A History of Inequity & A Community Reclaiming Health

January 16, 2018  |   Posted by :   |   Blog,Projects   |   Comments Off on A History of Inequity & A Community Reclaiming Health»

This blog post was contributed by Urban Farm Corps Member Luisa Maria Martins of Team Seva.

On January 10th, 2018, Cohort 14 had a trip to the new farm location in Staten Island. We embarked on the trip at 9:00 in the morning. An hour later 30+ uniformed people walked up to a roughly half acre in Mariner’s Harbor Development. Our tasks for the day were split into measuring distances for possible beds , and outreach to ensure that the people of Staten Island are aware that Green City Force is going to be building a farm in their community.


As the day progressed , it became clear that the developments and the people who lived there were ostracised from simple things other communities around New York City have. The nearest bodega was 3 blocks from the middle of the development , around 6 from the end of the block. To arrive from the ferry to the development it took 30-35 minutes. There weren’t any supermarkets within walking distance that I could find.

This led me to start thinking about how long this unequal community has existed as such. In Staten Island , the Department of Health reports that in 2013 29% of adults were obese and 10% of adults had diabetes.1 There were 267 avoidable diabetes hospitalizations in Staten Island in 2013.1



In the Summer of 1863 there were Draft Riots all across New York City. The riots consisted of four days of unrest , where the federal troops faced rioters. The riot arose on the second day of the military draft. The draft allowed wealthy businessmen to buy their way out of serving in the military for $300 ($5,500 in today’s currency ), and excluded black men because they weren’t American citizens yet.2 The city wasn’t a stranger to riots , having had a violent labor demonstration , and a demonstration from white dock workers not wanting to work alongside black workers. The second day of the draft , a crowd of about 500 people broke into a building and destroyed much of the draft equipment.2 During this 4 day riot , houses on Staten Island owned by African Americans were burned. The houses were where the Stapleton NYCHA Developments are now. Nearly a dozen black men were killed , 5 of them were from Staten Island. According to the Home Owners Loan Corporation redlining maps of the 1940, the NYCHA development sites were in hazardous or declining areas. This fact goes to show that people who needed public housing were placed in areas that were known to be dangerous and deadly.  The New York City Health Commissioner Mary Bassett is quoted as saying “Inequities in health are unfair, unnecessary and avoidable. New York City is the most unequal city in the United States and one of the most segregated. It is no surprise that these everyday realities are reflected in our health. A more deliberate effort to name and address these disparities will frame all that we do.”1

The farm that will be built can’t undo history. No harm done to people of color in the 40’s in Staten Island can be taken back by the production of organic vegetables. This farm does represent what the future holds. The farm represents feeding and nourishing a community who for so long has been neglected. This is an opportunity for unity in a community who already has a passion for gardening. This farm gives the people of Staten Island a chance to amend the ground that was once burned.


  1. Kennedy, Jacqueline and Kristin Woods “Racial Equity and Social Justice in Health.” New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene: Center for Health Equity, 27 May 2017, <http://www.statenislandpps.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/FINAL_pdf_Staten-Island-Health-Equity-Presentation_5.24.17.pdf>. Accessed 10 Jan. 2018.
  2. Maranzani, Barbara “The Most Violent Insurrection in American History.” The History Channel, 5 Jul. 2015, <http://www.history.com/news/four-days-of-fire-the-new-york-city-draft-riots>. Accessed 10 Jan. 2018.

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