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Growing vegetables on Houston Street

NYU’s new urban farm is out to make the impossible possible in the heart of the lower east side.
Growing vegetables on Houston Street
NYU Steinhardt School's Urban Garden. Photo Credit: Jess Francis, NYU

Just past six wide lanes of traffic, New York University's Steinhardt School has created an oasis in the middle of NYC's bustling Lower East Side. Over the summer, they have built their new Urban Farm at the base of the Silver Towers apartment complex on Houston Street harvesting free vegetables reserved for both the school’s students and members of the community. On Wednesday, October, 11th, the school unveiled the farm to the public with an official ribbon cutting ceremony with free food made from veggies freshly plucked from the garden beds mere feet away. 

The one responsible for much of the farm’s success is Melissa Metrick, an Instructor of Introduction to Urban Agriculture at NYU who is also the garden manager of Brooklyn’s wildly hip pizzeria Roberta’s. She sees urban farming as a way of slowing down the city and getting people to truly understand where their food comes from. “It’s nice to remind people how food is grown,” she says with one of her cowboy boots planted firmly in a bed of clover, “It’s not 'out of sight, out of mind' anymore. It’s right here on Houston! You can see food being grown and be a part of the cycle.”    

Parker Reposa, a student studying urban food production, worked closely with Metrick over the summer to make sure make sure they could get the most out of their harvest in an unlikely environment. “There are aspects of an urban farm like this, that you get nowhere else,” he says adding “sometimes there are little bits of trash that will blow through the garden...  it definitely keeps you on your toes.” Reposa is especially proud of what this year’s harvest and showed me their newly installed metal soil tumbler that will hopefully help the farm become a little more self-reliant and not depend on outsourcing for fresh soil from outside of the city. “We’re going to start cultivating our own compost for the garden,” he says, “it’s going to be a closed loop system.”

As a crowd gathered around, Clinical Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Food Studies Program, Jennifer Berg boomed with enthusiasm at the program's accomplishments. “This is not the largest urban farm in the city,” she exclaimed with ribbon-cutting scissors in hand, “but it is arguably the most urban!” Although she was only half joking, looking past the beautiful tomatoes growing out of the lush tilled soil and onto the highway you would be hardpressed to imagine a garden more rooted in the city than this one. 

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Berg can only see a bright future for their urban farm and members of the community are already taking notice and becoming curious about what they are growing in their front yard. “Anytime we’re here and someone is walking down the street,” she says “we get someone asking ‘can I eat that?’” It’s hard to believe that fresh vegetables could be grown on the mean streets of New York City, but urban farms like this one are out to change that perception. 

 
 
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