June Russell Honored as Slow Food NYC's 2017 Snailblazer

October 17, 2017
Posted in Greenmarket

On Wednesday, November 8th, Slow Food NYC will host its annual big bash fundraiser, the Slow Down, at GrowNYC’s Project Farmhouse steps from the Union Square Greenmarket. Slow Food NYC will honor their sixth Snailblazer, June Russell, in recognition of her outstanding leadership in creating a sustainable and fair regional farm and food chain. Since 2004, June has helped build and support a thriving regional grain economy through GrowNYC’s Greenmarket Regional Grains Project. The Regional Grains Project is dedicated to creating a marketplace for grains grown and milled in the Northeast, by educating and bringing together growers, processors, bakers, brewers, distillers, chefs, and eaters in a regional grain chain. Their mission begins at Greenmarket, where the bakers’ standard includes the use of flour made from grains grown and milled in our region.

We sat down with June to talk about her incredible work reinvigorating grain growing in the Northeast. 

Did you ever think you’d be working with grains for 10 years? 

Laughs. No. I had no idea what I was getting into or where it would lead. Initially, I was disappointed when Greenmarket asked me to tackle the “issue of bakers.”  I wasn’t sure it mattered.  Boy was I wrong.  Early on, I realized the potentially enormous impact of working with the staple crops on a regional level—to healthy soils, to system resilience, and to what ends up on our plates. Now, I have a sense of awe being a part of something that has become so much bigger and broader than our little quest to see if there was such a thing as local flour.

Do you think about where you’ll be in another 10 years?

I’m just starting to think about that now that we’ve laid some groundwork. We established a social enterprise—the Grainstand—and now we’re deep in strategic planning to determine what’s next. We have terrific, dedicated staff, ready to take things to the next level, which is key because some long-term objectives will take a generation to develop. But the food culture and the agriculture are now growing in tandem, and that’s incredible. Consumers in NYC are helping to create a stronger, more viable regional food system, and those changes are evident in the fields and in the new burgeoning infrastructure. This includes everything from crop diversity to soil health, carbon sequestration and developing de-centralized infrastructure that goes beyond the market to something like food sovereignty and resilience moving into the future. Yet this growth is unequivocally connected to the markets, so that is our focus.

What was the initial spark that kicked off the Greenmarket Regional Grains Project?

The initiative predated my time in my current role. It came from the Greenmarket Farmer and Community Advisory Committee (FCAC) as an effort to make bakers more mission supportive. There were several starting points, and there was a lot of foundational work and conversations that happened, but I can pinpoint two key moments that really gave us momentum.  One was Indrani Sen’s 2008 NYT article about northeast grains, and a group of farmers and bakers working to dispel the myth that New York’s agricultural conditions were not conducive to growing high quality wheat.  That piece really planted a seed, so to speak, not just with us, but throughout the country. Ironically, we pitched her the story to divert her attention away from other topics she was exploring at Greenmarket that, as new management, we were not ready for.  Greenmarket Director Michael Hurwitz said, “give her something positive to write about, like bakers.”  I was just starting to meet the people who would become our long-time allies. That story really rooted in the national imagination.

The second was a conference we hosted with Northeast Organic Farming Association- New York (NOFA-NY) in early 2010 that brought Greenmarket allies—shoppers bakers, and chefs—into the conversation. Things really took off after that day, and we started to receive grant funding to work on various aspects of the grain equation. Meanwhile, along with our bakers (who were required to use 15% local flours to remain eligible to sell at Greenmarkets), those allies started purchasing and creating demand to help drive the initial market. There were a few distillers in the room that day as well, who, along with farm brewers, were just getting started. (Craft bev. came along in 2012.)

It’s important to view this in the context of the local foods movement and, perhaps, the recession of 2008. I think we would have failed ten years prior. But by 2010, there were people fully dedicated to using as much as possible from local farms, as well as an explosion of small artisanal businesses backed by entrepreneurs looking to innovate, take risks, and launch commercial mills and distilleries, malting facilities, things that had not been done for over 100 years.  And things keep going…

As a region, we are still in startup phase.

I could go on and on. If you want to know more, I recently talked about these early years on a podcast for Heritage Radio.

What’s your favorite local grain?

 Emmer. Of course.

What grain has the most potential?

 Emmer. Of course.


It’s high in protein and highly resilient in the field against weather and climate fluctuations. For anyone looking to move away from the consumption of obscene amounts of animal protein, emmer is an excellent, plant-based replacement. It should be a staple on local menus. It’s delicious. I’m very fond of buckwheat too, and it plays an essential role on farms, and we can produce way more then we can sell right now.

Who is your Grains inspiration?

There are many unsung heroes at the grassroots level, mostly women (surprise, surprise). They are really the backbone of systemic change, working closely with farmers and shepherding the painstakingly slow work of research, field trials, and technical assistance to growers.  Julie Dawson, Lisa Kucek, Heather Darby, Elizabeth Dyck, Ellen Mallory, Eli Rogosa, to name a few on the east coast. And then there are our amazing female entrepreneurs like Andrea Stanley, lady maltstress (can there be a cooler occupation?) Amber Lambke of Maine Grains, and Mary-Howell Martens of Lakeview Organic. The Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (NESAWG) strongly advocates for a regional approach and thinking in terms of systems, which has been helpful.

My grains guardian angel is Karen Hess. I met her at the 97th St. Greenmarket when I was a manager there. Before she passed away in 2007, she gave me a paper she had written on bread and flour, which has become our guiding document. It also provided a framework for us: work with what we can grow, what the land wants to give.  

Did you encounter any resistance at first?

That’s what the local bourbon is for.

Has rebranding the image of Grains been a challenge?

Huuuge! Until relatively recently, grains and flour were total non-entities in the culinary world. Getting people to take them seriously, not only in the cooking realm but by other food and agricultural advocates, can still be a struggle--though a case has been made and we have great bread to prove it. Still, there’s enormous amounts of work to be done as we continue to educate consumers and develop the market.

Grains and flour in our food system, and on our plates, are both all-encompassing and invisible at the same time--like being immersed in water. I’ve come to realize how commodity has everyone calibrated to the same specs, and we have lost what we now recognize as grain “literacy,” something that has been missing for almost 100 years. Happily, we are seeing some terrific new grain based products come into the market, and bakers are reconnecting to their primary ingredient. I can’t think of a better time to be a baker.

What’s your favorite craft beverage?

I’m super excited about all the rye whiskeys that are coming along. Some are just starting to hit with a little age on them at 4-5 years (given that Governor Cuomo’s craft beverage initiative only kicked in around 2012).  It’s been incredible to witness the launch and subsequent maturation of a whole new sector in food and agriculture, to see producers and consumers sprout up, and to literally co-create what we hope will be a more sustainable and resilient future. Distilleries and mills have their place as essential facilities in a localized food system. Cheers!



Our 100th Community Garden - Jackson Forest Community Garden

October 16, 2017
Posted in Community Gardens

Drum roll please…

GrowNYC is proud to announce that we have completed our 100th community garden -- Jackson Forest Community Garden!


Jackson Forest Community Garden Slideshow


The Jackson Forest site has been home to a garden since 1983. After a building was demolished, the lot was an eyesore – it was a mess and full of trash. The community cleared out the lot and began planting, and the site became a GreenThumb garden in 1991. It flourished – it was full of trees, flowers, fruits, vegetables, and herbs. A true community space, gardeners at Jackson Forest would often leave extra produce near the entrance so neighbors walking by could grab fresh vegetables. In 2008, the garden closed to build a new retaining wall and an iron fence and install a permanent water source. The garden had to be demolished in the process, and the renovations ended up taking longer than expected, while the anxious gardeners had no access to the site.

Jackson Forest Community Garden was recently rebuilt by the GrowNYC Gardens team, along with help from corporate volunteers from BrainPOP, Morgan Stanley, and KPS Advisors. It was a lot of hard work! They mulched, raked, spread soil, and built new garden beds, tables, and benches for community members to enjoy.

The gardeners have been working on getting the garden back up and running and so far have grown cucumbers, okra, peaches, and lots of tomatoes! Students from the nearby school come to take care of their two beds and learn about the science of gardening and composting. Next spring, the gardeners plan to throw a big opening party to welcome the neighborhood back to the garden. In the future, the gardeners hope that Jackson Forest will again be a community meeting space, to offer fresh produce to the neighbors, and to teach classes for children on weekends.

“Thanks to [GrowNYC Assistant Director] Mike Rezny and his team, we have a lot of benches, we have a lot of tables where the community can come sit, read the newspaper, just get in touch with nature.” - community gardener Marie Brook

GrowNYC is so honored to call the Jackson Forest Community Garden our 100th garden. The dedicated spirit and joy of the community gardeners at Jackson Forest are a shining example of how important places like this are for a neighborhood. Today, this garden’s beauty shows what can be accomplished when we work together! 

You can be proud knowing that all the achievements of our Gardens program were made possible with support from people like you. We never would have been able to do it without help from our many donors, especially the Louis and Anne Abrons Foundation. Since September, you helped to raise $41,592 for the New Garden Fund. That’s $11,592 over our goal! You’ve helped establish the foundation for our Gardens program to continue building the NEXT 100 gardens that serve communities like yours all around the city. 

Thank you so much to everyone who believed in our vision and helped contribute! We couldn’t do it without you!


Want to stay involved? Visit our website to learn more about our Gardens program, find a community garden near you, receive our community gardens newsletter, or sign up to volunteer


100 Gardens - Honoring Lys McLaughlin Pike

October 16, 2017

Lys McLaughlin, 1982 at Amboy Neighborhood Garden

Marian Heiskell, GrowNYC’s founder, left, and Lys, right, in 1986 at Brooklyn’s first Lots-for-Tots park/playground.


So many people have contributed to GrowNYC’s commitment to community greening over the years. We could not have reached our 100th garden milestone without them.

Lys McLaughlin Pike was the Executive Director of GrowNYC (formerly the Council on the Environment) from 1978 to 2006. Before Lys became a passionate environmentalist, she traveled extensively. She studied at the Interpreter's School in Rome and classical civilizations at NYU; she worked on archaeological excavations in Israel and Turkey; she did public relations for the Institute for the Arts at Rice University, the Rothko Chapel, the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, and other arts organizations. At GrowNYC, Lys was instrumental in establishing the Gardens program, Greenmarket, and numerous other programs and projects. Lys was always a trailblazer; in the early 70’s, way before it was popular to do so, she was a champion of cautioning against the use of pressure treated wood, and of the importance of testing soils for heavy metals in edible gardens.

Though she has retired, she has not stopped her conservation efforts. Today she serves on GrowNYC's board. She works on her family’s land in Midcoast Maine, upon which she has placed a conservation easement, and she also serves on the board of the local land conservation group which holds the easement. She is also a member of the local Lakes and Ponds Committee.


This fall GrowNYC will build its 100th community garden. To celebrate, we are sharing stories from GrowNYC gardening history! 

But these stories are far from over

You can help ensure that all New Yorkers have access to green space by making a donation today to GrowNYC's New Garden Fund.

100 Gardens - Protests of the 1999 Garden Auction

October 10, 2017

NYC's community gardens haven't always been so idyllic!

Many of New York City’s community gardens got their start in the 1970s as residents, in an effort to revitalize their neighborhoods, began to reclaim vacant and trash-filled lots and turn them into beautiful, safe, fresh food producing community centers. These lots, however, were owned by the city, and despite the decades of work that went into them, in May of 1999 Mayor Giuliani decided to put more than 100 community gardens up for auction to build affordable housing.

Gardeners were outraged. Community members came together with nonprofits and land trust organizations, some of them newly formed to combat this issue, to bring lawsuits against the city and organize protests, parades, and acts of nonviolent disobedience.

As Jane Weissman, Director of GreenThumb from 1984-1998 put it, “For 20 years prior, when funding for housing development was not available, community gardens flourished, beautifying, stabilizing, and revitalizing their neighborhoods. And yet, the city is willing to sacrifice these gardens without holding any kind of formal review.”

In November of 1999, the cherished 22 year old Esperanza Garden in the East Village was threatened with development. As the case was being argued in court, protesters occupied the garden space around the clock for months to protect it from destruction. They stood sentry overnight in a large coqui frog sculpture (a Puerto Rican symbol to ward off foes). In February of 2000, things came to a head. More than 100 protesters came to the garden to demonstrate, chaining themselves to concrete blocks and fence posts and chanting songs. The police broke their way through, arrested 31 protestors, and in 15 minutes the bulldozer had completely destroyed the garden.

During the destruction, Attorney General Eliot Spitzer successfully procured a restraining order against the city to protect the gardens up for auction, but it came too late to save Esperanza. Spitzer argued that the lots should be considered parks, which can only be sold after an environmental review or by the state legislature’s approval.

While not all of NYC’s community gardens were spared, the protests brought international and national attention to their value, and many were saved. The day before the auction of the remaining 114 community gardens, the Trust for Public Land and the New York Restoration Project bought them, saving them from destruction. In 2002, Mayor Bloomberg and Attorney General Spitzer negotiated the Community Gardens Agreement, preserving an additional 198 gardens, subjecting 110 to review before development, and sentencing 38 to development.


This fall GrowNYC will build its 100th community garden. To celebrate, we are sharing stories from GrowNYC gardening history! 

But these stories are far from over

You can help ensure that all New Yorkers have access to green space by making a donation today to GrowNYC's New Garden Fund.

Harvest Dinner at Project Farmhouse

October 6, 2017
Posted in Greenmarket

On Thursday, November 2, join GrowNYC for the next installment of our Greenmarket Seasonal Dinner Series!  Grab your passport because the theme for this seated, four-course feast, prepared by a coterie of celebrated NYC chefs, is International Harvest.

The menu will feature passed hors d’oeuvres from Chef Ron Rosselli of Bowery Road, a Mexican dish created and prepared by James Beard-award-winning Chef Daniela Soto-Innes of Cosme, a Dominican course from Chef Charles Rodriguez of PRINT., Icelandic fare from Michelin-starred Agern's Chef Gunnar Gislason, and a Serbian dessert from Michelin-starred Gramercy Tavern's Pastry Chef, Miro Uskokovic. 

Harvest Dinner: International Cooking with Local Ingredients 
by Greenmarket/GrowNYC
WHEN: Thursday, November 2
6pm-9pm: Harvest Dinner Fundraiser: International Cooking with Local Ingredients, benefiting GrowNYC's Project Farmhouse 

Individual Ticket, $300
Event Sponsor (includes 10 tickets), $5000
Or make a donation of any amount!
*The non-deductible portion of each ticket is $150, as this reflects the fair market value of goods and services to be provided at the event.

This fundraiser is the second in the Greenmarket Seasonal Dinner Series at GrowNYC's Project Farmhouse and will allow GrowNYC to continue working with partner organizations to offer Project Farmhouse as an educational space used for youth programming, panel discussions, film screenings, and networking events focused on a just and sustainable local food system.

Can't make it but want to make a donation to GrowNYC? Thank you, please do that here

100 Gardens - Garden Preservation Efforts

October 5, 2017

In the 80’s and 90’s, community gardeners, green non-profits, and newly emerging local garden coalitions were fighting to save community gardens from destruction. New garden preservation strategies were put in place, generated in earlier days from the Mayor’s Open Space Task Force, which included long term leases, adjacent site status for some gardens, restricted auction, and reserve funds for purchasing threatened open spaces. One of these funds was the Garden and Park Preservation Fund, established in 1988 through a collaboration between the Trust for Public Land, GrowNYC, the Division of Real Property, the Green Guerillas and GreenThumb.

Many of the present day NYC community gardens were originally placed in these preservation categories.

Parque de Tranquilidad, on the Lower East Side, was in danger of being destroyed. After years of negotiating with public and private landowners, using resources from the Garden and Park Preservation Fund, it was bought and preserved by the Trust for Public Land.


Another example was the Amboy Neighborhood Garden in Brownsville, Brooklyn. It served as a child care center, making it a valued neighborhood resource. It was deemed worthy of being protected and was the first garden given adjacent site status, and thus exists to this day.



The 1100 Bergen Street Community Garden became the first well-known land trust site in NYC. With legal assistance and negotiating help from the Trust for Public Land, this block association purchased the garden property from the city for 10% of the real property market value.

Lorna Johnson from Bergen Street, Francoise Cachelin from Creative Little Garden, Anne Boster from Parque de Tranquilidad, Olean For from All People’s Garden, the late Penny Evans from Miracle Garden, and of course, Liz Christy, GrowNYC’s first Gardens Director, were just a few of the women and men who fought drug dealers in the 70’s and developers in the 90’s to ensure that future generations had these gardens to enjoy in 2017.


This fall GrowNYC will build its 100th community garden. To celebrate, we are sharing stories from GrowNYC gardening history! 

But these stories are far from over

You can help ensure that all New Yorkers have access to green space by making a donation today to GrowNYC's New Garden Fund.

Community Garden Transformations

October 3, 2017

Since 1979, GrowNYC's Gardens program has helped build 100 new community gardens, and rebuild and support countless more! Here are some of our best garden transformations!



You can help ensure that all New Yorkers have access to green space by making a donation today to GrowNYC's New Garden Fund.

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