They Invest in the Land to Build the Future


2022-12-08 07:30:09

The organization, Corporación Piñones Se Integra, wanted to do more to preserve the area’s natural resources and Afro-Latino heritage. And its mission includes taking care of the Piñones State Forest. The mangroves that populate the forest, Ms. Rivera Clemente said through an interpreter, help protect the land from wind damage and reduce erosion caused by storm surges.

Hoping to restore the mangroves, the group reached out to the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources of Puerto Rico, and in 2020 the Hispanic Federation, a beneficiary of The New York Times Neediest Cases Fund, provided a grant to move the work ahead. The $100,000 grant allowed local residents to be hired for a mangrove reforesting initiative and cleanup efforts to improve water flow.

People in Piñones used techniques developed by fishermen and makers of mangrove charcoal over generations to clear canals that had been overrun by plant growth. They removed dead logs to ensure that seeds would sprout faster in the spaces left behind and dredged with their hands.

“We started to do the work, which supposedly could only be done in a year,” Ms. Rivera Clemente said. “We did it in a month and a half.”

Before Hurricane Isaias hit in 2020, the organization removed hundreds of tree branches, helping to prevent a lagoon from flooding. Encouraged by the project’s success, Piñones residents continued planting thick, protective mangroves and cleaning canals.

“People are proud of the work they’ve done,” Ms. Rivera Clemente said. “It’s important that this knowledge is transmitted to new generations.”

Another beneficiary of The Neediest Cases Fund, Children’s Aid, has also undertaken a project to transform land. The goal is to increase access to nature in Harlem, the Bronx and Upper Manhattan.

Finding farming equipment in the city for the gardens, or a landscaping company that would deliver 14 cubic yards of topsoil to the Bronx, was no simple feat. But this year, the Bronx garden was able to welcome new visitors, including 3- and 4-year-olds with magnifying glasses at the ready who visited the garden at the Next Generation Center in September.

“For a lot of these kids, that was their first field trip ever, or their first time in a garden,” Ava Poon, a garden coordinator, said.

To promote soil regeneration, she uses no-dig gardening and steers clear of pesticides, meaning that she often eliminates pests with her own hands and urges the preschoolers to help, too.

“I was trying to encourage them to squish some of the aphids on our plants, but that wasn’t as efficient,” Ms. Poon said with a laugh.

When the toddlers encountered one of the first bumpy Chinese cucumbers growing on the vine, they clustered around it, each eating a small piece.

Brandon Henry, the program supervisor at the Next Generation Center, also hopes to use the cucumbers, the gooseberries and the herbs grown to emphasize healthy eating in his culinary classes. For seven years, he has cultivated a persimmon tree in the Next Generation garden. In October, he saw it bear ripe fruit for the first time.

In Rockland County, Peter Moore is also turning to the earth to fill in nutritional gaps. He cultivates a 70-by-50-foot garden that grows produce like zucchini, eggplant and green pepper.

Its yield of 700 to 800 pounds of fresh vegetables per season supplements the food pantry he runs, which is part of Catholic Charities Community Services of Rockland. The organization is an affiliate of Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New York, another beneficiary of The Neediest Cases Fund.

He often harvests the produce about an hour before the clients arrive, guaranteeing that the families “get fresher produce than you would get in Whole Foods.”

Mr. Moore has managed the pantry for 12 years; before that he was a national sales manager at BMW. He said the pantry is now serving 500 families a month, up from fewer than 200 six years ago — an increase that he attributed to factors such as the inflation and the coronavirus pandemic.

“They’re feeling the full brunt of it,” he said, “but they still have to feed their kids and feed themselves.”

With food budgets stretched thin, Mr. Moore explained, he felt pressure to keep up with rising demand. To support the garden, Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New York allocated $525 from The Fund for tools, garden supplies, seeds and plantings, which will enrich next season’s harvest, he said.

With the aid provided by The Neediest Cases Fund, Mr. Moore hopes to keep enhancing the experience and the quality of the produce, sticking to his principle that he doesn’t need to have the best pantry in the world, just a better pantry than the day before.

Donations to The Neediest Cases Fund may be made online or with a check.

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