Eat Local, Eat Fresh: Healthy & Affordable Food Brings Brownsville Together


Resident leaders in Brooklyn’s Brownsville and Van Dyke Houses partnered with local organizations and City agencies to organize a community farm stand that helped 200 families secure fresh, locally sourced food.

The local onset of the COVID-19 pandemic limited access to fresh and healthy food for many New York City public housing residents. During this time, stakeholders in the Mayor’s Action Plan for Neighborhood Safety (MAP) who reside at the Brownsville and Van Dyke public housing developments reported various challenges accessing healthy and affordable food options in their neighborhood. During MAP meetings with local organizations and representatives from city agencies, residents from both communities expressed interest in organizing a local farm stand near their homes.

To meet this need, a team of partners combined efforts to build a food access program for these communities. Ms. Saundra Johnson, Director of the Van Dyke Community Center, designated a room at the Center to accommodate the farm stand. Isabahlia Gardens, a local organization dedicated to sustainable urban agriculture, secured funding through a grant with Building Healthy Communities to operate the stand as part of the 5-month “Eat Local, Eat Fresh” food access program.

Brenda Duchene, Founder of Isabahlia Gardens, emphasized, “We need to make sure the people in the neighborhood know about this so that the food doesn’t go to waste.” To increase visibility of the program, residents on the Brownsville and Van Dyke MAP stakeholder teams co-developed a color-coded map of high foot traffic points in Brownsville to promote Eat Local, Eat Fresh.

During this process, organizers began to strategize access methods for particularly vulnerable demographic groups. Wendy Poratta, an Advocate with the Department for the Aging (DFTA), identified a concern: “How do we ensure that seniors with mobility issues can access the farm stand?” To address this need, Lisa Kenner, Van Dyke Houses’ Resident Association President, volunteered to purchase bags of fresh foods for senior residents in the community and deliver them monthly for the duration of the program.

Success for Eat Local Eat Fresh

Beginning March 25, 2021, and continuing monthly through June, Isabahlia Gardens sold large bags of produce items at a subsidized cost: while one bag might typically cost $25 in a local supermarket, residents use varying forms of payment, including cash, debit, and SNAP benefits to purchase a fresh produce bag for only $5.

To date, Isabahlia Gardens provided 160 bags of fresh, locally sourced produce to households in the Brownsville community. “Programs like these are important for the community,” Ms. Johnson emphasized during the June 2021 distribution of the farm stand series.

The final iteration of Eat Local, Eat Fresh will be on Thursday, July 15th, from 10 am-1 pm. Interested residents can RSVP here!