Every Sunday morning volunteers from the Kew Gardens Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) group gather at KG Cinemas Park to collect residents’ food scraps and distribute fresh produce delivered from a local farm.
“I think there should be a food scrap drop-off near people’s houses,” Kevin Burns of Kew Gardens CSA said. “The food scraps don’t belong in the garbage.”
Kew Gardens CSA is partnered with the Queens Botanical Garden (QBG) bringing community members together at its food scrap drop-off and distribution site. The group is also a member of the Just Food CSA Network, an organization that connects communities and local farms with the resources and support they need to make fresh, locally grown food accessible to all New Yorkers.
While dropping off their food scraps, Kew Gardens CSA members can pick up produce which is grown and delivered from the Garden of Eve Organic Farm on Long Island.
“Most members are happy with the variety of fresh food. We also have a new program providing mushrooms for members and working on micro-greens,” Burns said. “It’s kind of like an alternative to a supermarket; it’s organic. It’s also a social thing — it builds community and I’ve met so many amazing people.”
In March, about 86 residents saved their food scraps in freezers and brought it to the site, Burns said. The scraps are then delivered to QBG, where it is processed and distributed back to members to use in their backyard or household plants.
As they’re coming toward the end of the CSA summer season, Burns says they will continue collecting food scraps during the winter months, and boxes of produce will be available monthly.
“We fill three large bins and I’m glad Queens Botanical does a lot of the work and we do the on-site work,” Burns said. “There’s definitely a need for this kind of thing which is a public food scrap drop-off. I know the city is doing a sidewalk pick-up project and that will be successful, but people need options.”
Residents can also visit another site on Metropolitan Avenue and Audley Street, that is operated by Grow NYC, an organization dedicated to improving NYC’s quality of life through environmental programs, including farmers markets, community recycling, gardening and environmental education.
Kew Gardens CSA hosted its Compost Giveback on Sunday, Nov. 7, at KG Cinemas Park, where residents brought their scraps and received a bag of compost from QBG to mix in with the soil of their houseplants.
“I think it’s pretty cool, and people come up with ideas. We hear stories about other cities that seem to be further along with green living, and NYC might need to buckle down a little bit but if things are done locally, a lot gets accomplished. I believe in local,” Burns said.
While Briarwood residents showed interest in Kew Garden CSA’s compost drop-off site, they formed their own group, the Briarwood CSA, Burns said.
“The two groups are joined like twins and they work well together,” Burns said. “The food we give out on a Sunday comes back to us as scraps on another Sunday.”
Chelsea Encababian, compost project manager at QBG, lauded Kew Gardens CSA for the fantastic work they have been doing in the community alongside Briarwood CSA.
“We weren’t quite sure about what it would’ve turned out to be, but what they have expressed to me is the expansion of new faces who would come and drop off food scraps and now we’re getting regulars and volunteers,” Encababian said. “It’s a testament to how consistent Kew Gardens CSA is as a leader and community organizer in Kew Gardens.”
According to Encababian, when COVID hit New York City last year, the compost project was completely defunded. Curbside composting was eliminated and there was very little support from composting agencies to bring back the initiative.
Eventually, the NYC Compost Project received partial funding and a new compost team was formed at QBG offering educational opportunities, technical assistance at community composting sites and educational workshops at the garden.
As QBG’s compost project manager, Encababian connected and built pre-existing and new relationships with different organizations across Queens, including Briarwood CSA and Kew Gardens CSA.
According to Encababian, there are many benefits of food composting.
“I wish more folks would realize food scraps are a resource to help our food grow again. It’s a complete life cycle. Instead of throwing it out, it can be regenerated into something beautiful to help with food production,” Encababian said.
While scraps are being dumped in landfills affecting communities’ quality of life, it’s also affecting the increase of methane gas into the ozone layer and climate change, Encababian said.
“Whether you’re throwing it in the food scrap bin or into the trash, which hopefully more people are not doing, there’s an opportunity to mitigate environmental injustice issues, but also a great way to get people together.”