It’s been a long couple of weeks. The race to replace RBG is in full swing, while the race to curb the COVID-19 pandemic remains stagnant and apathetic. Indoor dining will return to New York City in just 8 days, despite outcries of fear from restaurant workers over jeopardized safety and respect. The climate crisis has once again arrived at centerstage after wildfires took over the West Coast. With so many critical and time sensitive topics, where does one begin?
I will begin on a farm in East New York. Last Thursday, in the early hours of the day, I rode my bike out to a part of Brooklyn that few of my peers have even heard of where the sidewalks are wider and empty lots and abandoned buildings are more common. The air is crisp with the first hints of fall, yet the sun hides behind a veil of fog and smoke that has finally found its way across the entire country. It is early enough that the city which never sleeps is, well, still sleeping.
On this particular morning, it is just myself and Jeremy—the farm’s manager—working the one square block of land. We are seed saving, a practice which farmers rely on as a way to preserve crops and food culture from year to year and generation to generation. We cut down wild growing amaranth plants which produce a popular leafy green used in Caribbean cooking known colloquially as callaloo. I knock the large stalks into a trashcan, releasing and capturing the mature seeds. The plants are then tossed onto a growing pile in the greenhouse where they will dry out and release the rest of their seed pods. Jeremy explains that the farm has been growing this family of amaranth for quite some time, since the dish is central to the community’s cuisine and the saved seeds generate a sizable revenue for the farm.
At East New York Farms, the neighborhood is at the forefront of all operations. The entire western perimeter of the farm is lined with raised beds which are maintained by various community members. Later in the day, while we pull weeds from a bed of carrots, a neighbor stops by to bring Jeremy a rack for his fridge. “I texted him like 12 minutes ago asking if he knows anywhere to get one,” he says. “He didn’t even text back, just showed up.” The man then spends a few minutes telling us about how his grandmother was one of the first Black women to live in this area. He eagerly asks when the peppers will be ready for harvest, so he can make a batch of her hot sauce.
In talking more with Jeremy, it becomes clear that we have quite a lot of shared interests and beliefs, and quite a lot to discuss as a result. As we pull weeds from the ground that have grown taller than the carrots whose lives they threaten, we talk about the impact of climate change on small farmers, and vice versa. We agree about the future of restaurants—"Not to be pessimistic, but do we even need so many of them?” he says—and we believe that community oriented solutions may be the only real solution. We realize that in order for anything to change, we as a society must learn to place real value on food and all that it encompasses. We must stop taking food—and the people who make it—for granted. We admit that we are both socialists, probably.
I told Jeremy about my work, my goals, my hopes for the future. He tells me about his, and an element of fear hangs in the air. He is afraid that the impact of East New York Farms and others like it will not reach far enough, or will be ‘too little too late’. I explain that I would love to get into agricultural writing, but don’t know where to begin; don’t feel that I have the knowledge or authority to do so. His response is jarring, but true — “Maybe so, but there isn’t really time for that, is there?”
He is right. There is not time. We are barreling towards a future in which the land is un-farmable, marginalized groups are further marginalized, and democracy is threatened. We are growing accustomed to skies full of smoke and death tolls nearing 200,000 from a disease which could have been contained with any level of concrete leadership. We placed all of our hope in a woman with terminal cancer, expecting her to carry us through the terrifying world which we created. We are jaded, and we are tired.
It is easy to lose hope—many have already, and many more probably will. In a country and a world that seems so far beyond redemption, what is there to hope for? What can we do as individuals in a system that is inherently rigged against the individual?
For me, the answer is perhaps deceptively simple. We can keep trying. After all, what else is there to do? In the face of crippling fear and hopelessness, we can save seeds and tell our friends about it. We can order takeout and tip well and wear a mask and tell our friends to do the same. We can put our money where our mouths are and make a habit out of buying from small businesses with sustainable models and substantial social impacts, and show our friends that Amazon isn’t the only place with free shipping. We can make sure we are registered to vote, and then make sure our friends are too.
Right now, the world feels heavier with each passing moment. Heavier like the weight that slowly mounts during a long day at work, or after a heartbreak. Heavier the way your eyes feel late at night. Heavier like legs after a long run when it would be easier to stop or walk. It would be easier to put our heaviness onto someone else’s shoulders, to blindly place blame and throw up our arms and say ‘we’re all fucked’.
Easier, maybe. But easiness doesn’t breed revolution, and just because something is heavy doesn’t mean it can’t be lifted.