A Fig Tree Grows in Bed-Stuy

Robert and DeVanie Jackson clean-up the Bed-Stuy farm.

In December you don’t expect to be out on a farm in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, but that’s exactly where I was the chilly Sunday afternoon of December 5th. This was nothing new though for Rev. DeVanie and Rev. Robert Jackson. The founders of the Brooklyn Rescue Mission, a community-based organization that is trying to develop a solution to the fresh food woes of Bed-Stuy, are out there every day no matter how cold it is.

Urban farming is nothing new in the five boroughs now, but when the Jacksons first started six years ago it actually was.

“It was hard to sell the idea of a farm,” DeVanie said. “It wasn’t received by most people who are now saying they’re the experts on the forefront of urban farming.”

Long before 2004, when they actually had the farm running it was a work in progress, convincing people, politicians and greening organizations to support their cause. The Mission was also met with some adversity from locals who decided to dump on the land twice. Even in the recent year there has been some controversy over the farm, but through it all the Jacksons have just focused on the mission at hand.

“We’re just looking to produce fresh fruit and vegetables,” DeVanie said.

According to the New York City Department of Health, Central Brooklyn, which includes Bed-Stuy, Brownsville and East New York, has an obesity rate of 29%, the highest rates of adult obesity in New York City. Though in recent years, there has been a movement to bring fresh food to the area, the numbers seem to show a problem still exists.

The Bed-Stuy farm is the first urban farm to connect emergency food operations with urban farming. According to the Jacksons, the Brooklyn Rescue Mission provides fresh fruit and vegetables for 48,000 families a year and nearly one thousand families a month.

Farming is definitely hard work, but like many other urban farmers, the Jacksons say it’s the community that has kept them going. They’ve even seen some real change in the local residents attitude towards farming.

“The neighborhood isn’t afraid of growing food or seeing food in their own backyards,” Robert said. “Neighbors began to work on getting their own box. It doesn’t have to be a big box.”

The farm grows everything from tomatoes to kale and fruit like strawberries and grapes, which are native to New York. The two like to switch things up with each season to give the people some variety. They’ve even found a crop that has a long, but for many a forgotten history in Brooklyn: the fig tree.

“I’ve heard about other people who’ve had them, but ours just seems to be thriving. I think it’s the location,” DeVanie said. “It survives through the winter. We don’t even wrap it.”

Learn more about the Jacksons and the little farm that’s making a big difference in the community below.

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