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New Yorkers welcome spring by growing food at home


HOST INTRO: It’s spring and for some New York City residents, it’s time to think about their garden. Growing your own food at home or in one of the city’s approximately 500 community gardens is on the rise, according to a National Gardening Association study. As Claire Pires reports, gardeners are starting to attend classes on growing the most organic vegetables at the New York Botanical Garden. 0:20:03

It’s a Wednesday evening at the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx. In a building off the main path, Sara Katz is explaining how you sow a seed.

SOUND: Katz spraying water “While the germination is happening…”

“You’ll be watering like this. (ambi of her spraying water) Making sure that the soil is evenly moist. You can buy a spray bottle at the 99 cent store. You know? For like hairspray just use that, that’s what I have at home. (spraying) This is a fancy like nursery mister which, as you can see, doesn’t even work that well.

It’s the second class in a six week series on how to grow vegetables safely in their apartments and community gardens. The 30 students are a diverse group—elderly women, students in hoodies, and frail older men—they SIT with empty seed containers in front of them.

KATZ: If you have a window in your apartment with light, that’s awesome.

The students get to work. They take clumps of moist soil for their containers. Then, they pat the soil with silver shovels.

SOUND: Students patting the soil, talking to each other

Dawn Cherry, a Bronx resident who has attended nearly all of Katz’s classes, couldn’t believe she grew broccoli from one of Katz’s previous classes.

CHERRY: They were baby, um, little seedlings and I took it to the garden and I got broccoli and I was very proud of myself for growing broccoli. I don’t know. It was amazing to me.

Cherry says she’s trying to learn how to grow food herself and stay organic but the truth is, that she’s pressed for time and will ultimately get the cheapest thing in the store. According to a national gardening association study released last year, more than 70 percent of all U.S. households have a garden. And food gardening drives more than plant sales now.

Theodore Massiah has been gardening since he was seven years old. He’s now 54. He’s slowly rolling his fingers in dirt as he transfers soil into his black plastic seed container. He says A garden tomato made him want to grow his own.

MASSIAH: I went to a farm up in Pennsylvania. Ate a tomato. Wow!

Massiah comes to the class because he wants to perfect his gardening from his home, which he says isn’t hard to do.

MASSIAH: I grow in my apartment.

He takes out his phone and starts swiping through his photos.

MASSIAH: This is inside my apartment. You said can you do anything? Space. This is the windowsill. That’s a green pepper, that’s a red Thai pepper, that’s a jalapeno, and as you see you said is it hard to do? This is my bedroom window.

A tall and lengthy student next to him, Emerson Nunez, is in the class because he wants to eat his own food from his own garden.

NUNEZ: This is great for a beginner. I mean, I’ve never gardened before so um, I don’t even have the space at my apartment for gardening (laughs). But I think this is a very fun class and good knowledge to have in the future.

Katz says she hopes teaching these residents how to become home food gardeners will help the fight against over-processed foods.

 KATZ: A gardener’s real opportunity is to sort of take that back and say no I wanna eat healthy, I wanna eat what I wanna eat and that is one way of expressing that through growing it yourself.

With the cost of soil, seeds and most New Yorkers having limited space, growing your own food can seem expensive, time consuming and hard. Travis Jones works at the Horticultural Society of New York. He says it’s worth it.

JONES: I believe that as long as you’re willing to invest the capital at the front end in buying soil and buying seeds that, ultimately, in the long run, it’s cheaper.

Katz scrambles around the class giving out more labels as Massiah sits with seed packets spread out in front of him.

MASSIAH: I’ve been coming to the Botanical Gardens since I was and back then it was just to come and see the plants because as I said, I love plants. And I guess you could say, in a neighborhood like this, there’s a place like that? So yeah, and I’m still coming here.

As the class ends, the students file out balancing brownie-sized containers of seeds and soil with little seed packets to begin their garden.

Claire Pires, Columbia Radio News.

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