A previous Seeds in the Middle event. Photo: Supplied

A Brownsville school held a pop-up farm stand Wednesday to raise funds for a new healthy food initiative in the community — and they did it in memory of a former student killed in a wave of gun violence this year.

Bags of fresh produce were sold in Brownsville Wednesday. Image: Supplied.

Darien Simpson, 20, was fatally shot on Howard Avenue in Brownsville Sept. 2. His little brother currently goes to P.S./I.S. 178, where the fundraiser was held in Darien’s name.  

The money raised will go to funding a 12-week farm stand, edible gardens and possibly chickens at the school at 2163 Dean St, in association with central Brooklyn charity Seeds in the Middle

Darien’s father Leroy Simpson said it felt great to see something done in his son’s name for the future of the community and the children of Brownsville.

“That somebody takes the time out to see the right thing to do for the community, and acknowledging my Darien… It’s an honor, it’s very special.” 

Helping hands in the community

Just days before he was shot, Darien had been helping his father Leroy and community pillar Johhnymae Robinson unload a truck full of donated diapers. 

The young man who loved cars, bikes and music had been chatting with Robinson about school and what he wanted to do next, she said. Days later, she woke up to the news.

Johhnymae Robinson, Leroy Simpson and Robin Greene. Photo: Supplied.

“In Ocean Hill, in Brownsville, we take care of our own, we’ve been doing this for years,” she said. Robinson lost a son 22 years ago, and said it hurt seeing the same issues more than two decades later.  

Robinson had previously connected with Seeds in the Middle executive director Nancie Katz about getting some fresh food to Brownsville’s Atlantic Plaza Towers. 

That relationship led to Katz connecting with nearby P.S. 178 Principal Loren Cooper, who invited the Seeds in the Middle program to her school.

“It’s important to us to get healthy food into the neighborhood, so when children get home they have healthy food,” Robinson said.

Fresh options in a food desert

The pop-up farm stand Wednesday was selling more than 150 bags of fresh farm produce for $10 each to reach its fundraising goals for a more permanent farm stand and garden at the school.

Seeds in the Middle’s mission is to partner with residents and schools in Central Brooklyn’s “food deserts” to create community-run farm stands, easing food insecurity in neighborhoods of color. 

A bag of fresh produce is sold at a previous Seeds in the Middle event. Photo: Supplied

“A food desert is an area swamped with junk food but no affordable fresh fruit and vegetables,” Katz said.  “It’s a major reason why people of color have two-to-three times the rates of diabetes and heart disease and are more vulnerable to COVID-19… people are malnourished.”

A bag of fresh produce from a Seeds in the Middle event. Photo: Supplied

Seeds in the Middle and P.S. 178 had already raised more than $14,000 of their $16,248 goal. The money will allow the school to build an edible garden on the grounds — giving kids access to hands-on learning about how to grow their own food. 

It will also allow them to pay someone from the community to run a 12-week farm stand with the kids, sourcing fruit and vegetables from local farmers to provide a fresh option to the people of Brownsville. 

The hope is that the farm stand could be self-sustaining in the future. While the pandemic had pushed people to donate more, this initiative could help Brownsville care for itself long term, Katz said.

“Our idea is to create minority-owned businesses, local businesses, healthy businesses that can sustain beyond the giving of  right now. There’s an enormous amount being spent on free giveaways at the moment, but it’s not a sustainable way to end a food desert.”

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Jessy Edwards

Jessy Edwards is a freelance writer based in Bushwick. Originally from New Zealand, she has written for the BBC, Rolling Stone, NBC New York, CNBC and her hometown newspaper, The Dominion Post, among others.

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