All posts by ioby

Recipes for Change: Trees of the Playground at Pier 25

The Fourth Installment of this Week’s #RecipesForChange Blog Series:
“The Trees of Five Playgrounds, from Union Square to TriBeCa”

Come back each day this week for more from this week’s guest blogger, Georgia Silvera Seamans at Local Ecologist!

About this blog series: E.F. Schumacher, the British economist famous for coining the phrase “Small is Beautiful” told us to plant a tree. But which one should we plant? ioby’s guest blog series this week from Local Ecologist gives you a quick introduction to the arboreal lives of Manhattan’s playgrounds and, in it, a guide to trees tough enough for city life. 

About Recipes for Change: ioby equips leaders across the country with the tools that they need to make changes in their neighborhoods. Recipes for Change is a new series from ioby, aimed at providing the resources and expertise that you need for your environmental project to succeed.

Got ideas for more #RecipesforChange? Give @ioby a shout!

 

Today’s Featured Playground: the Playground at Pier 25

The Tot Playground in Washington Square Park and Playground of the Americas are two examples of older playgrounds that seem only to host up to two species of shade trees. Still, newer playgrounds, such as the Playground at Pier 25, in TriBeca host three or more tree species.  The shade trees in the Pier 25 playground are honeylocust (Gleditsia triacanthos), dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides), and goldenraintree (Koelreuteria paniculata).  All three species are listed on the NYC Parks approved street tree list (PDF).

The dawn redwood is a deciduous conifer meaning that it drops its needles in the fall.  There are only five genera of deciduous conifers Glyptostrobus, Larix, Metasequoia, Pseudolarix, and Taxodium.  Dawn redwood was first described in 1941, based on fossil data.  In 1944 or 1946 live specimens were found in China but, due to World War II, were not classified as a new species until 1948.  In that year, the Arnold Arboretum in Boston brought the first seeds (PDF) to the U.S.  Another deciduous conifer that is commonly planted in New York is the bald cypress (Taxodium distichum).  It “does well on city streets” and its wood is used to construct the water tanks seen on top of many New York apartment buildings (Day, 2011).  Our favorite dawn redwood is the 100-foot one growing in the Liz Christy Community Garden on Houston at Bowery; it also happens to be the tallest Dawn redwood in the borough!  Dawn redwoods can attain heights of 150 feet at maturity.  The species grows quickly – three feet per year after it is established, so the playground’s trees should be 100 feet in a generation.

 

 

Like the dawn redwood, the honeylocust is a fast-growing tree.  Its maximum height at maturity is 100 feet.  The species is one of the first to bloom in the spring, and Leslie Day describes the scent as “extremely fragrant.”  The flowers are also attractive to pollinators.  According to Harold Harrington’s How to Identify Plants, the fruit is a legume or “a dry one-celled, one-carpellate fruit splitting down two sides.” The pulp surrounding the seeds within the legume, or pod, is eaten by wildlife such as squirrels and starlings.  The pulp can be eaten by humans but Plotnik offers the following caution: “Not off city streets, perhaps, especially not after the green pod has gone mahogany brown.”  These unappetizing pods make great musical instruments – shake one and hear!  The pods are considered “litter” and seedless varieties were developed.  Similarly, the species was “declawed for the city” when a natural thornless hybrid was discovered (Plotnik, 2000).  Honeylocust is incredibly tolerant of urban conditions.  Its ability to “shake off heat, drought, air pollution, salt spray, and root drenching” accounts for its popularity as a street tree.  In the city’s 2005-2006 Street Tree Census, it was the fourth most common tree in the city and the most common species in Manhattan and the Bronx.

The goldenraintree is significantly shorter than the dawn redwood and the honeylocust at maturity.  Its maximum height is listed at 40 feet.  The species tolerates a range of growing conditions and thrives as a street tree.  It has showy fall flowers – said to be attractive to bees – and its fruit – a type of capsule – persists into the winter adding further seasonal interest.  Wind is an environmental factor when matching species to planting locations.  Interestingly, we have read conflicting accounts about the wind hardiness of the goldenraintree and are curious about its mortality on the pier.  Finally, in contrast to the honeylocust, the goldenraintree is a relatively “new” street tree, but its arrival in the U.S. can be traced back to 1809 (PDF) when aristocrat and botanist Madame de Tessé sent a shipment of seeds to Thomas Jefferson.
 

Feeling inspired? Check out ioby.org/idea to get your own neighborhood project started today!

Recipes for Change: The Trees of Minetta Playground

The Third Installment of this Week’s #RecipesForChange Blog Series:
“The Trees of Five Playgrounds, from Union Square to TriBeCa”

Come back each day this week for more from this week’s guest blogger, Georgia Silvera Seamans at Local Ecologist!

About this blog series: E.F. Schumacher, the British economist famous for coining the phrase “Small is Beautiful” told us to plant a tree. But which one should we plant? ioby’s guest blog series this week from Local Ecologist gives you a quick introduction to the arboreal lives of Manhattan’s playgrounds and, in it, a guide to trees tough enough for city life. 

About Recipes for Change: ioby equips leaders across the country with the tools that they need to make changes in their neighborhoods. Recipes for Change is a new series from ioby, aimed at providing the resources and expertise that you need for your environmental project to succeed.

Got ideas for more #RecipesforChange? Give @ioby a shout!

Today’s Featured Playground: Minetta Playground

The Minetta Playground is named for Minetta Brook, the same creek that used to flow aboveground through Washington Square Park.  Two nearby Parks Department properties are also named for the brook: Minetta Green and Minetta Triangle.  The .206 acre Minetta Playground is located on Sixth Avenue (aka Avenue of the Americas) between West Third Street and Minetta Lane.  The Parks Department was permitted to develop the parcel as a playground in 1934 and, in 1953, the Board of Estimate transferred ownership rights from the Department of Transportation to the Parks Department.

At the groundbreaking ceremony for the playground’s renovation in July 2010, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn described the playground as “an eyesore for the families in one of Manhattan’s most vibrant neighborhoods.”  The playground was reopened in January 2012.  All the play equipment is new but all the existing trees – nine Northern red oaks (Quercus rubra), one pin oak Q. palustris), and three London planetrees (Platanus × acerifolia) – were preserved.  In order to protect and preserve the mature canopy at Minetta Playground, the design and construction teams had to adhere to a five-step process (PDF): (1) define project goals and objectives; (2) inventory and assess all existing trees within the project scope; (3) design with the trees in mind; (4) formulate tree protection, staging and access plan; and (5) implement and enforce tree protection measures during construction.  Time will tell if the approach was successful.  Symptoms of construction damage are often delayed and can emerge within a few months to several years after construction is completed.

One interesting arboreal factoid about this playground is that the canopy is not dominated by London planetrees, which seem to be the default tree species in many older playgrounds.  A street tree-only survey of NYC (PDF) found that planetrees account for 15.3% of the total number of street trees and 29.1% of the street tree canopy cover across the five boroughs!  The pin oak is the fifth most numerous tree in the city, accounting for 7.5% of the total population and 10.9% of total canopy cover.  In Manhattan, London planetrees are the fourth most numerous tree, accounting for 8% of the total street tree population, while Northern red oaks are only 2.3% of the total population.

A 48-inch diameter Northern red oak is the third largest street tree in the Bronx, while in Queens the largest street tree measured in the city is a 76-inch diameter pin oak.

The Northern red oak is a preferred city tree because of its quick growth rate, symmetrical form, and pollution tolerance though it is sensitive to drought compared to other oak species. The pin oak is the “most popular street oak in America” likely because of its pollution and disease resistance and the ease with which it can be transplanted.  The species name for pin oak is palustris which means “marshes” in Latin.  Interesting, given the derivation of the playground’s name!

Different species of oak hold wildlife value in different regions.  In the East, the pin oak is one of three valuable wildlife species and, in the Northeast, the Northern red oak is one of four species of oak that have “particular importance to wildlife” (Martin et al., 1951).  The red oak is one of “the best shade trees,” (Martin et al., 1951) which can be attributed to its dense foliage and the horizontal growth of its branches.  Children and their caregivers will appreciate the effect of these physiological traits on hot summer afternoons.  Elevated temperatures negatively impact human and environmental health, so the role of shade trees goes beyond human comfort.  The trees and the understory vegetation also serve as a buffer between busy Sixth Avenue and the users of the playground – limiting exposure to vehicular pollution.

In The Granite Garden, Anne Whiston Spirn recommends at least 33 feet between the road and the sidewalk, the distance at which “the concentration of pollutants falls off sharply.”

 

Feeling inspired? Check out ioby.org/idea to get your own neighborhood project started today!

Recipes for Change: The Trees of the Playground of the Americas

The Second Installment of this Week’s #RecipesForChange Blog Series:
“The Trees of Five Playgrounds, from Union Square to TriBeCa”

Come back each day this week for more from this week’s guest blogger, Georgia Silvera Seamans at Local Ecologist!

About this blog series: E.F. Schumacher, the British economist famous for coining the phrase “Small is Beautiful” told us to plant a tree. But which one should we plant? ioby’s guest blog series this week from Local Ecologist gives you a quick introduction to the arboreal lives of Manhattan’s playgrounds and, in it, a guide to trees tough enough for city life. 

About Recipes for Change: ioby equips leaders across the country with the tools that they need to make changes in their neighborhoods. Recipes for Change is a new series from ioby, aimed at providing the resources and expertise that you need for your environmental project to succeed.

Got ideas for more #RecipesforChange? Give @ioby a shout!

Today’s Featured Playground: Playground of the Americas

 

 

On the border between Greenwich Village and SoHo sits the Avenue of the Americas Playground.  The playground is located on the southeast corner of Avenue of the Americas (aka Sixth Avenue) and Houston Street (the “Ho” in SoHo).  The playground parcel was acquired by the city in 1925 and placed under Parks Department jurisdiction in 1934.  It was formally designated Houston Plaza in 1998 and then given its current name in 2000.  We would like to suggest another name change for this 0.079-acre playground in honor of the lone mulberry (Morus) growing among six London planetrees – Mulberry Tree Playground – but there would always have to be a mulberry tree growing there!


We were surprised to see an edible fruit tree in a playground!  A search for “mulberry recipes” in Google Recipes yielded over 71,000 results.  The Playground of the Americas mulberry appears to be intentionally planted unlike the other ones growing between the playground and the adjacent apartment buildings.  It is likely a white mulberry or Morus alba, which was first introduced to the U.S. from China in 1623 to develop a colonial silk industry.  The initiative failed but the white mulberry thrived especially in urban areas because it can “tolerate drought, salt, compact soil, high winds, and air pollution,” according to Plotnik (2003).  The fruit can also be eaten by wildlife, primarily songbirds.  In New York the list of songbirds might include Cardinal, Catbird, Mockingbird, Robin, Sparrow, Starling, and Thrasher.  The red mulberry (M. rubra) is native to the U.S. It has a limited presence in cities, occurring “mainly as a park-thicket tree or a natural hybrid with the white mulberry” (Plotnik).


The fruit on the mulberry in the Playground of the Americas is green – an indicator that the tree is a white mulberry.  An additional marker is the shiny upper side of the leaf.  Despite the “berry” in its name, the fruit of the mulberry is not a true berry!  In his 1957 book, How to Identify Plants, Harold D. Harrington described the mulberry fruit as an exemplar of the “multiple fruit” type meaning it a fleshy fruit formed from several to many separate flowers.  These flowers have superior ovaries which may become fleshy but other parts of the unit may also be succulent.

Despite the fact that the (white) mulberry provides an ecosystem service to humans and to wildlife in the form of edible fruit, it is not beloved by all people.  The fallen fruit is considered litter, and some cities have banned planting the tree while others recommend fruitless (female) trees.  Female flowers produce fruit while male flowers produce pollen, but a mulberry tree can be monoecious or dioecious.  If the tree is monoecious, it produces both male and female flowers on the same tree, but if it is dioecious,  the male and female flowers are borne on separate plants.  In Washington, D.C. female ginkgos are sprayed to halt fruiting. At least we have not heard of municipalities spraying female mulberry trees.  Better to organize a fruit-harvesting brigade!

Finally, if you cannot visit the Playground of the Americas, you can find mulberries throughout the city. Check out Edward S. Barnard’s New York City Trees for a short list.  The male red mulberry near the Central Park Tennis House is an official Great Tree of the City.  For more information, take a look at the guide to “the Great Trees of New York City” written by Benjamin Swett in 2000.

 Feeling inspired? Check out ioby.org/idea to get your own neighborhood project started today!

Recipes for Change: The Trees of Tot Playground

The First Installment of this Week’s #RecipesForChange Blog Series:
The Trees of Five Playgrounds, from Union Square to TriBeCa

Come back each day this week for more from this week’s guest blogger, Georgia Silvera Seamans at Local Ecologist!

About this blog series: E.F. Schumacher, the British economist famous for coining the phrase “Small is Beautiful” told us to plant a tree. But which one should we plant? ioby’s guest blog series this week from Local Ecologist gives you a quick introduction to the arboreal lives of Manhattan’s playgrounds and, in it, a guide to trees tough enough for city life.

About Recipes for Change: ioby equips leaders across the country with the tools that they need to make changes in their neighborhoods. Recipes for Change is a new series from ioby, aimed at providing the resources and expertise that you need for your environmental project to succeed.

Got ideas for more #RecipesforChange? Give @ioby a shout!

Today’s Featured Playground: Tot Playground in Washington Square Park

Sitting on the southern benches in the Tot Playground in Washington Square Park, we are struck by the treehouse quality of the jungle gym in the sandbox. There are three jungle gyms in this playground, and the most popular is set in the sandbox surrounded by three towering London planetrees (Platanus × acerifolia). Sandpits were installed in the park in the 1930s and were converted to playgrounds between 1965 and 1970 (PDF).  Given the closeness of the trees to the play structure, we assume the trees preceded the jungle gym.  An existing conditions map from 1962 shows three trees in the area of what is now the sandpit in the Tot Playground

According to the Horticulture Department at UCONN, the optimal soil condition for Platanus × acerifolia has been described as “deep, moist, fertile” but the species is “very adaptable.” All signs support this. Although the playground was recently revamped, the planetrees do not appear affected by the construction; in fact, most, if not all, are thriving.  The historic and current eco-hydrology of the park might offer an explanation.

Minetta Brook (Creek) once flowed aboveground through the western section of Washington Square Park to the Hudson River.  If you dig in the sandpit – as many tots do – of the Tot Playground, you will find a brick layer about four feet down!  This infrastructure might be an old privy pit or water cistern of the old Potter’s Field Keeper’s house or part of “the 19th-century brick storm and sanitary sewer that traverses the park” (PDF).

Looking east in the Tot Playground, the foreground is dominated by red oaks (Quercus rubra) all of which are growing outside the playground.  Red oak is native to northeastern U.S. and, to further stoke the NY-NJ rivalry, red oak is the state tree of New Jersey but the state tree of New York is the sugar maple (Acer saccharum), which in a woodland setting would replace (or “succeed”) the red oak.  Like the London planetree, the red oak is urban hardy: tolerant of dry and acidic soil and polluted air (PDF).  The fuzzy growth on the tree in early spring is the male and female flowers.  The red oak is monoecious[EB1] ; that is, both male and female flowers are found on the same tree.  Red oaks reach fruit-bearing age at 20-25 years.  Last year, the area under the picnic tables in the eastern half of the playground was covered with acorns.

Last, but not least, especially at this time of year, are the crabapples (Malus) and cherries (Prunus) that abut the southern fence line of the playground.  Have you seen a “New York City Heritage Crabapple”? Here is an excerpt from “Painting with Crabapples,” (PDF) which describes the formal characteristics of a heritage crabapple:

One singular characteristic to almost all these “vintage” crabs is their shape–branched very low to the ground with multiple trunks or stems spreading gradually upward and outwards. This distinctive growth form is a result of the way trees are shaped and pruned when they are very young. By the time these trees are transplanted from the nurseries to park landscapes, their shape at maturity has already been determined. For some reason, however, local nurseries no longer practice this type of cultivation. Perhaps there was a drop in demand for this form after transplant. Today’s crabapple trees, like other tree species, are trained with a single stem with the first branches occurring at four or five feet from the ground, or higher. This bland “lollipop” form is a marked contrast to the dynamic and beautiful shape of a wide-limbed, low branching specimen.

The Tot Playground crabapples have not been designated as “New York City’s Heritage Crabapples”, but their exuberant flowering is worth seeing.  They are not “bland lollipops”!

 

Feeling inspired? Check out ioby.org/idea to get your own neighborhood project started today!

Awesome Project: Chain Reaction

Boston, 2050: Diverse, mixed-income neighborhoods are critical parts of a bicycle throughway that traverses the entire city, thriving bike shops are staples of every community, and bike racks are proudly featured outside of every business across the region.

Thanks to a group of high school students in Beantown, this future is not so far-fetched. Chain Reaction, an initiative of Bikes Not Bombs and one of ioby’s first projects outside of New York City, is grounded in the notion that the future of social justice in Boston lies in a comprehensive, citywide bicycle infrastructure.

Since 1984, Bikes Not Bombs has been training and employing local high school students to refurbish old bicycles and send them to high-need communities, both at home in Boston and abroad. The Jamaica Plain, or more commonly referred to as “J.P.,” neighborhood of Boston has long been the focal point of Bikes Not Bombs’ operations and public programs. With a bike shop that offers repairs and services, and educational programs for youth and other members of the community, the organization has become a fixture in the neighborhood.

http://vimeo.com/23511084

Bikes Not Bombs’ Youth Development Specialist and Grant Writer, Sarah Braunstein, chatted with ioby last week to discuss how Chain Reaction got its start. “We’re driven by youth,” said Braunstein. “They’re the ones who were motivated to say, ‘How can we take what we do in J.P. and take it out to more people?’”

Braunstein knew that scaling up community outreach programs in J.P. to include neighborhoods citywide would take resources beyond the relatively small reach of a single organization. She recalls wondering how to open up retail bike shops in high-need neighborhoods—low-income areas of Boston that lack adequate bicycle infrastructure—with the limited resources available to them as a nonprofit. In particular, Braunstein remembered asking the group, “How do we get space for free?”

Neil Leifer, who Braunstein lauds as an “almost full-time volunteer,” helped secure a partnership with the Boys and Girls Club of Boston earlier this year. Thanks in part to his proactive outreach to Clubs across the city, Chain Reaction has been able to open up shop in neighborhoods far beyond the borders of Jamaica Plain. Since starting up the initiative in March, six clubs across the city have taken an interest in bringing Bikes Not Bombs’ youth employees into their communities.

For a few days each week, Braunstein and a team of youth employees—all in high school, all ages 16 and 17, and all alumni of other Bikes Not Bombs programs—come to a Boys and Girls Club and offer their bike repair services to members of the community. “They do all the work, all the mechanics, and all the exchanging of money,” said Braunstein. “I’m really just there to supervise or help out if they need me.” As they work, the team also teaches repair skills to local kids and residents.

Braunstein and her group have found that they have stumbled upon a demand for youth-driven bicycle infrastructure that is far beyond their wildest expectations. “We’re at our second club now,” Braunstein told ioby. In these neighborhoods, there are “basically no bike shops, so we’re totally bombarded with work. The first club we worked at already wants us to come back.”

She continued, “There are youth in these neighborhoods who haven’t been reached because there hasn’t been a program that has worked with their type of knowledge acquisition.” Braunstein added that the youth she has encountered at these clubs “are focused, excited, and reliable. We are offering an opportunity to work with their hands.”

Chain Reaction was born out of a simple hypothesis. Braunstein and her team of teenaged bicycle entrepreneurs believed that a common assumption—that people in lower-income neighborhoods don’t bike or don’t want to bike—is simply not true. Indeed, said Braunstein, Chain Reaction’s mission is predicated on a theory that the problem “is just that there’s a lack of access.”

“On its own,” continued Braunstein, “the bike is an affordable mode of transportation and it makes a lot of sense for these neighborhoods.” For families and individual who struggle to make ends meet, the bike is an inexpensive and low-maintenance transit alternative to driving, and even public transportation. The success of the initiative in the month or so since its launch indicates that Braunstein’s reasoning may in fact be justified.

“The communities’ responses have been amazing. Every possible reason for someone coming to us has happened,” she told us proudly. “This is the beginning of something bigger.”

Just one month into its life, Chain Reaction is already living up to its name. The project is pushing bicycle activism to the limit, showing us all that there is profound power in pairing wheels with pure, unadulterated passion.

You can give to Chain Reaction on ioby by clicking here: https://www.ioby.org/project/chain-reaction.

 

Awesome Project: Xquizit Greens

For more than two decades, 143 Stockholm, an NYPD-owned vacant lot, was a neighborhood dumping ground and an ideal growing site for Ailanthus altissima, foul-smelling trees infamous for thriving in urban wastelands. Laying in between boarded up buildings, the 5,000 square feet lot is located in Bushwick, Brooklyn, a largely Latino community where access to fresh food is limited. Recently, local artists have taken a keen interest in the space and are negotiating a four-year lease with the NYPD to turn the decaying lot into a flourishing community garden and green arts space.

Kaitlin Crowley, 24, after serving an apprenticeship with a CSA farm in New Jersey, was looking for a vacant lot to turn into an a community garden in Bushwick. It did not take long for her to realize that contacting the owners of vacant lots would be a challenge. “Many [vacant lots] were privately owned so there was a lot of confusion,” explains Crowley. Luckily, a legal advocate friend of hers referred her to 596 Acres, a public education project aimed at providing information and legal assistance about accessing Brooklyn’s publicly-owned vacant properties. 596 Acres’ interactive online map of city-owned vacant lots and lots that have been reclaimed by the community, brought her to 143 Stockholm.

Around the same time, Kim Holleman, 38, the artist behind Trailer Park: A Mobile Public Park—a portable public park housed inside an 18’x8’x7′ mobile repurposed travel trailer—was looking for a site to permanently park her socially and ecologically-minded creation. Since 2006 the portable park has been traveling throughout the streets of New York City, providing curious passersby with a green space to enjoy in their neighborhood. Holleman was interested in parking her living sculpture in a community garden located in Bushwick, where she has been a resident for 13-years and has an art studio. A quick zip code search via 596acres.org resulted in her joining forces with Crowley to revitalize 143 Stockholm.

The site has been named Xquizit Greens, a name derived from a car repair shop in Bed-Stuy called Xquizit Motors, which Crowley happened to pass by. “Xquizit Greens says to us that this is a spot where something beautiful and unexpected happens,” Crowley explains. With the neighborhood suffering from one of the highest levels of poverty and diabetes in the city and limited fresh and healthy food options, Crowley hopes that Xquizit Greens can provide a local food source and encourage healthy eating in Bushwick. She plans to promote purchasing seeds with food stamps through the SNAP program and have individual parcels along with communal beds.

In addition to the community garden, a green arts space will also take place at Xquizit Greens, with Kim Holleman’s trailer leading the way. Both Holleman and Crowley are anticipating to host workshops that include topics such as composting, seed saving, canning, jam-making and hot-sauce making at Kim’s trailer.

The Xquizit Greens team started cleaning up the lot on January 29 and have been meeting every Sunday since. Curious neighbors, including Ben Bois, an urban agriculturist, and Kate Mitchell, a native plants gardener, eagerly got involved in the project. Crowley says she feels lucky to be “working with talented, driven and passionate people.” A number of contractors and construction workers have volunteered to build stuff for the lot. “It feels great to make something happen with them,” she adds.

Crowley, who is also a Buying Manager for the Bushwick Co-op, is currently working on building partnerships with local businesses in order to use bike trailers to collect raw food scraps and compost them along with kitchen and yard waste from local residents. With a newly built 3-bin compost system, Xquizit Greens expects to begin the community compost program this May. “Composting is a priority for now… something we can all contribute together,” says Crowley.

Once enough soil is laid, Crowley would like to plant an edible fruit tree in the back of the lot—specifically, a Hardy Kiwi Tree from Mongolia. If all goes as planned, we will witness the demise of Ailanthus altissima, and the rise of edible trees in the 143 Stockholm lot–something truly “xquizit,” indeed.

 

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Xquizit Greens will be tabling with the Bushwick Food Coop at the Ridgewood & Bushwick Flea Market at the Onderdonk House (1820 Flushing Ave. Ridgewood, Queens), on Saturday, April 28th (rain date: 4/29). Stop by their table to learn how to get involved in their current composting project or click here to sign up and help Xquizit Greens meet their fundraising goal.

 

Meet Vision. Meet Stacey Ornstein.

My name is Stacey Ornstein, and I think I hold a lot of titles. I’m president of the Astoria CSA, or community supported agriculture. We connect our farm to the local community and we do a lot of educational programming, free to the community. In my professional life, I teach cooking to elementary school kids at an after-school program and through a couple of non-profits in the city.

I’m originally from the Chicago area and I came to New York City, oh, a lot of years ago. I came to New York City to go to school and now I live in Astoria, Queens. So I’ve been here for about fourteen years now.

Astoria is my favorite neighborhood. I do a culinary food tour as a little fun side project in Astoria. The tour that I do is a wider Mediterranean; we do Bosnian, Italian, Greek, and Egyptian, which I think is really cool because they’re some of the lesser-known ethnicities in Astoria. You have to love Queens for its ethnic diversity and food culture.

I have my masters in education, and I worked on art education predominantly in my studies. When I graduated, I was working in a couple of art education non-profits.

I worked with high school students, and I watched the foods that they were bringing in as snacks, and what they were calling their lunches, and it scared me.

Growing up, I loved junk food. But when I started spending my own money on food and realizing that I wasn’t getting full off of that, I started making healthier food choices on my own. When I saw that kids were not doing the same, it scared me. That was my ‘Aha!’ moment.

I love kids because they’re really not afraid to tell you what’s on their minds. They are really honest with you, and if they don’t like something or they think something is boring, they’re going to tell you or they literally go to sleep on the table in front of you.

They’re much more likely to try good food when they know where it comes from, when they’ve had a hand in making it. Something green isn’t as scary when you pull it apart and understand its components.

Beet gnocchi is really cool because it’s a hot pink fuchsia color. Kids love it because I talk to them about beets. If you can’t get your kid to eat beets, you tell them that they will pee pink and potentially miss school if they eat enough beets. Every kid will be chowing down on the beets.

My favorite is anything that has a gross-out factor tagging along with it. I like working with yeast a lot, and doing breads, because they love the science of the yeast. They say they can hear it burping and see all of the gasses coming out. You sort of wish you had that child’s vision, watching bread rise, and being able to hear it burp.

I was leading a green market tour for some fourth graders a couple years back. There was one student who told me he had never had an apple before, a fresh apple. That was a scary moment. It made me realize that things still need to be done.

I’m obsessed with food, and there are so many foods that are all about New York. I support my farm in a winter share and a summer share, so I’m eating local about 90% of the time.

Eating locally, there’s so many different ethnicities that you can play around with, and cook and eat.

Mustard is an awesome, cross-cultural thing. In my community garden, we’ve got people from so many different countries who have different food memories associated with it. We have a Bangladeshi family who talks about having a mustard farm back in their home country. My grandmother was Latvian and she talks about making mustard, which is just vodka and mustard seeds, and maybe some horseradish for spice. However, once you add vodka and mustard seeds together, I don’t know if you need any extra spice. But it definitely clears your sinuses.

Something that drives me everyday is hearing children’s attitudes change. In the beginning of the year, they see something green on the table and they pretend to convulse because they don’t want to eat the green thing. This week, we’re making a green soup with peas and asparagus and they think it’s awesome and they’re coming back for seconds and thirds. That definitely motivates me to keep going, when they’re no longer putting up a fight to eat something green.

The connections that you can make working locally and when you get involved with a community are really amazing. You start to hear people’s stories and you really start to understand people. It makes the city seem smaller and more comfortable.

I have this cantaloupe that was originally in some heirloom seeds that I bought. That cantaloupe crossed with another cantaloupe. It’s turned into the most amazing cantaloupe ever. Every year, I collect seeds from one of the cantaloupes. I take those seeds and packet them, and give some of these cantaloupe seeds to people in the garden. It’s really exciting to have something that you’ve created, pass it along to another gardener or another member of the community, and that they are then going to take the plant and sustain themselves with it. It’s an amazing cycle, saving the seeds and passing the seeds on.

Allergic to Salad is my newer blog that chronicles my life working with elementary school kids, teaching them cooking. It came about because earlier in the year we were making something that involved spinach and green things, and I set out a platter of things that we were working on in class. So there was a lot of green stuff that we were working with, and I had a student who convulsed on the floor and said that she was allergic. I said, “You haven’t even eaten anything and you haven’t even touched anything.” And she stood up and said, “I’m allergic to salad, so I can’t eat anything today.” So I said to her, “I’m really disappointed, because next week we’re making a chocolate salad. Looks like you’ll have to sit that one out also.” She said, “Oh, no, I’m not allergic to salad anymore. Just this kind of salad.” So that’s where the name comes from, Allergic to Salad. It’s a combination of ‘Kids Say the Darndest Things’ and my life working with elementary school students.

There was another instance where we were working with butternut squash and I talked about how butternut squash is like the brother to the pumpkin. As we started cutting up the squash, one of my students started crying because he said that we were killing the brother. But later he said that eating the brother was pretty good. I have some twisted kids, I guess, and that makes it more fun to cook.

I hope one of my biggest contributions was helping to save my community garden, which was on the brink of being turned into—well, I don’t know what it was on the brink of being turned into. That was a scary moment. So, in my own community, that’s something that I’ve held onto and have made a connection with.

There are so many amazing community gardeners and local activists around the city that are really inspiring. I think that all of those little projects are really inspiring when you hear about them and when they come to light. Every day, I’m re-inspired by people around the city when I hear some of the projects that people are working on. It’s not necessarily anything in the food world. Anything that really connects people to their community and to each other is amazing. That’s inspiring to me.