Comfort Food for Urban Revitalization
All-natural Community Collaboration Brings Farm Fresh Food to Brooklyn’s Children
Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation
Bedford Stuyvesant Early Childhood Development Center
Corbin Hill Food Project
Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation; Brooklyn, New York
In one of the world’s most expensive zip codes, the high cost-of-living drives families out of Manhattan and into surrounding areas like Brooklyn, where long-term residents face being priced out of their own neighborhoods. Lower-income, many newly immigrated, these community residents face the challenge of remaining economically resilient while market forces compress the viability of staying rooted to the people and places they call home. In these same neighborhoods, other phenomena destabilize the long-term resilience of the community: its residents have higher diabetes and obesity rates than the rest of New York, there are far fewer grocery stores per resident, and there is a high rate of food insecurity for its children.
In this vignette we learn that, empowered by its mission to “attract investment, improve the business climate, foster the economic self-sufficiency of families, enhance family stability, and promote arts and culture,” Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation (BSRC) is bringing a culture of healthy eating to early childhood education in Central Brooklyn by breaking down three powerful myths about farm to ECE. First, many assume that early childhood learning centers are not interested in healthy food options. In reality, ECE centers in Brooklyn were already engaging in ways to promote healthy eating, with or without the support of farm to ECE initiatives. In other words, the desire was already there, waiting for the right opportunities to expand.
Second, many assume that replacing unhealthy food with farm fresh food is cost-prohibitive. The reality is, after Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) reimbursements were factored in, delivering farm fresh food to ECE centers added no extra cost to budgets: there was no economic justification for serving processed or packaged food. Third, there is a belief that participating in farm to ECE is an isolating and laborious project to undertake. In fact, implementing farm to ECE has strengthened and reinforced existing community relationships in Brooklyn. No one can do this work alone.
Perhaps one of the strongest lessons from the BSRC experience is that the logistically complex initiative to deliver fresh food was very effectively and sustainably implemented through local leadership, partnership, and commitment. BSRC had “eyes and ears” in the communities it served, and it was therefore able to apply farm to ECE sensitively across centers with diverse capacities, interests, and needs. For example, some centers might not have kitchens, so BSRC helped mobilize necessary connections to secure healthier food information and options. Other centers needed to provide support for home-based meals, while others needed BSRC’s networks to connect with food distributors like Corbin Hill Food Project, or simply gain information on where to buy healthier food in the neighborhood. Where there was interest, BSRC helped develop on-site gardens. Because of its intimate awareness of the community, BSRC was able to roll out farm to ECE at varying and diverse levels of capacity and need. A local leader like BSRC brings resilience, efficacy, and sustainability to an operationally complex program like farm to ECE.