2001-06-16 / Front Page

Farming Project Reclaims Rockaway Soil

Farming Project Reclaims Rockaway Soil

Some young greenthumbs learn how to make their garden grow. (Left to right) Quacy Simon, John Gallo, Leon Scott, Wale Famosa, Gregory Bell, Leroy Scott, and Bobby Bell.Some young greenthumbs learn how to make their garden grow. (Left to right) Quacy Simon, John Gallo, Leon Scott, Wale Famosa, Gregory Bell, Leroy Scott, and Bobby Bell.

By Aaron Zeidman

God’s Battalion Ministries, a group whose mission is to combat hunger, homelessness, and hopelessness in the Far Rockaway communities, has put in its roots and is branching out with a new farming project that is bringing food, knowledge, nutrition and employment to Far Rockaway.

The project is administered by God’s Battalion Loving Care Center, an outreach service that has been in operation for 8 years, providing the community with spiritual guidance, pantry bags of food and clothes as well as referrals to other agencies.

Pastor David Cockfield, the director of the Loving Care Center, said, "We try in every way to make sure our client’s needs are taken care of. Clients also have the opportunity to help run the center. We want to make them feel important, not like a castaway."

"The idea for the garden project "grew" from the LCC food pantry" said McKinley Hightower-Beyah, Agricultural Consultant and Instructor for the garden project. "We want to provide our clients with the best possible food quality—not just canned food, but fresh vegetables as well."

Part of the project will be to monitor the clients who add an intake of fresh vegetables to their diet. A survey will be conducted to determine to what degree fresh foods can improve health.

Hightower-Beyah started gardening at the age of 7, and worked for a long time with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to gain his gardening expertise. He spent much his employment "reclaiming land," working in the western U.S. resuscitating atomic energy pits. He sees the gardening project as another way of reclaiming land right here in Rockaway.

"A primary purpose of the project," said Hightower-Beyah, "is to show that urban property can be turned into productive gardens to feed the hungry."

Education is another important aspect of the GBLCC gardening project. Highower-Beyah is conducting gardening classes and educational workshops for people in the community. There are 14-18 youth from junior and high schools in the area that are involved and learning valuable agricultural skills. Younger children, adults, and senior volunteers are also involved, and taking a hands-on role in producing their own food. Hightower-Beyah is also working on two books that will be created from this project—a resource book for similar projects and a project journal that records the development of the GBLCC gardening project.

Major funding for the project has been provided by a United Way Seed Grant. The grant brought in $20,000 which is used for supplies and employs two full-time gardeners, Freddy Velez and Junior Kingston. The grant was written by project coordinator Josephine Cockfield and Terry Small under the direction of Pastor Paul Cockfield and Pastor David Cockfield.

"We try to work with as many people in the community as possible," said Pastor Paul Cockfield, of God’s Battalion Church. "Unless we are community-minded, we won’t fulfill our purpose, which is to get as many people involved as we can."

Some of the groups involved include United Way, Plant A Row For The Hungry, Greenthumbs, NYS Department of Health, Browns Hardware, Black Urban Cowboys, Cornell University Cooperative Extension, and others.

The Loving Care Center and the farming project are located at 454 Beach 67 Street, Far Rockaway.

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