One of the main purposes of the rooftop farm is to provide tenants a place where they can plant and grow their own produce. This is the epitome of “Farm to Table”, where fresh, organic food travels less than 200 feet from harvest to plate. The area of the Bronx where Intervale Green is located would not necessarily be considered a “food desert” since there is a grocery store across the street. However, the produce selection is slim, there are no organic options, and none of the produce is local. Farming on the roof allows tenants to grow what they want to eat and allows them to experience firsthand the food production process.
One of our more prolific tenant farmer families at Intervale Green are the Mandervilles: Tashika Manderville, her mother Vivian, and Tashika’s three children. In the short time that I’ve been working on the farm, I’ve had many conversations with the Mandervilles, especially with Vivian. Vivian grew up on a farm in rural Georgia where fresh vegetables and fruit were readily available during growing season and canning was necessary for the winter months. A carpenter by trade, Vivian came to New York City and worked renovating the penthouse apartments of the city’s rich and famous. Now working for the NYC Department of Transportation, Vivian wants to share aspects of her childhood experiences on the farm with her daughter and grandchildren. Vivian couldn’t wait until her granddaughter would take her first bite of a freshly picked tomato, or to show her grandkids how a cucumber grows.
A few weeks ago, as the heat was increasing, their spinach was in danger of bolting (producing flowering stems and producing seeds) and I advised them to harvest. Tashika and Vivian discussed the uses of spinach as they picked the shiny, deep green leaves. I popped one in my mouth for a taste test. It was delicious. Apparently, the spinach never made it to the plates because the kids kept asking for more spinach leaves as dinner was being cooked and there were none left when it was time to make the salad. Luckily, they had also harvested arugula and green leaf lettuce.
Tashika Manderville chose to farm on the roof because she wants her children to learn something new and to get them, “involved in eating healthy.”
She says that, “City kids don’t get the opportunity to learn about farming or get to grow their own vegetables, pick them, and see what they taste like.”
The Manderville’s plot is about 56 square feet and within that space they are growing tomatoes, cucumbers, jalapeños, basil, carrots, green beans, lemon thyme, parsley, okra, and strawberries. Tashika’s children have helped plant everything they’re growing, they’ve weeded, built trellises, and they’ve literally eaten the fruits (in this case the vegetables) of their labor.
When I asked Tashika what are positive aspects of having a plot on the roof, she responded, “Gardening soothes me. You come home from a stressful day at work and you want to do something that relaxes you. I don’t know what it is but digging in the soil and playing in the soil relaxes me.”
The Mandervilles are not just looking forward to enjoying their harvest at the dinner table, they’re looking forward to sharing the results of their hard work. Vivian, Tashika, and I have discussed filling baskets with produce and flowers and not only sharing with their neighbors but distributing baskets to the adjacent building which is an elder care facility. The Mandervilles understand the importance of community farming: a small plot can produce sufficient food for a family with enough to share with those in need. They are not just learning about farming and eating healthy, the Mandervilles are strengthening their community and bringing people closer together.