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271. Sustainable Agriculture and Food Justice | Farm School NYC | Onika Abraham | Brooklyn, NY
7th June 2019 • GREEN Organic Garden Podcast • Jackie Marie Beyer
00:00:00 00:34:39

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Onika Abraham from Farm School NYC shares her passion for sustainable agriculture and food justice education in New York’s 5 Boroughs.

I’m so excited to introduce my guest from Farm School NYC Onika Abraham!

Tell us a little about yourself.

I reside here in beautiful Brooklyn NYC.

I’m originally a New Yorker from the lower side Manhattan, if anyone is familiar with NYC accents, it’s obvious.

Grew up in NYC from parents who grew up on farms, always loved visiting my grandparents seeing them grow what they eat and always inspiring to me! 

I have come full circle by being the director of Farm School NYC

Tell me about your first gardening experience?

I have to say, I grew up on the lower east side on the 18th floor an apartment

  • lucky to have a little terrace
  • little concrete shelf
  • does not sound like a bucolic farm
  • but was definitely my first gardening experience

My mother grew up on a mid size family farm in Alabama, when she moved here she brought her love and passion for growing things with her and she just recreated that in a little postage size terrace.

I really grew up in pots and containers on my parent’s terrace

had to be flowers

house plants and all different flowers

  • zinnias
  • marigolds

were some of her favorites I remember from when I was a kid! 

Awwww that’s like the sweetest story. I didn’t really get to meet a lot of people from NYC proper, even tho my cousins lived on the Upper East Side, but we only saw them at Christmas and it’s fun to imagine, a little children’s book. Have you seen Sarah Stewart’s book The Gardener

The Gardener by Sarah Stewart and David Small

What is FARM SCHOOL NYC? Is it for adults for kids? What kinds of classes do you have?


FARM SCHOOL NYC is for adults

folks who are interested in learning how to grow sustainably

  • sustainable organic practices
  • people who want to use that knowledge base to

address some of the inequities in our society


health wellness

 access to healthy food

cultivate an awareness of how to grow food and collecting or make an impact on those health and wealth disparities

bringing things together culturally

See our work at FARM SCHOOL NYC as a way of 

  • building community
  • building justice

through food

cohort moving through our certificate program

certificate in Urban Agriculture

20 courses in succession

20-30 people moving through that program at any given year

Take a variety of courses at FARM SCHOOL NYC

containers grounding in the methodology

  • educate entire communities
  • comes onto the farm

one point of entry of a whole community of people who can learn with this person and share that knowledge

come in

start taking courses

anyone over the age of 18

  • youngest student is about 20 maybe 21
  • oldest student is about 62


  • racially diverse
  • culturally diverse
  • age diverse
  • gender



Did you tell us already? Is there an actual farm FARM SCHOOL NYC?? And if so where is that and how big?

feed each other

that’s the beauty

we were originally created as a collective of farms

things we have here at our fingertips and resources that we have

and one thing NYC does not lack at all believe it or not is space to grow

  • rooftop farms

  • over 600 community gardens in NYC

  • farming spaces

because we were developed as a collective of groups, we didn’t want to create something else that would compete with that for resources to fund these projects

or an alternate income that is required to make it happen

didn’t want to create another resource to be maintained by this community

access and feed and invest in what already existed


Community Diversity at FarmNYC

Most of hands on activities and most of our FarmNYC coursework happens on different farms and gardens around the city



so we don’t have our farm

every farm is our farm in some sense

where we go to different places throughout the five boroughs! 

That is so cool! Other people are gonna learn so much more by seeing all these different systems and who would have thought there are so many? Is there a map? Can the public go see them? 

Oh yeah sure!

How fun it would be to go tour 600 community gardens or even 25 of them!

there are some great non profits

community gardens are part of my childhood

postage stamp that my mother turned into this beautiful sky garden

grew up on the lower east side of nyc

reclaimed vacant lots from the 60s and 70s

and create wonderful oaises like all over that neighborhood

I would weed my mothers garden, and see all of these little pocket gardens

20×20 footprint of a brownstone building in NYC where that house was torn down or vacated in someway and 

communities would come together and reclaim that space and create a lush collective for that community

I think a huge part of what I saw growing up.


Me too! One of my first college experiences out of high school was a Pratt Institute in NYC and I was just there this summer they have a huge rose garden. Some of my fondest memories were of being at the quad at Pratt, it was 

I live not far from there, I ride my bike past there quite often.

I was surprised we went to the Brooklyn Grange and walked right past there a couple of blocks away.

The certificate program is really intensive, 20 different courses and takes at least 2 years

It’s a level of commitment that is not for everyone.

We have other points of entry into our courses

Beginning in the springtime individual courses

not enrolled into the program you can take one course there

range in terms of how long they are

They are stand alones

dont need prerequisite of another course

one I taught for many years, this is the first year I wont teach it myself


working with seeds/transplants

working with seeds for scale

If you have aspirations for becoming a market farmer it will give you a better sense of what it would tae and looking at the resources you might have at your home

  • getting a grow light
  • finding a sunny window
  • looking at large production scale
  • visiting greenhouses

how all of the seedlings sold and come into being

hands-on course with a lecture component

meant for full-time working adults

  • evenings
  • weekends

classtimes so people are able to take them

folks can visit our website

Farm School NYC

to get more information on the course offerings

  • propagation

Growing soils all about soil science with a practical perspective

  1. hands on
  2. farmers need to know about building soils and caring for them
  3. developing a lifelong relationship with land

10 courses for anyone in the public

smaller workshops

some are free with partnerships

folks can find a way

so much of what we do is building community

Like minded of finding people who are growing and interested in social justice

stay in our community

how to plan

people on this planet

Do you have any major steps or tips you would share with listeners if they wanted to start a community center in their place or a sustainable tip to do in their home.

I like the first question of people wanting to have some impact in their community. People come to us with that 

  • hope
  • wish
  • desire

first thing I say is 

  • teachers
  • staff
  • tells folks

check in with what’s happening in your own community

work to be isolated in some sense of all the things going on already see if there are already projects that need support

often tempting to have an idea that we think is wonderful and want to run with that

something already existing that is also a wonderful idea, it might not be yours totally but if there is something ingrained a community already and there is already support and interest help those projects that are already needing help as opposed to competing for resources

I suggest walk the neighborhood and find out what

  • community gardens
  • community centers need a volunteer

abandon your own idea but get involved in an interaction

Boy we could sure use you in Congress right now! You’re very eloquent and have a lot of background knowledge and the kind of person who can unite multiple groups of people while putting our planet first!


That’s a big part of our mission here at

Farm School NYC


work at diversity



ongoing challenges that are inherent

prestige bar


applicable no mater what

  • growing food
  • creating policy
  • creating relationship there

not everyone who comes into FARM school is looking to be a full time farmer


central to that

  • people who come in as lawyers
  • policy advocates
  • teachers
  • educators

very visceral

hands on ways

learning from farmers

food system that

whole ways that we interact with our system

that’s what were trying to do

sustainable ag and a more just food system

folks more educator

I was talking about the diversity of farm school some ways the deeper meaning of that

wrap my thought about how we got on there…

One thing that what makes farm school different as far as education as farmers

  • our broader goal
  • our aim
  • vision

is a more just food system

larger food system that corrects the inequities that are systemic in America

farmers are a foundation of that

feeling that there is a real connection to land is a huge part of grounding ourselves in our what relationships were’ looking for food systems