Last month, Brownstoner featured Get Dirty NYC!’s own Stephanie Corrado in its “Hot Seat” interview section. We were thrilled to be the focus of a Brooklyn-based community website. Thanks to Brownstoner for helping get the word out about our work!
Here is the interview in its entirety:
Welcome to the Hot Seat, where we interview folks involved in Brooklyn real estate, development, architecture and the like. Introducing Stephanie Corrado, one of the founders of Get Dirty NYC. Get Dirty NYC is a volunteer-run nonprofit that serves as a one-stop meeting place for interested volunteers to connect with city farm and garden organizations in New York.
Brownstoner: What neighborhood do you live in, and how did you end up there?
Stephanie Corrado: I live in Carroll Gardens and my co-founder Gigi Chew lives in Park Slope. I moved to Carroll Gardens a year ago after living in Manhattan for 4 years – my husband and I were looking to live in a quieter neighborhood that had a greater sense of community. We have loved ever second here.
Brownstoner: Can you talk about the beginnings of Get Dirty NYC?
SC: Get Dirty NYC! was founded about two years ago and was the product of discussions Gigi and I had been having about how to help connect New Yorkers who were interested in volunteering in urban farms and gardens with projects in need of help. While there were plenty of volunteer opportunities available in New York City, information about these projects was dispersed, making it difficult for volunteers to find one that matched their interests. As a result, we decided to create an online platform that would serve as a centralized meeting point for farms to list their volunteer needs and for volunteers to find a project that interested them.
Brownstoner: What current projects/initiatives is GDNYC undertaking right now?
SC: GDNYC! is currently preparing for the beginning of the growing season in the spring. Over the winter, we took the time to expand our online services to offer greater support to the urban agriculture community as a whole. Not only will we provide free advertising for volunteer projects on our website, but we will soon be unveiling online forums that will allow for farms, gardens, activists, volunteers, organizations and even the casual home gardener to connect, form working partnerships and exchange resources and ideas. So, for example, if you wanted to know the best types of tomatoes to grow on your apartment balcony, you could post that question in our forum and get answers from others using our forum.
Our goal is to create an online platform will provide the internal infrastructure that will provide New York City’s urban agriculture community with the tools to grow and maximize its positive impact on the city and its residents.
BS: Urban farming is a relatively new phenomenon. Why do you think it’s gained so much momentum now, especially in a place like New York?
SC: While urban farming is seeing a resurgence in popularity, it has been around for quite some time. It is important to recognize the tireless work of the founders of the city’s community gardens in late ’60s and ’70s – they helped create something that we can now build and elaborate on. I think the new excitement around urban farming and its potential has a lot to do with greater awareness of environmental issues and a broken food system. More and more New Yorkers want to connect back with nature and work towards solutions that can make the city more sustainable. They also see the potential urban farming has to address food security issues – by taking control of food production, even on a small scale, we put power back into the community, allowing residents to provide itself with healthy, fresh produce.
BS: What’s the state of Brooklyn’s urban farming scene?
SC: The current state of Brooklyn’s urban farming scene is exciting, it seems that every day there is a new farm, garden or urban agriculture organization being created. I think one of the most exciting things happening right now is the reclamation of vacant lots by local residents, who are turning them into community gardens. The recession has stalled many building projects, leaving empty lots to collect trash, attract rodents and serve as an eyesore in the neighborhood. The community is taking action to improve their neighborhoods and transform these lots into clean, welcoming spaces for residents. Organizations such as 596 Acres have become instrumental in helping residents identify derelict spaces and provide them with the tools to convert them to community gardens. Halsey Street Garden in Bedford-Stuyvesant is a great example of how even just a few residents can completely transform a neighborhood.
BS: Is urban farming a viable solution to lower income neighborhoods in the midst of food deserts? How can gardening/farming in NYC address these problems in NYC right now?
I think it is great that urban farming has risen in popularity among policymakers as a way to address food security and food deserts in low income areas. I believe urban farms can serve as a viable component to a broader solution for food access issues in low income neighborhoods. One example of how urban gardens are already helping to address these problems (and the potential urban gardening can have if more funding is provided) is the Garden of Happiness in the Bronx. This garden has been providing fresh and organic produce to Bronx residents since 1980. Not only are gardens like this addressing food access issues, but they serve as community education centers, providing residents with nutrition and cooking knowledge that helps combat other social issues such as obesity.
BS: Finally, your favorites: favorite Brooklyn nabe, favorite open space, and favorite BK garden.
SC: I’m preferential to Carroll Gardens, I can’t help but love its close-knit community feel and local family-run stores. I really enjoyed the new Pier 6 this past summer, just south of Brooklyn Bridge Park – you can’t beat the views from the volleyball courts and I’m pretty jealous of the amazing playgrounds there…I wish I had something like that growing up!
My favorite Brooklyn Garden is at the Old Stone House in Park Slope. The garden, run by Claudia Joseph, is in such a peaceful part of Park Slope and is a wonderful place for newcomers and families to learn about urban agriculture and how to plant and grow their own vegetables.