Gardeners from low-income communities have joined forces to form “farm hubs” that coordinate their community gardens and harvest on a collection of vacant lots in the Bronx.

Some people discovered that their small gardens could produce enough peppers to make hot sauce in large quantities. This was Bronx Hot Sauce. The profits are then reinvested back into their communities.

The Bronx’s farm hubs have once again proven their worth during the pandemic by producing healthy crops such as garlic, kale, and collard greens.

Raymond Figueroa Reyes, president of New York City Community Garden Coalition, says, “The trick is how can we learn form the pandemic so we become truly resilient.”

Urban farming became hyper-productive after the pandemic. He says that people saw that the food donations were not sufficient in quantity and quality. There is no dignity in waiting for that kind of charity.”

These farm hubs are part a nationwide urban gardening movement that encourages residents to grow fresh food.

Urban and rural areas with limited access to fresh, healthy food are known as “food deserts” and have higher rates of obesity and diabetes. Some community leaders prefer to use terms such as “food prisons” and “food apartheid” in cities where the phenomenon is often seen as interconnected with deeper issues like race, equity, and other social issues.

Ron Finley, Los Angeles, has been at forefront of urban gardening for many years. He views gardening as both therapeutic, and a defiance.

Finley, who is the founder of the non-profit Ron Finley Project, says that growing your own food is similar to printing your own money. It’s more than food. It’s about freedom. It’s our revolution and our eco-lution.

Finley was born in South Central Los Angeles and he recalls having to drive 45 minutes to get a tomato. Finley’s efforts to revitalize communities through gardening include planting vegetables on abandoned parkways and other unused land and teaching online classes about the power and benefits of growing food.

Millions of Americans live within areas that lack healthy food options. These same areas are magnets to fast-food restaurants as well as the convenience and packaged food available at pharmacies and convenience stores.

Finley states that the drive-thru kills more people than the drive-by. “I want people return to reality. I want them to touch the soil, and to take back the things that were taken from them. It will multiply when you plant a seed. It is a currency. It is a valuable resource. This is empowering. It’s more than just food.

Karen Washington, a Bronx resident who has been promoting urban farming for decades, stated that it was about “food justice.”

She stated that healthy food and clean water are human rights.

Washington is a board member of New York Botanical Garden. He has helped neighborhoods turn vacant lots into community gardens and helped to launch City Farms Market. This market brings fresh, affordable produce from community gardens or upstate farms to a weekly farmers’ market in the Bronx.

Black Urban Growers was co-founded by her and the Black Farmer Fund was founded to help black entrepreneurs and farmers access capital.

COVID made a significant impact on people who want to grow their own food. Washington stated that she now sees more people planting food in backyards across the country.

It was urgent during the initial stages of COVID before vaccines were available. Washington states that if we want to combat viruses, particularly in areas with high levels of obesity and diabetes, we must eat healthy.

Figueroa-Reyes concurs.

He says, “Folks stated that we must get into these unutilized spaces and we must grow food.” “There’s a collective effort to organize farm hubs, with the goal of growing immune-boosting food and getting it where it’s most needed.”

The Bronx Green-Up program of the New York Botanical Garden provides technical assistance to community gardens. The New York Botanical Garden stepped up its efforts after the pandemic. It worked directly with community farms hubs, organizing biweekly Zoom meetings to assist with problem solving, resource sharing, harvest distribution, and more than 10,000 vegetable and herb seedlings.

Ursula Chanse is the program’s director. She says, “We joined together with long-standing community partners early on in the pandemic. Realizing that food insecurity had always been a major problem in the Bronx.”

She says, “There is definitely a lot more community gardening interest now, as well as more urban farms spaces.”