Published by Oona Morrow on the 6th November 2017.
This summer I returned to New York City to research and volunteer with organizations involved in community composting, food rescue, community land access advocacy, and cooking and eating together. After researching food sharing in Berlin, everything here looked and felt different. While there are things that tie New York and Berlin together, like ongoing struggles over community land access and an emerging solidarity economy, there are also big differences. Many food sharing organizations in New York receive recognition, support, and funding from the city through the Department of Parks and the Department of Sanitation, and I came to really appreciate what a powerful role city government can play by setting policy and funding priorities around food waste and sustainability. In Ex-Paris agreement America it seems more important than ever for cities to set the agenda on sustainability.
With a ban on commercial organic waste, increased investments in community composting, and a number of local laws to address food waste New York is setting the stage for what a city can accomplish. Much of my time in New York was spent volunteering with the New York City Compost Project – a Department of Sanitation funded program that trains residents as community composters, provides technical assistance to a network of more than 250 community compost sites, and collects food scraps for Local Organics Recovery Programs at demonstration sites across the five borough. All of the compost that is created at NYC compost project sites is used in community greening and food growing projects, contributing to the program’s mission of “rebuilding our soil, neighborhood by neighborhood.” I would like to especially thank the staff and volunteers at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden’s compost site at Red Hook Community Farm, the BIG Reuse Compost site In Queens, Earth Matter on Governors Island, and the Lower East Side Ecology Center in Manhattan.
When I wasn’t in the compost pile, I was moving food around the city with Rescuing Leftover Cuisine a non-profit organization that uses an online platform to connect volunteers with restaurants who have made agreements to donate their surplus to local shelters and pantries. I’d like to thanks the staff and volunteers for helping me to better understand the opportunities and challenges of working in this space. Their efforts complement the large scale and long standing food security work at City Harvest, and add to the diversity of organizations seeking to prevent food waste including RoHo compost and Transfernation.
I also visited community gardens, public meetings, demonstrations, and court hearings – where gardeners and advocates from 596 Acres, New York City’s Community Land Access Advocacy Organization were planning new gardens, protecting existing ones, and resisting relentless attempts to enclose the commons they have created here. The organization has mapped more than 600 acres of vacant land, catalysed 37 new gardens, and transferred 39 gardens to the Parks department where they are protected by the public trust doctrine. I would like to thank the staff and volunteers for sharing their vision of racial justice, solidarity, and social change with me, and for continuing to make New York a city of commons.
Of course, I also had to eat. And I ate wonderful home cooked meals that I prepared with immigrant chefs from the League of Kitchens. The business, originally conceived as a social practice art project by founder Lisa Gross, valorises the hidden and undervalued contributions that women and immigrants are making to our society and food system. Home kitchens serve as platforms for forging connections, dismantling stereotypes, and nurturing a family feeling between strangers. As the immigration debate in the U.S. spirals out of control, these spaces of connection and intimacy become all the more important. Thank you Angie and Jeanette for sharing your home and food with me, and Lisa and Sonya for making all of this possible.
I would like to thank the Department of Nutrition and Food Studies at NYU for hosting me as a Visiting Scholar, and all of the people and organizations who took the time to participate in the research, for sharing their reflections, insights, connections, passions and ideas. I look forward to staying in touch, and sharing the results of the research!
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