by Rachael Devaney
For Tanya Fields, urban farming has become the most effective tool to tackle racial, social and economic justice.
Tired of the lack of affordable, healthy food in her South Bronx neighborhood, Tanya Fields, executive director of the BLK Projek, recently built Libertad Urban Farm, a 4,500 square foot farm located at 972 Stentson St., in the Hunts Point section of the Bronx. Before this endeavor, Fields says community members had limited access to healthy, affordable food.
“The grocery stores in our neighborhoods are more like super bodegas and the food quality is poor, and there are not a lot of options as far as healthy foods,” she told us. “To access affordable, quality food, people have to actively travel to wealthier, areas of New York. Any cost savings you would make from going outside the neighborhood is being used up for transportation, not to mention that money is being spent in other areas, when we could be spending it in our own neighborhood. So, from the beginning we identified all these factors that were specific to the Bronx, and we knew we were lacking access to quality, affordable food, but in addition to tackling that problem, we also wanted to create living wage jobs, and catalyze other economic opportunities.”
The farm, which is currently in its first growing season, will offer Bronx community members fruits, vegetables, whole grains, as well as a variety of cheese, meats, and eggs. The farm is linked to Fields’ South Bronx Mobile Market – a colorfully painted former school bus that runs on used vegetable oil. The bus, which was funded in 2013 by the Simon Bolivar, Jesse Noyes and Claneil Foundations, as well as an BLK Projek Indiegogo campaign, will carry the farm’s summer harvest to all areas of the South Bronx. Fields says the bus has spawned relationships and partnerships with local urban and rural growers, and has acted as the springboard for the creation of the farm, workforce development, and job creation.
While this will be the first year the bus and the farm will work together, Fields ran a successful food access pilot program in the summer of 2014 in collaboration with other local organizations like Wassaic Community Farm, Corbin Hill Farms and Sky Vegetables’ operation in the Bronx. The operation included a buying club service, which cost $35 a week for a family of four, and reached over 200 people in the South Bronx. The service allowed families to locally source high quality breads, cheese, meats, grains, fruits and vegetables – therefore supporting 50 percent of their nutritional needs. According to Fields, the pricing was not only undercutting supermarkets like PathMark and FoodTown, but it also allowed families to stay in their own neighborhoods and save money.
Fields says the program, which will continue this July after Libertad Urban Farm’s first harvest, is just the beginning of an “inclusive food system,” for Bronx-wide community members.
“Having the farm is not only bringing quality, affordable food to the area, it is also teaching youth how to grow foods, and it is allowing local farms to work closely with one another. We will also be adding components as we go along, and we recently found a woman in the community that knows how to keep bees and the youth in the area are harvesting honey and learning how to participate in worker owned cooperatives, and are learning literacy, and entrepreneurship,” Fields says. “I have Black daughters and I want to leave them, along with all the kids in the community, a world that they can thrive in.”
Fields has made significant progress in her quest for food, social, and economic justice, and has been working tirelessly since establishing the BLK Projek in 2009. The mother of five says while her journey has had its highs and its lows, she has learned to “think big,” but “start small.”
“I have these huge ideas and I get so hype but I have found that I’m trying to run before I crawl. I have had to learn how to slow down and be intentional and be strategic. It’s the same when I introduce people in my neighborhoods to what healthy food actually is. I have encouraged my people to not only grow herbs but also learn about them and little by little I see them doing that,” Fields says. “I have also had to learn how to understand and be patient with my community. We need to walk together and while sometimes people get tired and they reject change, I am patient and forgiving and understand that this is a process. The reality is that movements are often about a small minority of people making the changes, and the rest benefiting from those changes. And while I hold my people accountable in a loving way, I also let them know I am there for them.”
And with many more goals and ideas on the horizon, Fields says for now, the farm is her focus and her team will be “getting their hands dirty” until late fall, and early winter. She says she hopes to see her neighborhood embrace the food movement and help her create a safe, and revolutionary space.
“I can’t fix everything by growing collard greens but if I can just show these kids that food is a tool of radicalization that is a start. I want Black people to thrive and use this tool to not only meet their basic needs, but to also prepare for a revolution,” she says. “This movement does not come from a place of altruism and it’s not a charity. It’s us wanting to do better for ourselves and making way for new businesses, economic justice and leaving a world for our children that they can survive in.”