Our Heroes: Stacey Murphy at BK Farmyards

We're so excited that Stacey Murphy, founder and director of BK Farmyards, made time to write to us in the middle of a busy growing season. Stacey has worked to bring urban farming education and better food to New York communities for over six years, and is now involved in the Indiegogo launch of a new teen-focused holistic health and food system class called Teach Farmyards.

What is BK Farmyards and how did it come about?

At BK Farmyards we believe that everyone should have access to fresh, affordable and culturally appropriate food. To address this in Brooklyn, we created a team of cooperative farmers dedicated to the expansion of social justice through agricultural education and production.

A lot of people mistake us for a farm, and rightfully so. Though we DO grow and sell a ton of food and flowers in Central Brooklyn, we more accurately train beginning farmers and food system activists. Since our founding, we have trained dozens of new adult farmers and hundreds of teens on-the-ground as well as tens of thousands beginning adult farmers online.

There is a potential of new jobs in the local, organic farming movement across the United States and a dire need to not only feed the next generation, but to do so in a more healthy and equitable way.

BK Farmyards started with me farming a private backyard in Ditmas Park (Foxtrot Farmyard) and feeding six families through Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). As landowners began offering their land to be farmed, I quickly realized the need for experienced farm managers. As the BK Farmyards team has expanded, the group has incorporated apprenticeship and training programs for beekeeping, chicken-keeping, vegetable and flower production at all their sites.

There is a potential of new jobs in the local, organic farming movement across the United States and a dire need to not only feed the next generation, but to do so in a more healthy and equitable way. BK Farmyards hopes to play a part in this expansion and in turn, aid economic development and food security in urban and rural settings across America.

In what ways has BK Farmyards’ role as an urban farming educational resource changed the community?

We have changed local communities perception of and relationship to the food system in a variety of ways. First of all, our education programs have enabled adults and youth alike to learn about farming and to take control of their food choices by growing in an urban environment. This is imperative as we are facing an ageing farmer population in this country and a shortage of trained and educated farmers to replace them.

Perhaps even more importantly, we have taught teens across Brooklyn to think critically about their food choices and its relationship to sustainability and justice. The food system is plagued with problems that create limited access to healthy foods in many communities and alarming rates of chronic food-related diseases. Since enacting our programs in local farms and schools, the youth impact has been enormous. Teens have reported weight loss, changing their diet, drinking more water (instead of sugary drinks), reading nutrition labels, cooking and most importantly advocating for change.

(T)he youth impact has been enormous. Teens have reported weight loss, changing their diet, drinking more water (instead of sugary drinks), reading nutrition labels, cooking and most importantly advocating for change.

Furthermore, our farms have served as alternative learning environments, one in which non-book learners excel. Youth gain confidence on the farm and step into leadership roles—like one student who was nearly kicked out of school for behavioral problems, but since joining the farm has become a teacher’s assistant. Farming is also a calming and healing activity that has proven helpful to many at-risk youth with problems ranging from anger issues to autism. In short, creating a connection to nature and the natural capital of green spaces has proven invaluable to local youth. For adults, they see the possibility of a new career in an alternative setting.

And finally, there is the benefit of the actual food grown during these educational programs. For example, our farmers market in East Flatbush attracts over 165 families each week with approximately 35% of them paying with EBT, WIC or Senior Checks.

What are some of the most successful efforts headed by BK Farmyards?

Our Adult Urban Farmer Training Program and Backyard Bootcamp have been enormously successful with dozens of graduates. Several of our trainees have gone on to start their own urban and rural farms as well as find employment in the NYC food system network.

Recently, we hosted a free online Sustainable Small Farm Summit, which attracted over 15,000 listeners from 139 countries. This was a valuable learning opportunity for small plot farmers who were interested in taking their business to the next level. Horticultural and skill-building workshops are common and widely accessible for farmers, however ones that incorporate business courses are not. This event helped bridge that gap and offer a more integrated training for burgeoning farmers.

And of course, our Teach Farmyards curriculum has been really well received by teachers and high school students.

What is Teach Farmyards, and how is it different from what BK Farmyards has done so far?

Teach Farmyards is a holistic health class for high school students. Teens learn to define health through the lens of their own body, community, environment and culture--teaching them to think more critically about the design of our food system. This program goes beyond training future farmers and inspires the next generation of food system activists and community organizers.

Imagine teens cooking their own $1-menu from fresh ingredients; designing and promoting fresh food campaigns for younger children; debating whether a banana is healthy if the farmer was not paid a fair wage, all while growing food in the classroom. Teens love food. If you want to see teens fired up to learn, have them debate food issues around foods they love.

The course curriculum has been a part of our work for four years and those involved have agreed it is incredibly innovative, engaging and much needed. We have wanted to share this class with the world since its inception in 2011 and are working towards doing so.

How can urban farming and farming education help to achieve food justice?

All life on this planet is interconnected, but we only experience life through our own lens. What could we learn if we stepped outside our own life experience and saw the world from the perspective of a quinoa farmer in Peru; a single mother with five growing boys; or a honeybee?

To some extent, we recognize that we all depend on each other. We know we are only hurting ourselves when we make decisions that hurt others. Food makes this real in our everyday lives.

To some extent, we recognize that we all depend on each other. We know we are only hurting ourselves when we make decisions that hurt others. Food makes this real in our everyday lives. We may start to make personal dietary decisions based on the welfare of everyone in this fabric of life. This knowledge may lead us to community action.

That’s really what justice is all about, it’s about spreading the power to all versus allowing a small group of people to hold all the decision making power. Wouldn’t it be incredible if students around the world could use the internet to for group projects and learn about food, farming and culture collectively. What kind of food system would that generation create?

What is next for BK Farmyards?

While we have plans to continue our online and on-the-ground farm training programs, we also plan to make the Teach Farmyards classes available in easy-to-use guides for educators nationwide. Our goal is for 25,000 high school students across the country to receive hands-on learning about food systems, sustainability and justice by Labor Day 2016. To accomplish this, we will publish our 3-day lesson, activities and worksheets and get them into the hands of talented teachers. We are raising money for this on Indiegogo right now, and every $30 contributed will give one educator the tools she needs to reach 200 students next year.