only other two mountain bike parks in New York, each of which offer more beginner trails, are located far away from Manhattan. Creating more trails and improving existing ones in Highbridge Park could make cycling—especially mountain biking—more accessible in New York City.
Dawson Smith, 44, co-founder of NYCMTB and one of the original advocates for trails in Highbridge Park in 2005, is currently heading a project to do just that. “There are a lot of mountain bikers in the city, actually,” said Smith. “The funny thing is that the majority of them leave the city to go ride. We want to give them the option to ride for long periods of time in the city that they would get from riding areas outside of the city.”
But Highbridge Park is a long way away from reaching its full potential. The area is littered with beer cans, plastic bags, coffee cups, graffiti, construction tarps from a nearby work site, and enough broken glass to make any cyclist cringe. This trash is often discarded when pedestrians forgo the sidewalk at the edge of the park for a more direct route between Dyckman St, Ft. George Hill, and Ft. George Ave. What’s more, the frequent of passage of people through the bike park has contributed to the erosion of the hill and a deterioration of the trails that the NYCMTB fought so hard to create just eight years ago.
Thankfully, the NYCMTB is only $1,610 away from being able to actively engage both the park and the community by building new trails. These trails will offer more beginner-level courses for young New Yorkers looking to start mountain biking, while the more advanced courses will continue to challenge more experienced riders and provide serious aerobic activity. NYCMTB will also offer instructional courses teaching the basics of mountain biking and the importance of exercise to local youth. “There’s a lot of interest from the kids, as well as parents,” added Smith. “We want it to be a local place that kids can go and enjoy programs where they can spend a small portion of their day just exercising.” This comes at a time when childhood obesity across the U.S. is at an all time high.
Encouraging kids to be more active is important, but this project is about more than just biking. It’s about instilling an interest in park stewardship in the local youth groups that will help build the trails. Working alongside professionals, these kids will learn erosion control techniques and will be proud of the park that they built with their own hands.
The story of Highbridge Park, albeit incomplete, is a point of pride for neighborhood residents who are used to seeing the park as a haven for crime, not for recreation. “People are happy to know that there’s a positive use going on in this section of the park,” notes Smith. “All it needs is some positive to drive out the negative.” The group is currently awaiting approval of the course design and for proper funding to break ground. You can help here.

Meet Vision. Meet David Bragdon.

David Bragdon, Director of Long Term Planning and Sustainability for the City of New York, talks about the importance of big visions and small actors in his native NYC, and moving beyond regulatory convention to promote the common good.

I’m from New York City. I was born in New York Hospital and lived there until I was about five years old. Then we moved to Chelsea and I lived there until I was twelve.
Then I went away for 39 years. I came back in the fall of 2010. Now I live on the edge of Fort Greene and Downtown Brooklyn.
As a little kid, Central Park was a big part of my life. We lived between First and Second Avenue, but we would walk to the park just about every day. It was a feature of most afternoons of my life.
It’s hard to find a spot in New York City that’s overlooked by other people. But every individual has a different experience of a common space. You can have multiple experiences of a singular place.
My sentimental favorite spot in the city isn’t really a spot. It’s the ride between Whitehall Street and St. George on the ferry because of the air, the wind, the water, and the view of all the different surrounding shorelines and skylines. It’s a combination of what the natural setting is and what the built environment is.
I’ve always just been interested in how things move around. My dad would take me to school on the 2nd avenue bus and we kept a journal listing every bus we rode. Every single day we would write down which bus it was. It was the same route but we would write down the number of the bus. We had pages and pages. I’ve always been interested in how cities work.
New York has a history of bold visionary plans. The Dutch had a plan for a global trading network in the 16th and 17th centuries. Or you think about the commissioner’s plan for the grid network in the early 19th century. Then there were Robert Moses’ plans in the mid-twentieth century. And a lot of different smaller project plans: Forest Hills, Lincoln Center, and others.
New York’s success is a combination of these big intentional projects and lots random factors — the organic forms of growth that come from individuals.
I see my job as defining those bigger visions—investing in the larger long term infrastructure needs of the city—and simultaneously fostering an atmosphere where the smaller, organic stuff happens a block at a time. That is, enabling people to do the stuff that really makes the city great
So how do we as a government enable that to happen? The levers aren’t in our hands. It’s really up to the ingenuity and initiative of the people who live here.
I think that one recipe for change is to unleash a lot of individual as well as collective random genius and innovation. That really can just come out of nowhere. For individuals, the first steps are to figure out what you’re interested in and what needs to get done.
Traditionally, the government regulates stuff and funds stuff. The government builds stuff and taxes stuff. This influence over all of these things is immediate and direct. You regulate some things, and you don’t regulate others. If you fund roads and you don’t fund subways this is what you get. If you tax consumption, you get less consumption. If you tax saving, you get less saving.
To me, the challenge now in government is about how to look past this. How do you supplement the traditional things that government does — regulation and taxation and funding — and think about how can government also be a convener and a coach? How can the government be an inspiration in terms of its personal behaviors or development practices or lifestyle? How do you work with other people to make good things happen? This is different from a purely regulatory approach that just prevents bad things from happening. Regulation is really important, you have to keep doing that, but if you want to do more than just prevent bad things form happening, you have to do more than regulate…you have to help cause good things to happen.
Livability is about professional opportunities, and being able to support yourself and have a good career. But also, using the fruits of that to have a really vibrant cultural environment and good public services. And the ability to get around. The feeling of safety on the streets. It includes some connection to nature as well.
I like to walk. I mean, I’m a big transit rider too, but I like to be able to walk places. I’m just a city kid I guess. I’m not a nature boy at all, even though I can appreciate that. I’ve probably slept outside maybe two or three times in my life.
Environmentalism is actually an extension of being a good neighbor. Environmental stewardship that springs from somebody caring about their immediate surroundings is a very important motivator. You try to expand the concentric rings form there, like, ‘Oh okay I care about my block,’ well ultimately you have to care about the glaciers melting. But starting by caring about your block is a more meaningful place to start rather than some abstraction.
There’s this myth that says ‘Oh, New Yorkers don’t care about nature or the environment.’ I just think that they probably define it somewhat differently. But I think that there’s actually a very strong sentiment here. There is a core of people that are really dedicated on those issues. I’ve been inspired — having been back in New York for the last six months — by just how widespread the commitment to natural restoration and environmental stewardship is in the densest city in the country. There are people who are very dedicated to nature and to restoration, and to water quality, things that people would have thought of was sort of beyond hope, twenty or thirty years ago.
There’s currently a lot of vocal backlash about biking. I think there are real challenges to biking in New York, particularly because of the way the streets are designed to the 20th century standard. But I actually think underlying all of that there is a lot of potential for biking here. I don’t know if it will ever be the 35% road share of Copenhagen, but, you know, we’re a relatively dense city, a lot of the city has a grid system, and it’s fairly flat. We have a fairly vigorous population that does a lot of walking. New York is far more conducive to biking than most people realize. If it were safer and more accessible to the average person, I think we would be surprised at how much rider-ship there would be. But I think we have to give it a chance, and we have to really, really work at it.
Another part of my vision is about the restoration of some of the natural function of the Gowanus creek. The restoration of and connection to rivers, and inlets and creeks, is a very compelling vision to me.
I wake up before my alarm goes off. It’s just the energy of New York, I think. Looking at the skyline or looking at the river. I just find it a very motivating. There’s something about having been born here and having been a kid here, and just feeling like it’s a really important place. It’s really one of a kind. It’s hard to talk about without resorting to clichés. But it’s true if you can do something here…if you can change things here, there’s a national or international implication for whatever lessons could be learned. That’s probably some variation of that Frank Sinatra song — trying to state it without plagiarism, or without rhyming.