Green City Force & the Mayor’s Office of Strategic Partnerships
Program: Healthy Food & Community Change
Area of Work: Health
Grant Purpose: Farms at NYCHA
Farms at NYCHA was created as a partnership between the New York City Housing Authority, the Mayor’s Office of Strategic Partnerships, the Fund for Public Health and Green City Force, a nonprofit that prepares young NYCHA residents for careers in the green economy. Green City Force hires cohorts of 18 to 24-year-old NYCHA residents as AmeriCorps Service to serve full-time to gain the skills, certifications, and experience required to launch sustainable career pathways while serving NYC public housing communities. While some Corps members go straight to internships or jobs, others choose to go to college or pursue other educational opportunities.
Purpose: To support the scale-up of Farms at NYCHA from one pilot farm to six farms in NYCHA developments in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan and Staten Island and to enable the program to engage more youth.
Farms at NYCHA is part of Building Healthy Communities (BHC), a city-wide partnership designed to improve health outcomes in 12 neighborhoods in New York City. Through the initiative, young public housing residents build and maintain farms on public housing properties across the city to serve fellow residents, with local partners. The Farms expand healthy food access and provide youth workforce and leadership development. Corps members also take courses to prepare for the Green Building Professional (GPRO) certification, acquiring skills and qualifications required to secure jobs with opportunities for advancement. The program is now in partnership with the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City.
Farms at NYCHA advances multiple goals — healthy food access, youth career pathways, and environmental awareness. Green City Force has “graduated” their original site at Red Hook Houses in Brooklyn to Red Hook Initiative. Current farms are now operating at Howard Houses in Brownsville (Brooklyn), Bay View Houses in Canarsie (Brooklyn), Wagner Houses in East Harlem (Manhattan), Forest Houses in Morrisania (the Bronx), and Mariners Harbor (Staten Island).
Over 20,000 NYCHA residents citywide now have access to a farm.
In 2018-2019, Green City Force integrated the Urban Farm Corps with the Love Where You Live Corps so that — under a unified Service Corps at GCF — Corps Members experience both urban agriculture training through Farms at NYCHA as well as sustainability education and outreach training through Love Where You Live programming.
Investments in wraparound social services have increased graduate placement rates and enabled members to access a licensed social worker on a more consistent basis. Green City Force has dedicated teams at each farm site, doubling the number of weekly NYCHA resident programs and providing more opportunities for deep engagement with the residents at their sites. Cohort 19 had a 90% graduation rate, and 94% of the graduates were in jobs or college at a 6-month mark.
NYC Public Housing (NYCHA) Farms – A Twist on Urban Agriculture (Hunter College Food Policy Center)
According to the Final Evaluation Report by the CUNY Urban Food Policy Center:
As a result of having built and cultivated six large-scale urban farms at Mariner’s Harbor in Staten Island, Forest Houses in the Bronx, Red Hook West, Bay View Houses and Howard Houses in Brooklyn, and Wagner Houses in East Harlem, the initiative has:
- Supported the recruitment and training of more than 111 young NYCHA residents as Service Corps Members (CMs). This is an innovative model of activating AmeriCorps service year requirements as a platform to address youth unemployment in public housing communities while enlisting young residents in improving the lives of public housing residents;
- Enabled Green City Force (GCF) CMs who have graduated from the program to attain educational opportunities or full-time employment in various sectors, including with FAN community-based partner organizations;
- Engaged residents of NYCHA housing in the Farms at NYCHA (FAN) projects, involving 14,143 farm stand visitors, and 1,055 NYCHA resident volunteers in farm and food activities, as well as 2,490 young people in farm-based learning activities, generating a high level of interest and support within each development;
- Activated spaces within each development that residents perceived as significantly more pleasant and safer than prior to the construction of the farms;
- Cultivated and distributed 56,715 pounds of fresh, sustainably-grown produce, with a retail value of approximately $118,975, to NYCHA residents, increasing self-reported consumption of fruits and vegetables and saving residents money;
- Created environmental benefits by diverting approximately 13,816 pounds of food scraps from landfills and preventing stormwater from inundating the city’s sewer system, an estimated value of approximately $300,000 in ecosystem services.
In 2017 GCF received the Project of the Year Award from The Corps Network, which serves over 35,000 young adults nationally. This achievement is a notable credit to both FAN and GCF, and indicative of the broad potential of the FAN model as a public-private partnership that has invested in public housing at a time of federal government disinvestment. As FAN transitions from this first phase of implementation and considers its sustainability, this report highlights the success of the initiative in achieving a broad range of goals, including meeting ambitious targets for farm construction, workforce development, food production, and service to residents. This evaluation illustrates that beyond the specific accomplishments that we have tracked over three years, FAN’s transformative power comes from its ability to challenge long-held expectations for what is possible for young people, for NYCHA communities, and for New York residents more broadly.