Why Rockaway Needs More Growing Spaces: Part 1

Our Health Depends On It

This blog post is part of a series developed by the Rockaway Youth Task Force (RYTF) as part of our commitment to Food Justice. Over the course of the next few months, RYTF will highlight the positive impacts of Community Gardens and work to expand our community’s understanding of why we need more functional growing spaces in Rockaway.

Historians go back and forth on the spelling of the original name for “Rockaway”, but they can agree that the Native American word for our home meant “the place of our own people”. Hundreds of years have passed and that definition still rings true today. By circumstance, Rockaway residents band together. We can commiserate with each other about our transportations options, or lack thereof. We can easily tell the difference between a resident and someone who is just visiting for the day, the latter being someone who flocks to our beaches for three months and then forgets about us for the rest of the year. Even more powerfully, we can remember a time in the wake of Superstorm Sandy where, through the power of community, we became each other’s lifelines and safety nets. We are a place of our own people and we take care of one another. That being said, our people need help.

Rockaway residents are waging a war within our own bodies. The health profile of Rockaway residents, published by the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, details eye-opening statistics regarding our community’s health. It’s scary. Adult residents of Rockaway are three times as likely to be obese as compared to residents of Stuyvesant Town and Turtle Bay, two more affluent neighborhoods in Manhattan. At 28%, our adult obesity rate is higher than both the Queens (21%) and the city-wide (24%) rates. Our diabetes rate is similar to the city’s rate at 10%, yet well above Stuyvesant Town and Turtle Bay’s 3%. Relatedly, 35% of our adults have 1 or more sugary beverage, such a soda or juice, per day.

Our lifestyle choices have a huge impact on causes of death. Rockaway has the third highest rate of stroke hospitalizations in New York City. Strokes are the sixth leading cause of death for our population with the first being heart disease and diabetes ranks fifth. All three can be connected to poor eating habits and lack of physical activity. Community gardens can work to counteract both.

In September 2015, RYTF conducted an impact analysis of our garden. Over the course of the growing season, we sold 40,000 pounds of produce and were able to donate an additional 2,500 pounds. During a time when the average American consumes 130 pounds of sugar per year, think about how much healthier we’d be if even a portion of that was replaced by fresh fruits or vegetables? Additionally, an hour of gardening can burn 200-400 calories. Physical activity is shown to decrease a person’s likelihood of developing heart disease. RYTF engages more than 50 people each week in gardening activities.

As our community prepares for another growing season, we need to be conscious of our community garden’s impact on our health. In Rockaway, the place of our own people, we truly are our brother’s keeper and right now, brother is fat and at risk.
Click Here To Expand the RYTF Community Garden