Marion Moses and Malisa Rivera are really cooking! Their three-year old mission to bring healthy food to Far Rockaway, dubbed the “Culinary Kids Culinary Arts Initiative,” already has a piece of turf they can call their own on Seagirt Boulevard near Beach 31 Street. The rainbow-colored banner reads: Culinary Kids Garden and Farmer’s Market. There used to be a rooming house on the site, where, on July 1, 1986, young cop Scott Gadell was killed in the line of duty. Now basil and eggplants grow. Time heals all wounds.
For the launch of the growing season last June, the Culinary Kids distributed flyers to neighbors inviting them to pitch in and “Love Your Far Rock Block.” Volunteers who helped spruce up the site that day were rewarded with Chef Moses’ divine BBQ. Transformation of the site continued throughout the summer, spearheaded by the dogged efforts of Moses and Rivera and their three young sons. A community food bank got off the ground. In the fall, the garden hosted a delightful healthy potluck luncheon, with food contributed by volunteers from the group “Just Food,” who came to help build a state-of-the-art composting system at the site. That gathering was a multicultural mix of Rockaway residents from east and west, plus young and earnest vegans from off the peninsula, who broke bread together and shared their dreams of promoting food justice, sustainable agriculture, and just plain healthy eating throughout the Rockaways. I was fortunate to attend, and contributed “goody bags” of fresh chives I had sown and tended in the Memorial Prayer Garden of First Congregational Church on Beach 94 Street.
Moses and Rivera have welcomed many prominent officials and groups to their garden, from the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce to the Queens Botanical Garden. They have also wisely reached out to local groups like the Rockaway Artists’ Alliance and the 100th Precinct Community Council. A visit from John Ameroso, the retiring legend of the Cornell Cooperative Extension Service, who essentially jump-started community gardening in New York City 34 years ago, was featured in a piece in the New York Times in May. Ameroso approved of the rainwater collection system recently added to the garden, after he realized it had a critical sustainability function, and was not a decorative “gazebo.”
Last weekend, the Culinary Kids’ new community-supported agriculture project, or CSA, was launched. In association with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a CSA provides fresh, locally grown organic produce to customers who purchase shares. As a half-share member of the CSA, I received fresh organic strawberries, apples, cherries, summer squash, and swiss chard, plus a bouquet of fragrant fresh basil grown right there on Seagirt Boulevard. Fresh organic produce will be delivered to the garden from upstate New York each weekend throughout the growing season, for pickup by member-families of the CSA. Culinary Kids communicates with the farmers and oversees the weekly share distributions.
Moses and Rivera have other big plans. The couple, hailing from the Redfern Houses, have accomplished a lot in a short time. The garden includes a roomy chicken coop, and a group of silky Black Australorps are now ensconced there. Their afterschool cooking classes at the Ocean Bay Houses were a big hit. The past two years, they also cooked up tasty hot food selections for the NYC Parks Department’s very popular “End of the School Year” celebrations in Bayswater Park.
I met the pair a little over a year ago, when they were making BBQ chicken for the Rockaway Earth Day celebration in Far Rockaway. Since then, the Culinary Kids program has gone “viral,” with the hard-working pair and a few volunteers tending the garden, staffing a weekly farmer’s market at St. John’s Episcopal Hospital, and getting the CSA off the ground. Soon, they will also be conducting a Saturday healthy food program at Joseph Addabbo Family Health Center.
Other trendy, much-hyped community gardening projects and minifarmer’s markets have been springing up on the peninsula of late, and garnering major attention. The moreestablished markets and gardens are often overlooked, including the all-volunteer garden association at Floyd Bennett Field, in existence since the early 1970’s, one of the largest community gardens in the United States. And the farmer’s market held on Saturdays from July-October in the parking lot of the Addabbo Center on Beach 60 and Beach Channel Drive is the descendant of the Hamer-Campos market, held on Saturdays at PS 42 in Arverne from 1994-2007.
Culinary Kids could indeed, be considered one of the upstarts. Right next to them on Seagirt is the well-tended plot of veggies and flowers now supported by the New York Restoration Project, where volunteers have been toiling since 1992. It’s come to be known as the “Bette Midler Garden” —the entertainer’s foundation provides much of the funds. But Moses and Rivera have been toiling behind closed doors for years, and by partnering with some of the leading food groups in academia, government and the not-for-profit sector, they have managed to garner grants, a Citizen’s Committee of New York award and publicity that has brought Culinary
Kids to the public’s attention.
Theirs is truly a home-grown Pregnant? Rockaway success story. They are very down-to-earth and friendly, but also articulate and passionate about their vision of improving the diets of the residents of the Rockaways in a sustainable way. “The necessity for better food and nutrition is vital,” says Rivera. “Organic fruits, vegetables and meats are healthier of course, because of the way they are cultivated and grown. Organic livestock as a whole only eat organic grains, grasses and green vegetables which in turn makes the consumer who eats it …healthier—by far! The main drawback is that it’s more expensive than non-organic produce and meats. With the Culinary Kids CSA program we are set to change that and will.” Rivera then states: “Everyone regardless of economic class should eat well!”
Perhaps it will happen someday in Far Rockaway.