Culture, Environment

A touch of farming in the South Jamaica projects

0 Comments 08 October 2009

By Omar Kasrawi

Confusion was rife down at the McKinley Children’s Garden. What was that hairy green knob sprouting out of a flower?

The school kids conferred. They stared puzzled.

“It’s a strawberry,” explained the gardener, Wajeedah Anderson-Beyah.

“No way!” they yelled back.

“Strawberries aren’t green and fuzzy,” one girl said defiantly.

“They are when they’re little babies,” the gardener answered, bemused.

Her late husband would have smiled from the grave, too. This was his vision: exposing South Jamaica kids to nature.

Before he died in 2007, McKinley Hightower-Beyah had an idea for the neighborhood of his youth. Sunflowers would rise ten feet high above the vacant lots  littered with shattered green glass. Ornamental corn stalks with  blue and  red kernels would replace the  broken grey cement blocks. The aroma of fresh basil and sage would waft through the projects.

Hightower-Beyah died before seeing the fruits, and vegetables, of his labor. But his wife carried the flame and now the children of P.S. 40 can see this bucolic scene when they gaze out their school windows across the street.

Hightower-Beyah, who grew up in the South Jamaica housing development down the street and was educated at the very same school, planted his first urban vegetable gardens in Georgia in the 1950s. After he returned to New York  years later,  he managed farmers’ markets in Far Rockaway and Brooklyn and ran four food pantries for the poor. In 2004 he contacted Green Thumb, a division of the City’s Department of Parks and Recreation that helps residents transform vacant lots into metropolitan gardens.

He planted the first seeds, but now his widow,  two of their  children and a dozen volunteers maintain the property that measures one-tenth of an acre. Their cornucopia includes over two dozen types of produce and a small greenhouse. Activities include music concerts and workshops on seed preservation.

“This is a neighborhood where people say there is a lack of resources for children. Well, McKinley wanted the school and the garden to be all intertwined. A place where these kids can learn about vegetation while surrounded by concrete,” Anderson-Beyah said,  as a 7th grade science class poured into the garden.

The 33 girls were a blur of blue blazers, running between beds while Anderson-Beyah explained something about each plant.  The pace was almost too much as she shuffled slowly behind.

The students plucked plump eggplants and hot peppers for a classmate who waited outside because she was scared of bumblebees.

Anderson-Beyah looked on approvingly. “They can keep whatever they want from here,” she said. “It’s the least I can do for the girls who can spell potato better than [former U.S. Vice President] Dan Quayle.”

Share your view

Post a comment

Breaking News

RSS Queens Rules Google Calendar

© 2009 Queens Rules. Powered by Wordpress.

Daily Edition Theme by WooThemes - Premium Wordpress Themes