Cultivating Tradition at La Finca
Ask a school kid what a farmer looks like and they will probably describe some version of Old MacDonald in overalls and a straw hat. “The reality is,” explains Regina Ginyard, co-founder of La Finca del Sur, “especially in the global south, it is indigenous women who are the farmers.”
La Finca del Sur (Spanish for “the farm of the south”) is an urban farm in Mott Haven led by women of color, pulling from its surrounding community. Founders Ginyard and Nancy Ortiz wanted to highlight the agricultural heritage of its farmers who have roots in the American and global south.
In a repurposed plot of land between a highway and train tracks, artists, educators, students and families come together in an innovative urban ecosystem.
The mission is to reconnect the community to the basics of food growing—a tradition lost in urban minority communities. Volunteers can join the lead farmers in planting and caring for communal beds or rent their own private plot for the season as a contributing member. Produce grown in shared beds are sold at the South Bronx Farmers Market, which helps La Finca maintain the farm. Members with rented plots are free to cultivate their own combination of crops to eat, use for medicinal purposes or to grow and sell as they please.
“[La Finca] is a collective process,” says lead farmer Suzanne Babbs. “It’s based on what sells at the market but also what we want to grow, what our community wants, what is relevant to our community and what is appropriate.”
The acreage is lined with sky-high sunflowers, providing an incubator for organic and fresh ideas. Local business The Bronx Hot Sauce grows the serrano peppers used in their fiery sauce in La Finca’s communal beds. Ginyard, head of programming, welcomes any project that gives back to the community in a creative way. For instance, a programming series on self care and mindfulness led by Jennifer Hartzall. “Sustaining yourself is important,” says Hartzall. She explains that the principle of sustainability in agriculture and caring for people goes hand in hand.
“I feel like I’ve visited a lot of farms around the city and a lot of people who are doing the work are women,” says Babbs. As a black woman, she believes her history of slavery and sharecropping lends itself to educating families about sustainability. “I don’t think that men are incapable, maybe it’s just more that in our society women are given the permission to make these connections,” she explains. “We are the caregivers, so I think it’s just a natural extension.”
A part of La Finca’s mission is to create a space for women and their families to reconnect with nature and each other. It’s an intergenerational experience. Rosabla Ruby, 12, is a Mexican American girl who has been coming to the farm with her family since she was 6. “I feel proud,” she says in her soft voice. She shares a story about always pointing out the farm to her classmates on the school bus whenever it drives by; it never gets old for her. The farm is a place for Ruby and other youth to get away from “all the school stress” and spend time in quiet discovery. Her eyes widen in amazement when she tries to describe watching tomatoes grow from “smaller to bigger.” Her fascination is inspiring. For Ruby, farming is magic.
Ruby’s experience is exactly what La Finca’s founders had in mind when recommitting to agriculture and community. The act of planting is what is most encouraged. “That just opens the possibility to talk about everything else,” says Babbs. The conversation at La Finca centers on food and culture in a community deprived of healthy food choices. The South Bronx is an area where healthy food is not always accessible or affordable. “People call it a food desert, but it’s really food apartheid,” says Babbs. She explains that La Finca is a part of a movement that gives voice to a community denied access to nourishing food. “I think that once you become part of a community, and you become engaged in the process of building this farm, you become engaged in other aspects.”
The farm’s vibrant cultural family experience and sharing those experiences is what fuels the project. Every workday, the first Saturday of each month, the planting committee strategizes on how to get the most out of their harvest. After sharing, they inspect their plants for pests, pull weeds, water the produce and finally harvest what is in season, together.
These farmers are rewriting an agricultural narrative of the Bronx. One that includes health and family as its cornerstones. “We express love to each other when we are growing food here,” says Babbs. “We are sharing food with each other; we are selling it at the farmers market, we are expressing love through healthy food that was grown right here in the neighborhood.”
La Finca is located on W. 138th Street and Grand Concourse, across from the 4 and 5 subway line. Farm workdays are held the first Saturday of every month from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and are open to the public.