Tag Archive | "fordham university"

From Weeds to a Healthy Harvest at Fordham

On most days, Dagger John’s restaurant at Fordham University earns its reputation as the most popular on-campus eating place. Students gather in the spacious dining area with music playing in the background.

But on Sept. 27, the music disappeared and half of the tables were taken over by baskets of vegetables and food scales. Half a dozen people gathered around each table, checking out and selecting vegetables and there was a line of customers extending out the door.

The interloper is officially called the St. Rose’s Garden Community Supported Agriculture Market. It is a cooperative vegetable buying club that invests in Norwich Meadows Farm in upstate Norwich, N.Y. The founder is Jason Aloisio, 27, an ecology Ph.D. student at Fordham, who is also the founder of an on-campus farm, St. Rose’s Garden.

Aloisio also works at the education center at Prospect Park Zoo, connecting teenagers with nature. (YI DU/The Bronx Ink)

“I love eating good food,” said Aloisio, “and I want people to connect to the nature through food. I want them to put their hands in soil, to see what food look like originally.”

Aloisio sees St. Rose’s Garden and the co-op farmer’s market as ways to help make diets healthier in the Fordham community and even the Bronx at large.

People can buy cheap organic vegetables, including tomato, parsley, radish, soybean, turnip, pepper, carrot and garlic grown in St. Rose’s Garden, or they can join the co-op and receive different fresh vegetables every Thursday from Norwich Meadows.

St. Rose’s Garden is believed to be the only on-campus garden in the Bronx; the only other on-campus farmers’ market is at Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

Growing up in Shoreham on Long Island, Aloisio learned to eat healthy food. As a child, his father, a dentist, kept no candy or desert at home. Fast or processed food was also rare in his home.

“We always had cooked food,” Aloisio said, “so I grew up with real good food.”

Throughout his four years at Fordham, Aloisio has brought that sensibility to the Bronx.  When he’s not fulfilling his teaching responsibilities as a Ph.D. candidate, he spends his time on the rooftop of the university parking garage, which he considers his private lab. His dissertation is about “green roofs” in urban areas.

St. Rose’s Garden was originally a piece of unused land that university officials gave  to Aloisio to grow edible plants like tomatoes and pumpkins in order to demonstrate new uses for wasted spaces. But he decided instead to use the 1,500-square-foot area to build an on-campus community farm for the whole school.

Aloisio first had this idea of creating a garden on the grounds last year, but wasn’t able to recruit enough volunteers.

This year, Aloisio prepared a formal proposal to change the abandoned land in the unused corner of the school near faculty parking garage into a community garden. He also went to different academic departments, trying to get at least $1,750 to buy essential materials for the garden.

The proposal earned Aloisio a little more than the minimum from three deans at Fordham University who also volunteered in the garden’s construction.

In April, Aloisio and Elizabeth Anderson, an undergraduate student studying environmental policy, started advertising for more volunteers through blogs and by sending emails to students.

On April 23, more than 50 volunteers, including students and faculty members, showed up to assist Aloisio and Anderson building the garden. They removed weeds, built eight raised beds covering 244 square feet and bought 20 cubic yards of soil to fill them. They also laid a water system and planted seeds that blossomed into rows of eggplants, green beans, green and red peppers, cucumbers, lettuce, tomatoes, pumpkins and basil.

St. Rose’s Garden is now producing more than 10 kinds of vegetables.  (YI DU/The Bronx Ink)

St. Rose’s Garden offered up its first harvest in September. Green leafy vegetables poked out of their beds. Eggplants turned purple and hid under big leaves. Pumpkins were still in the yellow flower phase, quietly waiting their turn to ripen into fruit.

The garden has also helped grow other efforts at Fordham.

John van Buren, the director of Environmental Policy Program who serves as the faculty advisor for St. Rose’s Garden, is including eight hours of volunteer work at the garden as part of his class.

“Aside from providing fresh, organic vegetables, and an opportunity for playing in the dirt,” said Aloisio, “the underlying mission of St. Rose’s Garden is to be an educational catalyst, both in the classroom and in social settings, for discussion about the broken food system and coupled human-ecosystem interactions.”

He seems to be reaching that goal. “He (Aloisio) is very outgoing, a good person to get things going,” said Joe Hartnett, a junior biology student in the environmental policy class who was one of the volunteers. “He always makes things clear. He is a really good teacher.”

Aloisio was Hartnett’s assistant teacher when he was a freshman. Hartnett said Aloisio brought a lot of different ideas to their environmental classes, making their studies fun and easy to understand. “He is very vocal and energetic,” said Hartnett. “In his email to me, he would say something like ‘Yes, Joe. You CAN do this!’ ”

“He is so passionate,” said Samir Hafez, an economics and environmental policy graduate student. “I admire him for his energies. He never gets discouraged.”

Aloisio says the food co-op is another important component of his campaign to encourage healthy eating.

Consumers pay $16 per week to get a share of six to eight pounds of vegetables and fruit. They agree to buy produce from the farmers for 10 weeks. The vegetables are delivered to Dagger John’s every Thursday for less money than in the supermarket because there is no middleman.

Consumers don’t know what they will get for the week; it depends on what’s available. All the vegetables are picked less than two days before the market.

Katie Buckle, a sophomore at the Gabelli School of Business, did some math with her two roommates. They realized that it would only cost about $5 per person to receive more than enough healthy fruit and vegetables so the three of them decided to pool their money and buy a share together.

“The local farmers send whatever produce they have freshly harvested that week, so our weekly bounty will change and we will likely receive new fruit and vegetables we’ve never tried before,” said Buckle. “To me, this element of surprise is the best part.”

There are currently 137 shares of the co-op, more than Aloisio expected. “We were aiming for 50, and we got 137!” said Aloisio. “I was a little overwhelmed.”

Three resident assistants bought some shares to set up a little farmers’ market in their dorms.

“It helps me to keep a healthier diet,” said Jordan Higgins, a senior biology student. Higgins said she had to Google how to cook much of the produce, but it made her eat more vegetables.

Norwich Meadows Farm also provides vegetables to students at Fordham’s  Lincoln Center campus.

Both the co-op and St. Rose’s Garden share space at Dagger John’s. The student-run farmers market allows people who didn’t buy a share in the co-op the opportunity to enjoy fresh vegetables.

John Craven, a Fordham business professor, was one recent satisfied customer. “This is the best baby carrot I have ever had,” he said as he sampled a small fresh carrot grown in St. Rose’s Garden. He did not even scrub off the mud before he ate a second one.

Money earned by selling produce from St. Rose’s Garden goes to the daily maintenance of the garden.

“This is really not for profit,” said Aloisio. “We just want to get the food to people.”

The first day of the two markets was especially long for Aloisio. More than 200  people stopped by. Even though there were three volunteers helping him, Aloisio still had to answer all the questions about the food and the garden, organize containers and refill vegetables, and find bags for those who forgot to bring one.

St. Rose’s Garden has donated a total of more than $1,000 worth of vegetables to Part of the Solution since the first day of the farmer’s market. (YI DU/The Bronx Ink)

Four full containers of vegetables were left after the first day. Aloisio and his volunteers donated all the vegetables to a local non-profit group called Part of the Solution. These vegetables are repacked in Part of the Solution’s food pantry.

Aloisio would like to have more efforts in the Bronx beyond Fordham. Statistics from the Department of Health show that  only 6.3 percent of Bronx residents eat the recommended five daily servings of fruit or vegetables.“I hope to get more people involved,” he said, “Maybe refugees in the Bronx can come and work in the garden. Or maybe make it a refugee garden or a asylum garden.”

At the moment, however, it’s hard for people outside of the Fordham community to benefit from the garden. Visitors have to show a valid ID and pass a security guard to get on campus.

In the meantime, Aloisio is focused on keeping St. Rose’s Garden working smoothly.

All volunteers work on a weekly basis now. But as the mid-term approaches, a lot of students are too busy to help. Aloisio dedicates most of his time to the garden.

“I have free time, somewhere, not really,” said Aloisio, as he dropped off four containers of vegetables at Part of the Solution — alone.

Posted in Bronx Life, Bronx Neighborhoods, Culture, Education, Food, Health, Multimedia, North Central Bronx, Slideshows, The Bronx BeatComments (0)

Africans immigrants add their own flavor to the South Bronx

On a recent chilly fall day, Bourema Niambele wore a black dashiki—a thin, loose, dress-like garment worn by West African men—to work. He complemented the African attire with his regular cowboy hat and orange, pointed toe shoes.

In the past, distinctive outfits like this would have made African immigrants in the Bronx vulnerable to hate crimes. But Niambele now wears it with confidence. After two years of outreach programs, Niambele and other African community leaders have carved a place for their traditions in the Boogie Down Bronx.

For many years, Africans in the Bronx felt targeted by African-American youth because of their “otherness,” which was evident from the way they dressed. The two groups led a frosty coexistence with very little contact. But in 2009, when violence against African immigrants reached its peak, community leaders began speaking out. The Bronx police crime investigation unit looked at 21 reported incidents involving African immigrants and determined that some were hate crimes.

The number of African immigrants in the Bronx has grown substantially in recent years. The 2010 Census estimate puts African-born populations in the borough at 70,000 – a significant increase from only 12,063 sub-Saharan Africans in 1990. Community leaders believe the number could surpass 100,000 if their American-born children and those in the country illegally were counted.

The community’s campaign for recognition began with two public forums in 2009 that launched a partnership with police, the New York City Housing Authority, schools, and other service agencies in the borough.

“The forum was a historic event for the African community because, if we were not organized, all those things couldn’t have come to light,” said Niambele, who emigrated from Mali in 1998.

By the end of 2010, African immigrants reported fewer than five incidents. Niambele, a father of four who splits his time between New York and Mali, attributes most of the success to a dialogue between African and African-American youth and community leaders.

“There were a lot of misunderstandings,” he said. “The criminals attacked Africans thinking that they are weak and they carried money around because they don’t have bank accounts.”

Niambele, 48, is a community liaison for the African Advisory Council, a group that advises the Bronx borough president on issues involving Africans immigrants. In early 2010, after a series of meetings, the council was set up to address concerns raised by African community members about crimes, housing and discrimination in schools.

Since it was founded, Niambele’s advisory council, in collaboration with religious and community leaders, has been running intercultural education workshops. Members regularly meet with elected officials and attend police precinct and community board meetings to create visibility for African immigrants.

“We are no longer watching from the sidelines,” said Niambele. “We are getting involved in the conversations and educating our neighbors about African people and their culture.”

But not everyone agrees that Africans were targeted because of their race or religion. Sheikh Moussa Drammeh, founder of the K-12 Islamic Leadership School in the Parkchester section of the Bronx, doesn’t think the assaults were unique to Africans.

“There is no problem between the Africans and African-Americans – none whatsoever,” said Drammeh, who immigrated from Africa 26 years ago. “There are ample problems in the community in which both groups reside.” He argued that non-Africans have been enduring similar problems in these high-crime neighborhoods. But because Africans “are too small, too new and too unfamiliar with such crimes, anything that affects us gets magnified,” he said.

He admitted that, in a few cases, someone who speaks a different language and dresses differently could be seen as a threat. “But at the end of the day, these are criminals who have nothing to do but hurt people,” said Drammeh.

The father of three who’s labored his way to a modest life by driving a taxi, working as a security guard, doorman, real estate agent and stockbroker, acknowledges some natural tensions are unavoidable. “Tensions between the haves and the have-nots are universal,” Drammeh said.

In a neighborhood that’s already hurting from cycles of poverty and violence, success can be hard for some neighbors to swallow. “The African-American who has been living in these neighborhoods his entire life may say, wait a minute, I can’t even pay my bills – how come this immigrant is driving a fancy car,” said Drammeh.

Such misconceptions may have contributed to discrimination against immigrants from the community. Language problems also lead to suspicions on both sides. Most Africans lack the language skills to explain how they made money.

“That’s how tensions begin to emerge. You hear expressions like ‘go back to your country,’” said Drammeh. Even after having been robbed, shot at twice and beaten up by African-American youth, he insists there is no inborn hatred between the two communities.

Drammeh, who also anchors the African Union Profile at BronxNet television, understands all Africans may not share his views but advises caution about the message the community and mainstream media are sending. “We are not whiners,” he said. “We have to lead.”

The influx of African immigrants is changing the borough in many ways even though they only make up about 6.9 percent of Bronx’s total population. Colorfully dressed Muslim African women and men wearing traditional African clothing are common sights on the streets of Morrisania and Highbridge, two neighborhoods where the group is heavily concentrated. Businesses are booming with strings of African-owned garages, restaurants, hair salons, churches and mosques.

A 2010 study conducted by Fordham University’s African and African-American Studies department found at least 19 mosques, 15 churches, 19 markets, nine restaurants, 19 movie rental stores, six hair-braiding salons, six newspapers and two law firms, all owned and operated by Africans in the Bronx. To accommodate this growing community, Fordham University started offering a course in a Ghanaian language, Asante-Twi. According to the study, Bronx is home to the largest community of Ghanaians anywhere outside Ghana.

It’s hard to ignore the presence of these diverse communities, hailing from more than 20 African nations. In Morrisania alone, between 163rd and 171st Streets, there are two African restaurants, a chicken slaughter market, half a dozen car repair shops, a mosque, and a shipping agency that transports cars and other items to West Africa and raw materials from Africa to the Bronx.

Tribal, ethnic and national distinctions run deep. In some cases, the political wrangling in their home countries play out intensely in the Bronx. For example, for Guineans of Fulani ethnicity, their country’s president, Alpha Conde, is a despised tyrant. But Mandingo owned stores near 167th Street and Sheridan Avenue proudly display a big picture of the president on their storefront welcoming him to the recent UN General Assembly. The Mandingos, also known as Mandinka, are Conde’s ethnic group and West Africa’s largest.

Tension between the two groups has escalated in recent years. After Conde’s controversial election a year ago, friends in the Bronx have cut ties and don’t speak to one another. Amara Kourouma, 43, who owns a specialty store in Highbridge, joked, “Don’t take a photo and send the Fulanis to beat me up.” It is hardly a joke. When Conde spoke at the World Leaders Forum in September, dueling protests erupted outside Columbia University and their confrontation led to arrests.

Drammeh, the Islamic leader and community activist, has grappled with how to address this problem for years. He’s now seeing hope in initiatives like the African Advisory Council. “We come from a continent that is chopped off to the point where we can no longer work together because of our differences,” he said. “The council helps eliminate these kinds of self-destroying backgrounds that we have by bringing people together.”

Their involvement in the council and events in the borough has brought other successes to this thriving immigrant community. There are at least 10 Africans serving on community boards throughout the borough.

A handful of Africans from the Bronx work in city and state governments. “A lot of us are doing well but no one knows us,” Drammeh said sipping tea, his favorite drink, at his Islamic school on a recent Thursday. “Now we have the African Advisory Council that brings our voice to the table –magnifies our strength and lessens our weaknesses.”

Drammeh is active in everything concerning African and Muslim community in the Bronx. He is the CEO of Halalfinder.com, a website that allows users to buy and sell products online; a school principal; an imam; a TV host; a publisher; a community board member, and a member of the Bronx Clergy Task force. But none of those titles can define the six-footer who refuses to identify his country of origin and simply chooses Africa. To him, the boundaries that separate African nations don’t exist. “We are all from Africa,” he said.

Drammeh has bigger dreams for Africans in New York, especially the Bronx. He is training what he calls “the future generation of African leaders” who he hopes will redefine what it is to be an African and also fight the “self-inflicted segregation” among Africans. His students, most of them high-school aged girls, publish the Muslim Community Report, an online and print newspaper he founded earlier this year to cover Muslims and Africans in New York City.

“There are almost one million Africans in New York City. We should not allow anybody to define us,” he said. “We may start small but in the next 10 years, we’re going to build a giant media house that speaks for us, by us and for ourselves.”

Most Africans in the Bronx are faith-based entrepreneurs who are also family oriented. Concerned about the quality and safety of public schools, many send their children back to Africa for schooling. Others are working to instill their Islamic faith in the youth at an early age.

Abraham Jones, an African-American community leader, director of Claremont Neighborhood Inc. and a board member at Community District 3, values the contribution of Africans to the neighborhood. “This is a country where people work hard and get rewarded for it,” said Jones who’s been active in efforts to bridge the gap of understanding between the two communities.

“I’d like to see African-Americans opening businesses like the Africans but because of reasons including the way we’ve been indoctrinated, we don’t work together or work as hard. So we can’t really complain.”

Like Drammeh, Jones is hesitant to categorize the tension between the two groups as race bias. “It may look like prejudice but I think it’s an issue of acclimation,” he said. “If someone is engaged on telephone conversations while walking down the street – not aware of their neighborhood – the criminal elements are going to take advantage of that.”

It is a reason why his center started an outreach program with the aim of teaching African immigrants to be self-aware and understand the social fabric of their neighborhoods. The center offers daycare services and cross-cultural educational opportunities where community members bring food, share and talk about their respective cultures.

Niambele, who’s worked closely with Jones on those community outreach programs, agreed. A lot of the alleged tensions could be attributed to poor adjustment. “We grew up in an environment where in your neighborhoods no one will attack you,” said Niambele. “That is not the case here.”

His advisory council has teamed up with Jones’s center to teach Africans how to avoid those preventable crimes by paying close attention to their surroundings at all times.

As more Africans come to the Bronx, establish themselves and get involved in various organizations, they hope that their community will accept them. “We want to be recognized for our positive contributions to this community,” said Niambele, who works as site supervisor at an afterschool program in Manhattan.

“No one should be targeted for his or her outfit.”

Posted in Bronx Beats, Bronx Neighborhoods, Bronx Tales, Crime, Culture, Politics, Southern BronxComments (0)

Occupy Bronx, Day One


Picture 1 of 17

The Occupy Wall Street movement headed north to Fordham Road on Saturday, officially enveloping the city’s poorest borough in its now global call to close the income gap in the United States.

Nearly 100 Bronx participants gathered near Fordham University, saying their borough’s residents represent the poorest Americans, and they have been silent for too long.

“I was born and raised in the South Bronx,” said Maribel Vasquez, Fulbright Scholar who wants to see change in her neighborhood.  “It wasn’t until I left that I realized I was raised in the poorest congressional district of the United States.”

Vasquez believes that Bronxites need to be more vocal about poverty, lack of affordable housing and subpar educational options. Saturday’s participants included residents, members of local non-profits, students and professors from Fordham University.

And Occupy Wall Street organizers are happy to expand. “We hope to be in every borough by the end of the week,” said Erik Maldonado, who was born and raised in Kingsbridge and has been a part of the populist movement aimed at the financial district that is galvanizing anti-corporate protests in cities across the U.S., Europe, Asia and South America.  “It is time for the Bronx to join this movement.”

With the highest unemployment rate in New York City and nearly 29 percent of residents living below the poverty level, organizers believers Bronx voices are a vital part of this movement.

Jonnie Rosado, 35 from Parkchester has four sons in school and is attempting to go back to school herself. But as she foots the bill for her son’s classroom supplies and pays for her own tuition, she doesn’t feel the government is supporting her family in getting an education.

“Here in the Bronx we are falling through the cracks,” said Rosado. “I have friends who work three jobs and still can’t make ends meet.”

Occupy Bronx protestors plan to meet every Saturday morning at 11a.m. in Fordham Plaza. Their game plan is to first participate in a general assembly meeting to discuss the Bronx’s unique position in the movement and then take the Fordham Road subway downtown to join the rest of the protesters on Wall Street.

On Saturday, police began to gather near the end of the rally on East Fordham Road and Webster Avenue.

Spectators watched the protestors walk by with mixed emotion. One older woman clapped her hands as they passed. “We support you,” she yelled. Others looked confused and took flyers that said, “Don’t let the one percent take another cent,” and posted Occupy Wall Street’s coming events. Sidewalk vendors appeared pleased at the prospect of new customers as they attempted to sell the protesters gold jewelry and apples and bananas from fruit stands.

“Join us, you are one of us,” yelled the group as they entered the subway station at Fordham Road and Jerome Avenue. Police held the emergency doors open, letting protesters ride for free.

We have had enough,” said Jason Emmanuel, 37. “The Bronx has been left behind and it is time for our voices to be heard.”

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, FeaturedComments (1)

Fordham U. law student forced to give up farm-share program, New York Times

Farm to Fordham, a farm-share program at Fordham University for the last year and a half, ended last week after a battle with security personnel at the school, New York Times.

The program has been struggling since April when security refused to open gates for vegetable delivery, the Times reports.

The program’s founder, Michael Zimmerman, a law student, tried to work with the system to reopen, but instead received notice from the university’s lawyers saying that the program couldn’t continue.


Posted in NewswireComments (0)

Fordham freshman found dead

An entrance to the Fordham University campus on East Fordham Road.

An entrance to the Fordham University campus on East Fordham Road.

A Fordham university freshman was found dead yesterday around 11:30 a.m. in his third-floor Alumni South dormitory room.

According to published reports, Jacob Miller, 18, was found hanging by a belt. There is no indication of foul play.

“Jacob’s family and the Fordham family are shaken with grief,” said Joseph McShane, the university’s president, in a press release. “His sudden loss, especially at such a young age, is heartbreaking and shocking.”

Alumni South residents said a building meeting was held at 6 p.m., in which the dorm’s resident assistants and the university’s resident directors gathered to introduce the grief counselors who are available to counsel students.

Matt Guzman, 18, a freshman who lives in the basement of Alumni South, said he has friends on the third floor who were unable to enter their rooms because police had taped off the entire floor. Although Guzman didn’t know what Miller was studying, he said the third floor students were primarily science majors.

“I don’t think there’s one person in the building who wasn’t affected by it,” Guzman said. “Even if you don’t know someone, it just makes you think.”

One freshman who lives on the first floor of Alumni South, learned of Miller’s death after he left his dorm at noon and saw a large group of police cars outside.

“Two kids who knew him on my floor were definitely upset,” said Luke Poirier, 18. “They stayed in their rooms.”

An interfaith prayer service was held at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday evening in Our Lady’s Chapel in the University Church, and students said additional services were expected to be held on campus later at 9 p.m.

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Crime, Northwest BronxComments (2)

Fordham Shortstop Kownacki Enjoying Instant Celebrity

Tuesday evening was shaping up to be just another night at the ballpark for Brian Kownacki, Fordham University’s 20-year-old shortstop. Fordham, limping into its match against Iona College with a 12-22 record, trailed 9-3 at the bottom of the eighth inning, but a miraculous turn of events saw the Rams win 12-9 and Kownacki transformed into an overnight Internet phenomenon.

“I was just thinking about scoring a run,” Kownacki said. “It was a one-time thing. I’d never thought about it until I got to five feet away from the catcher.”

Kownacki, blocked from home plate by Iona catcher James Beck, improvised by leaping over the head of his befuddled opponent to score the game’s final run — a play that was caught on video by school officials and quickly spread worldwide.

“I knew the sports information director had sent it to ESPN. I thought it might get into the top plays,” said Kownacki, a native of Woodbridge, Conn., who is in his sophomore year of a business administration degree. “I woke up to 20 missed phone calls saying I had interviews on ESPN and that it had made No. 1.”

Kownacki’s life has since been turned upside down by a barrage of media requests. “It’s all a big blur right now,” he said this afternoon before boarding the team’s bus ahead of a flight to Ohio. “I’ve done 11 or 12 interviews. It’s really fun.” CBS’s “Early Show” awaits his arrival in Dayton, where the Rams play a three-game series this weekend.

Tuesday wasn’t the first time that Kownacki’s acrobatics have gained notice — he was featured in a Sports Illustrated photo spread earlier this year. But his latest dazzling maneuver has pushed unheralded Fordham firmly into the spotlight. Diana Mackie, a communications student who works part time in the sports office, said the school deserves the attention. “We have excellent sports programs here, and it’s about time we were recognized,” she said.

Mark Stevens, the team’s hitting coach, said he is surprised by the reaction but delighted by the exposure that Kownacki and the program are receiving. “It was an amazing play. He’s a very athletic kid,” Stevens said. “I think he needs an agent.”

The resulting media circus could be a distraction for the team, but Head Coach Nick Restaino is confident that his shortstop will not be affected. “Brian is the last guy that’s ever going to look for attention,” Restaino said. “He’s very grounded. I think he’ll handle it well.”

Restaino admitted that he had never seen anything like Kownacki’s leap in 18 years of coaching, but his reaction was straight out of the coaching manual. “He did a great job getting the run scored and that’s what really matters,” he said.

Any lingering thoughts that Kownacki might get carried away were quickly deflated by a sobering reaction from his family. “I talked to my parents,” Kownacki said. “They said it was a very nice play, but very dangerous and I shouldn’t try it again.”

Posted in SportsComments (0)