In 2016 we funded new ground posts and hardware for a greenhouse at Added Value Farms, where Saari Nafici is a key staff member. In the following interview, she speak eloquently about her innovative social enterprise in Brooklyn, NY and gives us brave insights on the growing urban food movement.
What is Added Value Farms all about?
Added Value Farms believes that everyone has the right to eat healthy, affordable food and that young people are the greatest agents for change in their communities. We operate two urban farm sites, growing nearly 19,000 pounds of produce last year. We also work with local schools, run a weekly farm stand, supply a 75-member Community Supported Agriculture program, and operate a mid-scale compost operation with partners. We are proud of our youth farmers, ages 14-24, who are responsible for nearly all aspects of the farm operations and market.
How did you get into this business? What introduced you to and made you passionate about what you do?
I love plants and the natural world and grew up running wild in the woods and in neighbor's back yards. In college I studied environmental science and got involved with a student organic garden. It was there I learned how urban farms could serve as an amazing way for people to engage with their environment and larger social justice movements. The outdoor classroom is one of the best resources to learn problem-solving, observation skills, cooperation, and teamwork. We grow ourselves as we grow our vegetables. The process connects us to one another, our community, and the land. I see that everyday on the farm and with the youth we work alongside.
What are you most excited about right now? What are some of your future goals?
Our farm was largely destroyed by 2012 Superstorm Sandy--we've been rebuilding infrastructure and programming ever since. Tater Tat's support of our greenhouse (re)build allows us to start the 2017 season with our own propagation space! The greenhouse will support both production as well as education goals. Our youth will practice a new set of skills, and we can plant our fields with the seedlings started by our own teen farmers.
What frustrates you most about your work or the current food culture at large? What do you wish to change the most?
Most of our youth farmers are of color and come from low-income households. Systemic racism is pervasive in their school system, embedded in city planning and transit infrastructure, and widespread in employment and internship opportunities. Similarly, the movement for food justice (whether it's supporting local farmers, increasing fresh food access, strengthening organic farming, or preserving non-GMO seeds) has been largely driven by and for middle class white people.
Where do our youth fit in? How are the needs of marginalized communities met? Are we pursuing empowerment models or bandage approaches? While our work is literally grounded--a working farm run by youth that grows food for our community--we do all we can to connect to this greater pursuit of food, environmental, and social justice.
Any recent moments of optimism? Things you see changing for the better?
We are a part of a local network of organizations working with young people and the environment called the Youth Food Justice Network. As we meet and organize together, the growing sense of connection and potential is incredible. We are also making connections with other groups doing social justice work and finding ways in which our struggles overlap, or are one. Every day on the farm with our youth and community of supporters is a moment of optimism!
Favorite vegetable to eat, grow or wear?
Favorite vegetable to eat: cucumber
Favorite vegetable to grow: habanero pepper
Favorite vegetable to wear: bean leaves
Anything else you want us to know? Anything you want us to help you spread the word about? : You can follow our farm antics on Instagram - staff, interns, and youth all post:
We also have a monthly newsletter that starts back up in March: