Brooklyn native Zaro Bates didn’t experience locally sourced food until she attended Cornell University upstate, but once she did, she knew the career path she wanted to sow.
“I was looking for something tangible to really feel the impact of my work on a day-to-day basis,” the 28-year-old said. “I was attracted to farming because it was more tangible, and you see the results sometimes within a month. It’s definitely more gratifying.”
Bates gets to see the fruits of her labor every day at Staten Island Urby, a residential complex on the North Shore waterfront where she has been farmer-in-residence since its 5,000-square-foot urban farm began in 2016.
“It’s a really exciting opportunity to do something in New York City because it can be difficult to live a conscious lifestyle here,” Bates said. “Everyone is so busy and a lot of emphasis is on work and career, and it can be hard to find time to cook a meal or go to a farmers market or ponder where food is coming from.”
So Bates brought the farm right to Urby residents and their community neighbors.
“I think the location and highly urbanized environment was a big draw for bringing a farm to that location because there’s so much opportunity to shift the perspective and open people up to the magic of growing food,” she said.
Bates is also changing what people think can be done with an urban farm.
“We wanted to share that there is so much that can be produced in a small space,” she said. “That’s the big ‘wow’ factor when people visit and see how much food is grown here.”
Bates is currently bringing Urby’s farm back to life from its dormant winter, and she expects this year’s first harvests to come in late May.
While Urby has hosted a weekly farm stand to share the bounty in years past, Bates hopes to focus on expanding the community-supported agriculture (CSA) program this year, for which there’s been a lengthy wait list.
“We’re offering more shares and testing to see if the community wants to participate in the CSA program,” she said. “We’re going to see how that goes and wouldn’t have the farm stand, but we’re working to develop relationships with partner farms so we can do both.”
In addition to giving the community a very close farm-to-table source, Urby’s farm also offers day-in-the-life experiences like herb-growing and beekeeping workshops.
“We want to work on getting as many people as possible to engage and experience the farm,” she said.
The harvest at Staten Island Urby’s farm
While Zaro Bates, Staten Island Urby’s farmer-in-residence, works with partner farms to provide other produce to residents and the surrounding community, her on-site urban farm harvests:
Salad and mix greens, including spinach, baby kale and arugula
Sweet salad turnips