Cara Chard: Turning NYC Rooftops Into Local Farms

1_CaraChard01_097Photographed by Winnie Au
When Cara Chard first set foot in the agriculture world four years ago, telling people “I work on an urban farm” would swiftly end a conversation. Now, as the director of the nonprofit farm business City Growers, she can barely keep up with the questions — and, indeed, hanging on a rooftop farm (hello, outdoor office!) while educating kids about the environment is enough to inspire acres of envy. As urban farming grows hotter by the season, City Growers stands apart by planning farm explorations and workshops at Brooklyn Grange’s two rooftop farms in Long Island City and the Brooklyn Navy Yard. No soil is left unturned, as students from kindergarten to 12th grade learn everything from crop pollination to the vegetables that feed their communities.
2_CaraChard02_209Photographed by Winnie Au
Serendipitous events led Chard to develop her green thumb (hardly the most obvious choice for a city dweller). While working as a high-school teacher in the Bronx, she jumped at the opportunity to learn how to keep bees. This led to a refreshed sense of wonder about learning and begot a this-is-why-I-wanted-to-teach moment. “There’s something compelling about the audacity of a working farm built on rooftops across the city,” she says now. Here, she plants a few seeds in the minds of the next generation of urban gardeners.
3_CaraChard03_112Photographed by Winnie Au
Bright Lights, Green City
“City kids come to the farm with a lot of preconceived notions. A lot of them see soil as ‘dirty’ and think bugs are gross, bees are scary. We try to debunk a lot of these attitudes by uncovering the connections between humans, soil, plants, insects, [and] animals and celebrate those links — by the end of it, they’re all digging for worms.”
2 Cool 4 School
“There’s a lot of momentum behind urban agriculture right now, and I think that’s a good thing for all city dwellers. More and more teachers are utilizing urban farms to educate kids about biology and sustainability, and the demand for good, clean food is growing. We believe that putting green roof farms on school and municipal buildings is a logical next step in urban agriculture, and education is a vital part of making that happen.”
4_CaraChard02_113Photographed by Winnie Au
Peas and Carrots
“Very few students that visit Brooklyn Grange realize that carrots are the roots of a plant and that peas are actually seeds. For most students, food is something that comes from the store in a can, box, or bag, but how it got there is a mystery. This disconnect negatively affects our health, but it also affects the health of our environment — they’re very much linked by our current food system, which is destroying both. We want to expose the injustices in the current system, while promoting an alternative food system and celebrating the natural cycles that sustain life. Education cultivates advocates, and we see the students that participate in our programs as future leaders and catalysts for change.”
Geeking Out
“I’m a total nerd about bees, which I find endlessly fascinating. I love to share that enthusiasm with kids, including my own daughter. I let her see the bees up close, and she was instantly transfixed."
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