Best Of

Best Urban Farming Initiative

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The Urban Farm Recovery Project at the Brooklyn Grange (63 Flushing Avenue, Brooklyn, info@brooklyngrangefarm.com, 347-670-3660) takes on two of the most pressing problems of the 21st century: the environmental and refugee crises. According to the United Nations, 65 million men, women, and children around the world have been displaced, many of them as the result of food insecurity caused by climate change.

The Urban Farm Recovery Project offers refugees in New York a six-month paid fellowship in urban agriculture at the world’s largest rooftop soil farms, located on two roofs operated by Brooklyn Grange — one at the Brooklyn Navy Yard and the other at the flagship farm in Long Island City. Fellows work to help produce over fifty thousand pounds of sustainably and organically grown vegetables each year that are then sold to restaurants and families around New York. Not only do asylum seekers gain experience growing and harvesting with technologically advanced green roof systems, their time on the farms provides job experience and access to both fresh produce and farmers and organizers.

“My day at Brooklyn Grange is what I wait for every night,” says current fellow Martins Akinbode Busayo, who works at the Queens farm location once a week. Busayo made his way to New York three months ago from Nigeria, where the United Nations has estimated that more than 2.2 million people have been displaced since 2014 due to Boko Haram–linked violence. Busayo was involved with agricultural production in his home country, but rooftop farming is a completely new experience for him. At the Grange, Busayo is learning new methods of farming and weed control, and he says he hopes to continue in nonprofit humanitarian work after the fellowship ends. “It is unfortunate my number of days there is short,” he explains. “When I am there, I feel alive because I experience my life having meaning.”

The Urban Farm Recovery Project is an initiative of the Refugee and Immigrant Fund (RiF), a small Queens-based nonprofit that provides support services to asylum seekers fleeing persecution for their political and religious beliefs, sexual orientation, or gender. The training program is designed to prepare asylum seekers for life in New York City with job readiness training and English immersion, but RiF also recognizes the importance of psychological healing and community building. “In recent years New York has seen a large influx in the number of refugees seeking asylum,” says RiF associate director Ellie Alter. “It can take over a year for an individual to get a work permit and to begin earning money, and refugees can feel extremely isolated during this waiting period [and are] oftentimes homeless between shelters.”

Now in its fifth season, the Urban Farm Recovery Project has successfully trained 55 fellows, proving that urban farms can be fertile ground for refugee integration and community empowerment.