STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — Only 34% of the borough’s North Shore residents live within a five-minute walk of “fresh foods and vegetables,” says Rose Uscianowski, a Staten Island planner for transit advocacy group Transportation Alternatives.
That statistic is just an indicator of the challenges those without cars face finding healthy food in North Shore food deserts. Those challenges, spiking food insecurity and a lack of awareness about food initiatives on Staten Island are among the reasons Uscianowski organized the Staten Island Food Justice Ride.
The biking event, held on Saturday, toured the North Shore and included pit-stops at community gardens and pantries along the designated route.
“We wanted to raise awareness about initiatives that have been building up from the grassroots to help alleviate those problems and bring the community together as they do that,” she said.
September is also Bike Month in New York City, making the cycling element timely.
The ride began at Staten Island Borough Hall in St. George at 11 a.m. Saturday and ended at the Mariners Harbor Farm at 1 p.m.
The cyclists visited community gardens and pantries like Hill Street Community Garden and Roots of Peace Community Garden, both in Stapleton, Joe Kolzka Community Garden in West Brighton, La Colmena in Port Richmond, and the Forest Avenue COMEUnity Fridge in Mariners Harbor, before ending the ride at the Mariners Harbor Farm.
Before their departure, Charlotte Hewitt, a representative and Boy Scout Leader with Troop 76 working with H.E.A.L.T.H. for Youths that runs Skyline Garden in New Brighton, shared some information about the garden and the importance of an “event like this.”
Skyline, which started as a bocce court, had a grant with Santander Bank and H.E.A.L.T.H. for Youths to make the court a garden back in 2015. Since then, the garden has been run by H.E.A.L.T.H. for Youths and taken care of by scouts from Troop 76.
According to Hewitt, the garden contains vegetables like asparagus, beets, corn, cabbage, green beans, peppers, okra, carrots, and many more.
Hewitt recommends people in the North Shore community to learn how to create their own crops at home and believes that an event like the Food Justice Ride will help people in the community.
“This gets people out to see Staten Island and see what the North Shore is about. We’re highly underrated,” she said. “There are a lot of people doing a lot of good things to help their community, and that’s really important during this time in our lives. This is a way to bring us all together to do something really good for each other.”
MARINERS HARBOR FARM
At the end of the ride, cyclists met at the Mariners Harbor Farm, located at 132 Brabant Street. The farm is owned by Green City Force and partnered with NYCHA, as each Green City Force sustainability initiative is on NYCHA property in New York City. The organization has financially supported their hired youths with going back to school or receiving employment.
The farm launched in 2018, is the first urban farm on Staten Island and has yielded about 9,000 pounds of produce for the community, according to Justin Baker. Baker, the Service Coordinator for the Mariners Harbor Farm, was a part of the cohort that launched the farm, and was at the event on Saturday handing out eggplants, spinach and jalapeños.
“We want to change the mindset of the community,” he explained. “We want to help our community get exposure to these crops and change the health of our communities, because a lot of what we have nearby is chicken spots, liquor stores and fast food restaurants – stuff that’s killing us.”
Kemi Akindude, who is running as a write-in candidate in the November Congressional race, also attended the event and commented on the food initiatives underway in the area where she grew up.
“My family didn’t have a lot, so food security was important and we always made sure that everyone had something to eat,” she began. “But it was always understood that there isn’t always enough to go around. So for something like this to be in this community, it means a lot, since I know that there’s families who need that kind of support from the community. It’s the kind of support that can only come sometimes from the heart of people who are living around you and see your struggle.”
The Mariners Harbor Farm plans on holding future events at the farm like safe outdoor yoga and book swaps, according to Sarah Kabalkin, a partner of Green City Force and Community Chef.
Uscianowski says that it is imperative for North Shore communities to have access to healthy produce and recommends people support the effort by donating food or volunteering at a community garden. A list can be found on greenthumb.nycgovparks.org.