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Food Planting Event in New York Botanical Garden Helps Address Food Insecurity in Bronx

The Children’s Garden at the Edible Academy located in the New York Botanical Garden. Henrietta McFarlane for the Bronx Ink.

The “three sisters”— beans, corn, and squash—grow in a semicircle shaped plot at the far end of Edible Academy’s vegetable garden in the Bronx. Beans grow wrapped around corn stems for support. The roots of beans fortify the soil with nitrogen, important for the growth of corn and squash. Orange, yellow, and green squash have large sprawling leaves that cover the ground below the beans and corn, which keep the soil cool and moist and prevent weeds from growing. 

“This companion planting technique was something that was taught to settlers by the Indigenous Americans,” said Edible Academy Educator Alyssa Markowski. 

On Sunday, the same technique was taught to elementary-school-aged children during the Edible Academy’s event “Dig! Plant! Grow! The Three Sisters.”  

Each child who participated was shown how to make a “Fiesta Corn Salad” out of the ingredients in the garden. Posters on small tables showed how beans might become soup, squash could be roasted and corn turned into spoonbread or fritters. Everyone was sent home with popcorn seeds to make into popcorn. 

The Edible Academy’s garden, tucked away in the north-east corner of the New York Botanical Garden, is a small oasis in one of the most notoriously food insecure areas in the nation: the Bronx. NYBG is responding to this nutrition crisis through the new Edible Academy. 

The Edible Academy, located in the New York Botanical Gardens, the Bronx. Henrietta McFarlane for the Bronx Ink.

According to Hunger Free America’s most recent report, one in four Bronx residents experienced food insecurity between 2018 and 2020. The borough also has the highest level of food insecurity in all of New York City. Households with children were about 15 percent more likely to report having less income for food during the pandemic, according to the NYC Health Epi Data Brief

“The pandemic has really highlighted the issue of food insecurity. Pre-pandemic rates of food insecurity were already unacceptably high for a country as wealthy as the United States,” said Kim Hekimian, a professor at Columbia University’s Institute of Human Nutrition. 

During the pandemic, economic barriers to food grew—45 percent of residents reported less income and 20 percent were unable to buy groceries due to lack of money for food. 

“Rates of food insecurity still remain higher than pre-pandemic,” said Professor Hekimian. 

Hekimian explained that people who experience food insecurity tend to rely on low cost foods that are cheap and accessible. Those foods tend to be high in non-nutritive calories such as sugars, sodium, and other non-essential nutrients. 

Figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that levels of childhood obesity surged to unprecedented levels during the pandemic. This is directly linked to inadequate nutrition. 

The Edible Academy runs regular activities throughout the year to bring awareness to this issue. 

“We have a program for school trip visits, summer camps, and scout groups,” said Ann Novak, the Edible Academy’s manager.

The most effective way to deal with the diseases caused by malnutrition is to prevent them from happening in the first place, Hekimian explained.

“It is important to teach children to grow food in an urban setting so that they are taught from a young age about fruit and vegetable intake, what dietary guidelines are and how to cook with these foods.”

Posted in Bronx Beats, Bronx Neighborhoods, Education, Health0 Comments

Bronx School Pilots Mayor Adams’ Gifted and Talented Expansion

The front gates of P.S. 340. Henrietta McFarlane for The Bronx Ink.

On a warm August morning, a class of third grade students were working on their computers, creating animations using the programming language Scratch. Cartoons of animals moved across backgrounds of mountains, seas, and forests on laptop screens. It was only a pre-term meet and greet but the teacher Jayra Sanchez explained that the eight and nine-year olds had already learned about algorithms, debugging, and tinkering.  

This class at P.S.340, an elementary school in Kingsbridge Heights, makes up 21 of the 1,000 third-grade seats being added to the Gifted and Talented program this fall. The program offers accelerated learning to eligible elementary school students.

In April, Mayor Eric Adams announced that the Gifted and Talented program would be expanded. The announcement reversed the decision of Adams’ predecessor Bill De Blasio to phase out the program in 2021 because of the widespread criticism it received for exacerbating segregation in schools.

Of the 1 million public school students in New York City in 2021, about 70 percent were Black and Latino. About 75 percent of the 1,600 students in the Gifted and Talented school classes were white or Asian American. 

In a report released in 2019, the New York City School Diversity Advisory Group recommended that New York City scrap its Gifted and Talented program. The “Gifted and Talented program is unfair, unjust, and not necessarily research-based. As a result, these programs segregate students by race, class, abilities and languages,” the report stated.

Adams’ new plan involves adding 100 kindergarten and 1000 third grade seats and overhauling the screening process. 

“Expanding our Gifted and Talented program to all New York City districts is about giving every child, in every zip code, a fair chance and making sure no child is left behind,” Adams said in April. 

Demographic enrolment data for this year’s Gifted and Talented cohort and from P.S.340 won’t be available until spring, 2023, according to the Department of Education. 

P.S.340’s principal, Alexie Nichols, hopes that having a gifted program will benefit the wider school community, and not just the 21 children in the third-grade pilot class. “It’s not just an isolated classroom, you create a vertical team of third, fourth, and fifth grade teachers as well as out of the classroom administration to think together about how to expand the work,” Nichols said.

Nichols said it is still too early in the pilot to know exactly what this expansion will look like.

Under Adams’ new plan, instead of the screening test that was used to test kindergarten children, the top 10 % of second-grade students in each school were invited to apply to the third grade Gifted and Talented class.

P.S.340’s second-grade teacher, Katie Mendez, had the job of putting forward the names of eligible students before invitations could be sent out. “It’s hard (for parents) to navigate. So, we assist them through the process,” Mendez said. The school’s parent coordinator, Maria Acosta, also helps.  

There was one parent whose child had been nominated for the program but had had issues with the application process, Mendez said. With support from the school “he was able to follow through…his son is now in the class,” she said.

Parents’ reaction to the program was mixed. “Two of my kids were in a Gifted and Talented class at (Bronx school) P.S.7 and they liked it,” said Chris Amargo, who has a younger child at P.S.340. “They got motivated, started to read a lot and now they are honors students.”

Derio Naylor’s son is in the fifth grade and so has passed the Gifted and Talented entry point. “I think each child learns differently. So, I don’t like to pinpoint or separate,” said Derio, who is generally against the program. But if her son was eligible and accepted into the program, Naylor said, “my husband probably would have said yes.”

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods0 Comments

Grammy-Award Winner Eddie Palmieri Launches the Lehman Center’s 2022-23 Season

Eddie Palmieri, age 85. Photo courtesy of the Lehman Center for the Performing Arts

Grammy-Award winning artist Eddie Palmieri and his Salsa Orchestra launched the Lehman Center’s 2022-23 season on Saturday evening. 

Palmieri is a long-time performer at The Lehman Center and his popular presence is in-line with efforts to focus concert programming on reflecting the community’s diversity. Those efforts have been heralded by The Lehman Center’s Executive Director, Eva Bornstein, who took over in 2005 with a philosophy to “focus on Latinos, African Americans…and then all the other diverse communities in the Bronx.”

“I’ve been following him since 1962,” said audience member Harold Bridgewater. “He’s a legend, I wouldn’t miss this.” 

The 85-year-old matched the enthusiasm of his dynamic Salsa Orchestra— at one point, walking center stage to dance salsa himself. At another point, he had the audience clap along to the distinctive rhythm typical of salsa. 

The opening act included performances by Puerto Rican Tres player, Nelson Gonzalez, and the Del Caribe Latin Jazz All Stars. Spanish-Cuban singer, Lucrecia Pérez Sáez, then joined the group on stage to a “dancing” ovation from the audience. Eddie Palmieri kicked off the second half of the concert with an intimate piano-bass duo before performing favorite repertoire from his collection of over 36 albums. The crowd spoke a mixture of Spanish and English. 

Singer-songwriter Arlene Gonzales performed “Para Que Sepan Quien Soy Yo”, which Palmieri wrote for the singer back in 2021. Her vocals floated above the complex cross-rhythms and subtle dissonances in Palmieri’s choice of chords on the piano. The pair are currently recording a new album together. 

Palmieri’s parents emigrated from Puerto Rico to New York City in 1926. He was raised in the Bronx and learned to play the piano before starting his career as a timbales player in his uncle’s band. He is the recipient of ten Grammy awards, including the first-ever Grammy for the Best Latin Recording with The Sun of Latin Music in 1975. 

“I love the Bronx and I’m going to dedicate this performance to the Bronx”, said Palmieri. 

Assembly Member José Rivera recounted giving Palmieri his first gig in the Bronx. 

“A hundred dollars for four hours. Eddie would tell you that was a lot of money,” the 86-year-old said.

The Salsa Orchestra’s singers, percussionist, and guitarist in center stage at the Lehman Center’s season launch concert on Saturday, September 17 2022. Henrietta McFarlane for the Bronx Ink. 

The Lehman Center is located in Bronx Community District 7. According to the Community District Profile, Latinos account for nearly 70% of the population.

Robert Sancho, the show’s producer and former chairman of the Lehman Center’s board of directors, spoke on stage about resigning years ago because the music didn’t reflect the community in the Bronx. 

“You’ve got 600,000 Latinos in the Bronx. Let’s have some salsa,” said Sancho as the crowd cheered. 

Henrietta McFarlane, reporter for the Bronx Ink, has a background in performance and music criticism. She graduated from the University of Cambridge with a degree in Music in 2021. 

Posted in Arts, Bronx Beats, Culture0 Comments