Angels Among Us 2013
Yankee profiles three New Englanders who are making an extraordinary difference in others’ lives.
Farm to Table
Bleu Grijalva & Emily Jodka
Bleu Grijalva and Emily Jodka pack a passion for local food that extends far beyond what they bring to their own plates. As founders of The New Urban Farmers in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, the pair has spent the past three years spreading their message and knowledge to the sorts of neighborhoods and residents whom the locavore movement has largely overlooked: families in poorer urban areas, whose geographical terrain is marked by fast-food joints and convenience stores.
The seeds for The New Urban Farmers were planted in 2008, when Jodka, who works at Brown University in IT, and Grijalva, a California native who spent 20 years working in the restaurant industry, embarked on the creation of a travel guide to New England’s farms. Logistics helped kill the idea, but so did their realization that the local-food movement largely catered to white, affluent foodies. “So much of the food movement just stops at the city limits,” Grijalva says.
The New Urban Farmers makes its home in a few different areas. In Seekonk, Massachusetts, the group manages a five-acre vegetable farm, where produce is grown to sell at various farmers’ markets. In Warren, Rhode Island, it runs a small orchard, where it has recently planted young apple, pear, and peach trees. But the heart of its work can be found in the Woodlawn section of Pawtucket, at a 500-resident affordable-income housing complex known as Galego Court. There, on the former site of a rundown public park, Jodka and Grijalva oversee one of the most dynamic urban green spaces in all of Rhode Island.
“It’s a farm, it’s a classroom, it’s a place for community, it’s a place for plants,” Jodka explains.
And it really is: raised garden beds stuffed with tomato and pepper plants; rows of greens, herbs, and pumpkins; hillsides bursting with fruit trees and flowers. Inside one of the group’s three greenhouses, staffers are experimenting with hydroponics and farm-raised tilapia. In the spring and summer, kids and parents stream into the space, to help, to tend to their own garden areas, to pick up free food, to just escape the sometimes-complicated urban life that exists outside the garden’s borders.
“There was a bit of a clash,” Grijalva says of their arrival. “They were suspicious about what we were really up to. But as the kids became involved and grew to love it, the parents really warmed to us.”