Ever find yourself asking, how does the food we eat and where it comes from directly impact our planet? Blindfold spoke to French-American couple Cyrille and Nashay at their home in Bedstuy, Brooklyn, to get answers to these questions at their DIY urban farming project, Concrete Farm Lab. Using a combination of DIY, hydroponic, aquaponic, permaculture and greenhouse farming techniques, they grow a large variety of vegetables and herbs both indoors and in their backyard. As they nurture their produce, and their flock of chickens, they have been able to inspire those around them to grow their own food as well. Not only are they thrilled to share what they know about urban farming, but they have found that there is a large appetite for this knowledge in a wide-range of communities.
BFM: What is Concrete Farm Lab?
Cyrille: Concrete Farm Lab is a multidisciplinary way of farming. In other words, we use soil-based techniques – that’s the permaculture, where we create a variety of microclimates. We are also interested in educating on what urban farming is, when you don’t have a vast space of land [to work with]. It was important to me to be able to talk in an informative way, and see how we can integrate that into people’s houses and people’s lives.
At the beginning, we wanted to learn about urban farming as a way for us to eat better, to just say “Hey, we want to know where our food is coming from.” Then we wanted to go a little further and ask what can be done in our space. The third step will be developing Concrete Farm into a platform for a much larger project than we have that we are talking to the city about, because I guess we have a very disruptive approach to urban farming.
BFM: How did you get into farming?
C: In France, where I am originally from, the notion of gardening is that it is a lot of work to do and tedious. It is seen as a very intrusive process and I didn’t resonate with that. One day, my cousin showed me permaculture, which was being done by this group of young people who were growing absolutely incredible vegetables and not in this monocultural way where you need to dig a plot; it was a combination of vegetables that complemented each other. That was the notion of giving first before receiving. If the soil isn’t good, you work the soil for the vegetables, and then nature will give back to you.
BFM: Can you explain how conscious eating can make a difference in one’s life or health?
C: When I came to the States, I could see those beautiful veggies, and it all tasted like nothing- like cardboard or watery, and I couldn’t understand that. I feel in a way that promotes people wanting to eat more meat because you have to get more flavor by eating meat. If you look at a beefsteak tomato, it’s literally so meaty and so flavorful that naturally, you don’t feel like you need to eat meat. I respect people who like their meat, but ideally they would do it in a more conscious way, with less animal suffering. It’s better for your health, and better for the planet. It’s a nice equation that everyone can do. To me, you need to reconnect people with flavor and with the connection of where your food is coming from.
BFM: If people were to do more of their own growing, would that also have an impact on the planet?
C: Absolutely. Imagine if you could cut down on all these food deliveries. The average distance for a vegetable to travel to your plate, organic or not, is 1000 to 1500 miles. They are refrigerated many times, depleted of nutrients… it makes zero sense to me. Imagine if you could bring freshness into your life through more local farming, micro-farming, and rebalance your life in that way.
BFM: What sort of feedback have you gotten from those who visit Concrete Farm?
C: I’m not saying everyone who comes in here will want to be an urban farmer and have chickens in their garden, but somehow it’s going to bring some mindfulness. It might translate into something else, like maybe I need to be more careful about my diet, I need to be more careful about plastic… if we can kind of trigger any positive change then that’s great. And I think we really need that, because it’s just tough to live in this city environment. Every weekend we could have somebody come in, and we try to accommodate as much as we can, but we want to really share and show to people [what we do]. Just showing people how simple most of this is and just trying to spread the word, you know, there’s a real appetite for that.
Nashay: It’s so rewarding when you’re harvesting something that you grew from the seed. You can taste the love going back into your system. And what’s even more rewarding is the journey that we’ve been on as a couple and how it’s taken us from growing a tomato, to appreciation of worms, to appreciation of the micro-micro-microcosm in the soil, all the little insects and everything. They all work to our benefit, which then takes us to other ways of conserving energy and [sustainability].
Learn more about Cyrille and Nashay’s commitment to growing the best tasting vegetables in their neighborhood and how you can do the same, by visiting their website.