Step out of the subway at 138th St. in the South Bronx and the scene that greets you isn’t exactly bucolic farmland. Cars zoom by on their way to the Major Deegan Expressway, and overhead, a Metro-North train rattles its tracks as it hurtles south.
But tucked between the busy on-ramp and the train tracks, something remarkable has taken root. On a two-and-a-half acre lot of land, once clogged by shoulder-high weeds and trash, a group of local women have built a beautiful community farm: La Finca del Sur.
The “farm of the South,” so named to pay tribute to the Global South and to reflect the Latina heritage of many of its farmers and community members, started in the winter of 2009, when cofounder Molly Culver noticed an empty lot across from the subway station. Together with a core group of community women and volunteers, she got permission from the city to transform the plot into a farm. They trucked in soil, constructed beds, and built a greenhouse and toolshed.
La Finca is now a thriving cooperative farm led by Latina and Black women and their allies, and tended by a core group of 17 farmers. In a neighborhood suffering from poor health and limited access to fresh food, the farmers’ mission is to “build healthy neighborhoods through economic empowerment, increased nutritional awareness, training and education” and to “advocate for social and political equality and food justice in low-income communities.” The farm has overcome a score of challenges, even surviving a break-in and looting last fall. Now it sells vegetables at farmers’ markets, provides educational panels on nutrition and gardening, and hosts artistic events for the neighborhood.
Last Saturday, we wove our way through traffic to a gap in fencing where a man tearing tickets for the season’s opening workday greeted us with a smile. On the other side of the fence, the farm teemed with people, and the scent of fresh earth and greenery made us forget where we were for a moment. Young children, fathers, grandmothers, and friends knelt in the dirt, tugging weeds, mulching, and planting seedlings, taking turns with a rotating set of spades and rakes. In a little greenhouse, sunlight streamed onto trays of carefully labeled seedlings: red sugar baby watermelon, cantaloupe. A white cat dozed in the sun. Across from the greenhouse, a handful of builders were drilling and hammering, constructing raised garden beds. Over by some vacant soil, a group of scientists prepared a discussion about brownfield remediation. Meanwhile, in the shade of a leafy tree, volunteers dished out a hearty lunch to the urban farmers. A volunteer pointed out the first green tendrils of a grape vine winding around a slender arbor.
Nancy Ortiz-Surun, the farm advisory director of La Finca, was in ten places at once – greeting new arrivals in Spanish and English, supervising planting and mulching, dashing into a cow-spotted toolshed to grab an extra rake or pair of gloves, filling plates for volunteers resting in the shade of a tent.
La Finca del Sur is growing hope and health in an underserved neighborhood, and is one of the more inspirational – and flat-out beautiful – farms we’ve seen. It embodies a dedication to urban agriculture and community-building that Get Dirty NYC! loves.
Want to partner with La Finca for a project? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. Check out their blog for updates, and check our website for upcoming workdays throughout the summer!