Montefiore in the News
Keeper’s House Edible Garden Reopens with Help from Local Young Volunteers
- July 25, 2021
By SARAH HUFFMAN & MIRIAM QUIÑONES | July 25, 2021
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(L to R) AESHA VALENCIA, ACTING public relations director of Friends of Mosholu Parkland (FOMP), Zoë Arcidiacono, volunteer coordinator with FOMP, Lorita Watson, acting senior director of education for FOMP, and Elizabeth Quaranta, acting executive director of FOMP, at the reopening of the Keeper’s House Edible Garden in the Norwood section of the Bronx on Wednesday, July 14, 2021. Photo by Miriam Quiñones.
The first, public edible garden in Norwood sits at one end of the Williamsbridge Oval park on Reservoir Oval East, next to the historic Keeper’s House. For Zoë Arcidiacono, a volunteer coordinator with Friends of Mosholu Parkland (FOMP), the garden became a haven during the COVID-19 pandemic, and she felt nurtured by the atmosphere which FOMP created around it.
“I was volunteering a little before the pandemic, but I got laid off and this group has taught me so much,” Arcidiacono told Norwood News. “I moved to the Bronx four years ago. Before that, I was in Queens, and so I have gotten to know my neighbors, and [now] connect to my neighborhood in an entirely new way.” Arcidiacono said her work with FOMP has also presented her with a new opportunity for which she is also very grateful. “Now, I want to do this for work [for a living],” she said.
The garden officially reopened for the summer with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and “NeighborFood” cooking demonstration on Wednesday, July 14. FOMP welcomed neighbors to stop by and check out all the fresh fruits and vegetables that are growing right in the heart of the neighborhood.
(L to R) AESHA VALENCIA, ACTING public relations director of Friends of Mosholu Parkland (FOMP) and Zoë Arcidiacono, volunteer coordinator of FOMP harvest kale and greens to use in the “NeighborFood” cooking demonstration at the Keeper’s House Edible Garden in the Norwood section of the Bronx on Wednesday, July 14, 2021. Photo by Sarah Huffman
The cooking demonstration was given by Bronx catering business, B Blossom, and residents were invited into the enclosed garden to learn how to make a fresh summer salad, using some of the 20 varieties of fruits and vegetables that grow there.
The garden generates enough food to feed over 100 people and every Wednesday, the produce is harvested by volunteers and donated to a local food pantry called Project Bravo.
Aesha Valencia, acting public relations director for FOMP, explained that the edible garden is a partnership project between FOMP and Mosholu Preservation Corporation (MPC), a subsidiary of Montefiore Health System, and has only been operating for about two years.
Valencia said they started out with just a few planters, but the garden now occupies the entire, 250 square-foot garden space adjacent to the Keeper’s House. She said the gardeners make the most of their space by finding ways for plants to grow up instead of out. On a day-to-day basis, the garden is cared for by volunteers who water, weed, and harvest the produce.
LOCAL YOUTH CHOP up vegetables as part of the “NeighborFood” cooking demonstration held to coincide with the reopening of the Keeper’s House Edible Garden in the Norwood section of the Bronx on Wednesday, July 14, 2021. Photo by Sarah Huffman.
This summer, FOMP hired local youth to work with them through the City’s Summer Youth Employment Program. The workers are brought in to help grow food for both themselves and for the community.
Elizabeth Quaranta, acting executive director of FOMP, explained that the young workers are learning about sustainability and growth through the summer program.
“Because, as you know, as we go into a new world of sustainability, and having to be careful with the food that we grow, and keeping it local, now they have the opportunity to realize that they will never grow hungry as long as they realize that that seed can be planted,” said Quaranta. “And once that food is eaten, that seed can be saved and the whole cycle starts all over again.”
LORITA WATSON, ACTING senior director of education at Friends of Mosholu Parkland, samples some of the produce at the reopening of the Keeper’s House Edible Garden in the Norwood section of the Bronx on Wednesday, July 14, 2021. Photo by Miriam Quiñones
Since the garden is public, Quaranta explained that local neighbors are welcome to sow their own seeds and plants in it too and grow whatever vegetation is specific to their background. The surrounding community is very diverse and Quaranta said that this is reflected in the crops grown in the garden.
“We have a big community,” she said. “Our community is very diverse. We have Hispanics, we have Bangladeshi, we have other Middle Eastern entities here, and so they have brought in some [different] seeds,” she added.
The garden also embodies FOMP’s commitment to sustainability. It is part of the New York City’s compost project where all waste goes into the compost bin or is reused. From there, it is reused either in the garden soil or elsewhere.
YOUNG VOLUNTEERS FROM the neighborhood water some plants in the Keeper’s House Edible Garden in the Norwood section of The Bronx on Wednesday, July 14, 2021. Photo by Miriam Quiñones
Valencia said, as people, we all know we need to be more sustainable and responsible with our space. “We just really want to teach people, you know… trying to divert things from landfill,” she said. “That’s why we have the compost operation going on right now. So, that’s just one thing we all share.”
She continued, “Elizabeth has always been into reuse, recycle. I’ve always been into reuse, recycle, Zoë as well,” she said. “We all just know that there’s a lot of knowledge that is not shared or exercised in this neighborhood. So, it’s just important.”
Presiding over the official, ribbon-cutting ceremony were Quaranta, Jennifer Tausig, executive director of Mosholu Preservation Corporation (MPC) and the Jerome Gun Hill Business Improvement District (BID), Jason Caraballo, community relations manager at Montefiore Medical Center, along with other Montefiore officials.
YOUNG VOLUNTEERS FROM the neighborhood plant seeds in the Keeper’s House Edible Garden in the Norwood section of The Bronx on Wednesday, July 14, 2021. Photo by Miriam Quiñones
Tausig said when she first started at MPC, five years ago, one of her goals was to turn the underutilized garden space into an asset for the local community. “I’m so grateful to the Deutsche Bank Working Capital Fund for making this vision a reality,” she said. “We were thrilled to turn the unused outdoor space into an edible garden to feed our neighbors with fresh food.”
She continued, “‘NeighborFood’ is a true community collaboration between MPC, Montefiore Medical Center, Einstein College of Medicine, Elizabeth Quaranta and the Friends of Mosholu Parkland, without whom this garden would not be possible.”
Tausig added that the whole team were very excited to be able to come together to provide fresh food, cooking demonstrations, health education, and technical assistance to local businesses, with goal of increasing access to healthy foods and improving health outcomes in the Bronx.”
ARIANA CIPRIANI, MANAGER of neighborhood development at the Jerome Gun Hill BID displays the fresh vegetables used during the “NeighborFood” cooking demonstration, which was held to coincide with the reopening of the Keeper’s House Edible Garden in the Norwood section of the Bronx on Wednesday, July 14, 2021. Photo by Miriam Quiñones
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted for Bronxites the importance of eating more healthily. Though there were clearly many different factors which contributed to the spread of the coronavirus during the early stages of the pandemic, including lack of adequate residential space to maintain a social distance, and inadequate access to healthcare, studies also found that, sadly, many who were hospitalized had followed a poor diet and were more susceptible to the virus, once infected.
For his part, Caraballo said the “NeighborFood” initiative was a great collaborative effort and matched perfectly with Montefiore’s general mission to improve the health of local communities. “It’s been great to see how many people from across Montefiore Einstein have come together to support MPC’s work,” he said. “And the best part is that all this great fresh produce is distributed to neighborhood residents at Montefiore’s food pantry, Project BRAVO.”
In reference to the summer salad demonstration, Ariana Cipriani, manager of neighborhood development at MPC and the BID, said a lot of the vegetables used in the demo were abundant and seasonal right now. “We’ve got kale, collard greens, some cucumbers, cilantro, radishes, onion and a green apple, and we’re going to make a dressing from honey, apple juice, Dijon mustard and olive oil,” she said.
JASON CARABALLO, COMMUNITY relations manager at the Montefiore Medical Center’s office of government & community relations speaks to the media at the reopening of the Keeper’s House Edible Garden in the Norwood section of the Bronx on Wednesday, July 14, 2021. Photo by Miriam Quiñones
“We also have some feta cheese, and some capers so if folks are dairy-free, they can use capers.” She added that all the ingredients used in the demo were available locally and could be grown locally.
Meanwhile, Lorita Watson, acting senior director of education for FOMP, said the edible garden project is also focused on bringing education about sustainability and gardening to the community and specifically to the local schools.
“It would be great to increase our education program.… and [that] we use the resources in our community as a whole,” Watson said. “Because our students don’t know enough about our community, they think they need to go elsewhere, when we are a resource for that and we could build our own, right here.”
A CHEF FROM B Blossom helps one of the FOMP volunteers chop her vegetables during the Neighbor Food cooking demonstration which coincided with the reopening of the Keeper’s House Edible Garden in Norwood on Wednesday, July 14, 2021. Photo By Sarah Huffman
Meanwhile, Valencia said it was important for people to know that they can grow their own food and be sustainable, especially during times when the community may be facing food shortages.
“I mean, back when Sandy hurricane hit, that was when I first was witnessing empty supermarkets,” she said. “And now with COVID, we’ve seen all that. So, it’s just very important to remind people you can grow this stuff yourself.”
ELIZABETH QUARANTA, ACTING executive director of Friends of Mosholu Parkland reflects on months of work at the reopening of the Keeper’s House Edible Garden in the Norwood section of the Bronx on Wednesday, July 14, 2021. Photo by Miriam Quiñones
Quaranta reiterated the point, saying there were similar gardens in nearby Bedford Park but none in Norwood. She said this was why having an edible garden in Norwood was such a big deal. “This is groundbreaking. That’s why when I said that I was humbled, we literally have changed thousands of lives here,” she said. “And so, we just have to continue to do that, and I thank you guys for that opportunity. As long as you have soil, you should never go hungry,” she said.
Project BRAVO food pantry is located at 3058 Bainbridge, and food is distributed on Mondays and Fridays from noon to 2 p.m., and on Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to noon. The pantry is open to all Bronx residents.