CULTIVATE: Connecting Community through Meals and Media

Last Wednesday night on one of the hottest days thus far this summer, I took a steamy, crowded subway ride from work in SoHo to South Brooklyn for an evening presented and co-organized by The Big Ceci and SIGNIFIED featuring Just Food, the Brooklyn Food Coalition, and the 718 Collective. The event, held in the basement of the Church of Gethsemane on a tree lined street in Park Slope, was a dinner by the 718 Collective, followed by the premier of SIGNIFIED’s second season episode featuring the 718 collective, an interactive presentation with Just Food and the Brooklyn Food Coalition, and a community recipe exchange.

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As a recent resident of Brooklyn (I moved here just a little under two years ago from Boston via Mexico City), the idea of cultivating community in a city as varied and expansive as New York can sometimes seem like a daunting task. I have tried to foster relationships with people who share common interests, and have worked to become invested in certain elements of my local community. For example I joined a social-justice focused CSA and take an active role in working towards making the CSA accessible to lower-income families. And I am pleased to find that through my efforts I have been able to feel that I not only live in Brooklyn, but that I have found a space to give back and invest in my community.

The feeling of having a distinct community where I have laid down my roots has always been an important element in finding happiness in my daily life. Finding that community here in Brooklyn has been difficult, but ultimately very rewarding. While I do feel secure and rewarded by the space I have made for myself here, I am aware of the general demographic of those with whom I spend the majority of my time. While I actively try to be open to meeting new people and work to interact with those from different backgrounds, it can be easy to slip into a space of 20-something artists, writers, and activists who live in Brooklyn, ride their bikes, brew kombucha, volunteer for various causes, and care to know who grows their food. While my friends and neighbors are rich in creativity, experience, and understanding, rarely do I feel that I truly step into the shoes of those with very different lifestyles from my own. But cultivating a varied community just to feel that I have a diversified friend group can also be problematic. So how does one truly work to connect with a community different from their own, without it feeling strained or disconnected?

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During the CULTIVATE dinner I had a great conversation explaining quinoa and kale to the man sitting to my left who had never seen the foods before, and who, in turn, regaled me with tales of his fledging rap career. After a screening of SIGNIFIED’s episode, everyone at the event joined together for an exercise by the Brooklyn Food Coalition about the school food program.  The children of Brooklyn are a community that surrounds me, but with whom I rarely interact. While I live across the street from a public school, I rarely find myself in conversation with anyone under the age of 18 for longer than a few sentences.

The exercise entailed a woman from the BFC who would give out a word or fact that everyone in the room was then asked to free-associate and to write down the first word that came to mind. We then walked around showing off our answers and briefly talking to each other about the phrases that we were inspired to put down. Terms like “school food” brought out negative association words like “yuck,” “fatty,” “heavy,” and  “too expensive.” The fact “The NYC public school system buys the second largest amount of food in the United States, after the U.S. Military” brought out thoughts like “capitalism,”  “schools, prisons, military,” and “buying power.” It was unfortunate that many of the associations she threw out  with school food terms were negative and depressing. When the fact was read— “One parent working in the school food system has the opportunity to affect hundreds of children,” more positive words began cropping up — “possibility,” “opportunity,” and “stand up.” Because children are a community that, by and large, do not have the ability to stand up and advocate for themselves, it is up to those who are older to support, educate, and advocate. So while there can be negative associations related to advocating for communities that may seem disparate from our own, and while I do not yet have children of my own, it is up to us who have have a voice and an understanding of the injustices of our food system to take a stand for them.

While the community of children in Brooklyn may seem far away from my daily life, in reality, they are just down the block. They are a part of my community and as a fortunate child who benefited from healthy school lunches in Oregon, and from the tireless work of my mother, it is my job to help cultivate positive associations with the school food system for this new community of mine.

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See more photos from the event here:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/nora_chovanec/sets/72157630259177140/detail/

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Presenting CULTIVATE: Connecting Communities Through Meals and Media.

Hey people – Naomi here, and I’m writing with some exciting news. It’s been a little over a year since we started The Big Ceci, hoping to create a space on the blogosphere where we could bring together our love for food and our commitment to justice. It’s been a beautiful year, and I’ve been excited and inspired by how many people have contributed to this blog – it’s truly been a community effort.

So, yes, blogging has been good to us, and we look forward to continuing in our second year and beyond. But the one thing you can’t do on a food blog is…you guessed it, folks – EAT!

That’s why this week, The Big Ceci is making moves – stepping out of the Internet and into the neighborhood – to present our first-ever event: a dinner-discussion-screening-salon-experience called CULTIVATE: connecting communities through meals and media.

Get ready, y’all…because this is gonna be a fun one.

CULTIVATE is a collaboration with the fabulous queer documentary project SIGNIFIED (please do the Internet equivalent of running-not-walking to their website if you haven’t already seen it…you need to). During this interactive evening of food and media, we’ll eat a delicious meal prepared by the talented chefs of 718 Collective, discuss food justice work in Brooklyn with Just Food and The Brooklyn Food Coalition, swap stories and recipes across the table, and get to see the premiere of the latest SIGNIFIED episode.

If you’re not catching my drift, people, let me put it to you this way: if you care in any way about alternative media, food justice, Brooklyn, hot queer chefs, or just really delicious food, you will want to find a way to get your butt to our table on Wednesday, June 20.

Space is limited, so we strongly encourage you to buy tickets in advance here: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/252443

And of course, for more info, check out the Facebook event here and the Tumblr here.

We’ll see you at the table!

Update: Take Back the Morning Glory Community Garden!

A few weeks ago, Sowj told us about the NYC Department of Housing Preservation & Development’s raid on the Morning Glory Community Garden in the South Bronx. Since 2009, Morning Glory has been cultivating a space for growing food, composting, community building, and more. Just before the raid, they were working on beginning a CSA (Community-Supported Agriculture), which would have allowed them to share food from the garden with folks from all over the South Bronx. Then HPD came in, tore down the garden, and put up a fence around it – supposedly in the name of affordable housing.

But people are fighting back. This Saturday, the Occupy the Bronx General Assembly will take place at the gates of Morning Glory Garden, followed by a day of festivities. Check the image below for details.

In case you can’t read the image, here’s what you need to know:
Occupy the Bronx General Assembly, followed by a day of festivities!
Saturday, December 3 at 11 am
Morning Glory Garden – 147th Street and Southern Boulevard

HPD Raid a South Bronx Community Garden

The NYC Department of Housing Preservation & Development (HPD) completed their raid of the Morning Glory Community Garden in South Bronx on Monday, November 7th, 2011. They pulled up kale by the roots, they trashed raised beds, and they erected a fence around the garden so the Morning Glory members could only stand by and watch. The HPD claims the community garden stands in the way of building “affordable” housing in the area, despite there being no concrete bid on the lot. They raided with no warning on Friday, Nov. 4th, and came back on Monday to finish the job. Morning Glory members and allies attempted to block the Monday eviction, in vain. In the wake of their garden’s destruction, Morning Glory members are reaching out to the community board to seek further action.

They could use your help in donations or even an email of support. You can follow updates on their blog Morning Glory Garden, or you can email them at morningglorygarden [at] gmail.

History of Morning Glory

The garden was originally an empty lot, owned yet abandoned by the city for 30 years. In 2009, South Bronx community members decided to re-imagine the space, creating an environment where children and adults could learn to grow, harvest and cook their own food. In the past few months they had accomplished quite a lot with very little resources. In their own words, they:

  • Doubled our growing space, for a total of 15 raised beds
  • Built a new compost system
  • Built a large seating area, with shade structure, cafe tables and chairs
  • Planted our first tree (A peach tree! And it actually produced peaches.)
  • Grown a lot of collards, kale, onions, beans, and tomatoes. Like, a lot.
  • Organized ourselves as a general meeting with working committees
  • Hosted an open mic and a community barbecue

Before the raid, they were attempting to raise another $400 dollars to work toward their own CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), which would provide affordable and healthy food for anyone in the South Bronx willing to participate. Grassroots organizing like this should be embraced by the city. It’s low cost, galvanizes a community and it allows for self-empowerment, education and fun. Morning Glory understands the mission of the HPD and doesn’t discount the need for affordable housing, however, I they make a valid argument, that “affordable housing is def needed, and would be easy to come by if the city would repair broken-down buildings or put rent controls on these new richy-rich developments being built.” They see that the HPD and Mayor’s housing plan doesn’t really support the communities they claim to. It supports contractors, the city departments, and those who can afford the new and pricy housing. Historically, most urban development leads to the complete displacement of the communities where development takes place. Since the 2002 implementation of The New Housing Marketplace Plan, there has been only 1 progress report in 2005, before the housing crash. It’s now nearly 2012, and self-mobilized communities like Morning Glory deserve reasonable communication from the city.

Access to Food

Morning Glory just posted this great video of community member’s voices.

Food access is a major issue in communities where there’s not much more than convenience stores and fast food chains. The South Bronx is a “food desert.” Morning Glory took this issue into their own hands, and gave the South Bronx access to healthy, organic food. Again, they deserve the respect of the city and answers for an unwarranted demolition. For more information and ways you can assist, please contact: elliottjliu [at] gmail.