By Gina Biancardi
In a side yard at Casa Belvedere is one of my most special projects: Nonno’s Garden. This massive vegetable garden was created in 2020 in memory of my dear father, Vito Biancardi, as a model garden to preserve these gardening skills for future generations.
The dedicated volunteers who tended Nonno’s Garden in its first year produced a bounty of fresh produce, including zucchini, cucuzza, banana peppers, pepperoncini, eggplant, tomatoes, Swiss chard, arugula, string beans, carrots, watercress, and lots of herbs.
It helps that the garden is located on a gentle slope overlooking New York Harbor, with lots of sun and balmy breezes. In preparation for its second year, the garden plot has been increased into a four-tiered design to make better use of the hilled terrain.
The view from the top of Grymes Hill is inspiring. Yet at the same time, when I see the neighborhoods below, I am painfully aware that just a mile away are families who struggle to put food on their tables.
The global coronavirus pandemic has revealed weaknesses of global supply chains and system-wide risks in global food systems. The pandemic also reinforces a well-known food system inequity: marginalized and impoverished minorities often suffer from diet-related diseases (i.e. cardiovascular diseases, diabetes) and/or malnutrition that place them at greater risk of morbidity and mortality from the coronavirus.
Stapleton, the neighborhood close to Casa Belvedere, is an area that has been labeled by many food-security advocates as one of the worst “food deserts” in the country. Residents of this low-income housing neighborhood have severely limited access to fresh, affordable produce. Also, many Stapleton individuals suffer from pre-existing coronary disease, obesity and diabetes.
Nonno’s Garden provides food, but I’m reminded of the proverb “If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. If you teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.” With that in mind, my newest mission is to expand the reach of Nonno’s Garden. I’m seeking grants and other funding sources for a 1,400 square foot “Greenhouse Teaching Dome.”
This outdoor classroom will provide a platform to empower both children and adults with year-round food production skills, consequently leading to better nutrition and eating habits, food-security and sustainability.
The project also aims to provide support to establish similar dome greenhouses in public schoolyards and community centers throughout New York City. My proposal incorporates a fully developed “GROW COOK EAT LEARN” educational program that will be executed in partnership with K-8 NYC public schools, starting with those in neighboring Stapleton. Our “Grow, Cook, Eat, & Learn” program teaches a STEM based curriculum including hands-on science and mathematics, nutrition, climate change, food safety lessons, energy conservation, sustainable agriculture, urban waste and much more.
We anticipate that the “newness” of this greenhouse model will attract hundreds of visitors, including school field trips and professional development teacher training. Also, the success of Casa Belvedere’s greenhouse dome project will lead a push to implement similar domes, along with the “Grow, Cook, Eat & Learn” STEM curriculum, directly at school sites and at other community centers.
In short, the proposed dome greenhouse at Casa Belvedere will be a year-round outdoor classroom, providing numerous educational lessons, programs and training resulting in positive action around issues of food access and social, economic and racial justice.
When I was growing up, my Pop’s fruit and vegetable garden was part of our everyday life, with “wall to wall” vegetation. He would always say, “We might be poor, but you will never starve.” Pop’s words still ring in my ears, and my dream is to take those very words and use them to help the less fortunate neighbors near Casa Belvedere.