“People create the assumption after they put stores here. They designed this neighborhood to be a food swamp and assume that people of color like Popeyes and McDonald’s or whatever,” said Harris. “People are very grateful for the fresh food that we provide.”

Iyeshima Harris is the co-director at Green Guerillas and project director for East New York Farms!, a subsidiary of United Community Center which has been serving the East New York neighborhood of Brooklyn for over 60 years.

East New York Farms! is an “urban agriculture project” and nonprofit that runs a local youth internship program, food truck that prepares meals, food pantry, farmer’s market, and an onsite center at New York City Housing Authority’s Pink Houses.

Harris got her start in the food justice movement over 10 years ago. As a Jamaican native, she said, she struggled with the process of assimilation into a new culture and found comfort and connection through farming in her community.

The farm has local volunteers and gardeners from within the community. She said that the farm struggled because of a lack of volunteers last year during the COVID-19 pandemic. The usual growing season starts in April, when the virus outbreak had hit its peak in 2020.

“At first we weren’t allowed to have volunteers in person for the first half of the season which is crazy because most of our work is volunteers,” said Harris. “Staff had to do most of the labor by ourselves, and our gardeners, most of them are elders. So most of the gardens were abandoned since seniors were impacted the most by COVID.”

The farm usually grows crops requested by the surrounding Black, Asian, and Latino community. Harris said they may have carrots, long beans, okra, bitter melon, herbs, tomatillos, malabar spinach, pimiento peppers, ghost peppers, and okazi leaves depending on the season.

Harris said since COVID though, the farm is giving away food four times a week which translates to about 150 to 175 bags of produce sometimes. She said that a local farm can’t grow enough to meet the needs of everyone, but they do their best to reach as many people as possible.

Harris has taught food justice, advocated for universal free school lunch, and assisted in the development and sustainment of youth-led organizations. She is dedicated to empowering youth leadership into adult dominated sectors, she said.

With a double major in political science and sociology, Harris said she wishes to combine her passion for food justice and her knowledge of American politics to drive the importance of food in people’s everyday life.

Ariama C. Long is a Report for America corps member and writes about culture and politics in New York City for The Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting: https://tinyurl.com/fcszwj8w