The greening of the South Bronx

Posted on May 12th, 2010 by Erin McCarthy in Green industry, South Bronx

New Businesses are Blooming Where Buildings Once Burned
by Chris Prentice and Azriel James Relph

The Bronx isn’t burning anymore – it’s greening.SBronx

A new industry is gaining steam in the South Bronx.  After decades of economic neglect and environmental abuse, crops of new eco-friendly businesses are finding ways to think about profits and the planet at the same time.

Names like Sustainable South Bronx, Rebuilder’s Source, Tri-State Biodiesel and WOW Green line the yellow pages for the area.  At the Bronx Green Business Summit on June 25th, these business owners and executives, government officials, non-profits and academics will come together to share their methods for “sustainable business practices and creating green collar jobs.”

“It’s only natural where people have been feeling the brunt of pollution and joblessness at rates so far ahead of the rest of the country – this is where innovation comes from,” said Omar Ferria, founder of The Green Workers Cooperative, a Mott Haven-based organization that helps locals start their own green businesses.

View The Bronx Goes Green, One Business at a Time in a larger map

Going green started early here.  Years of high unemployment and environmental injustice left residents no choice but to think green, according to community activists.

One example of the area’s early lead is the Bronx Frontier Development Corporation, formed by residents who used vegetable waste from the Hunts Point Food Market and animal waste from the Bronx Zoo as compost for an urban farm they erected in a vacant lot adjoining a sewage plant.  They even captured gas emitted from the composting process to create electricity.

“It’s the people who are the most burdened who are the most motivated,” said Adam Liebowitz, Director of Community Development at The Point, a community center in Hunts Point.

Piano manufacturing was the biggest industry in the Bronx in the 19th and early 20th century.  The last piano factory left the area in the mid 1970s as buildings all over the borough burned.  What remained or replaced manufacturing for the last four decades were the city’s dirtiest industries.  Sewage treatment plants, waste transfer centers and prisons have left foul smells, dirty clouds and a bad reputation in the air.

Aaron Morre and Sean Crawford saw the Bronx as the perfect place to start their green business, Bronx Hydro Garden. They sell products for creating indoor farms, so people without a physical garden can still have green thumbs.

“Other stores in the city didn’t want to come to the Bronx,” said Morre.

Bronx residents learn how to “grow their own”

At their Mott Haven store they sell things like seeds, shovels and natural insecticide, helping residents grow produce in the comfort of their homes. To stay in business, they’ve had to create a market and inspire demand, according to Morre.  To promote their products, they began free classes on Saturday mornings to introduce people to methods. Some weeks, they’ve had as many as 30 people show up for the classes.

“The people are just hungry,” said Morre, of their decision to focus on the Bronx first.  “It’s back to basics.”

Sustainable South Bronx, a non-profit in Hunts Point, is also trying to feed residents’ appetite for jobs.  Their green collar jobs training program, Bronx Environmental Stewardship Training, (BEST), has two tracks – one for horticulture and ecological work, another for energy efficient building renovation, green roof installation and hazardous materials handling.  Their 12-week training program is free for residents, many of whom have had a hard time finding traditional employment due to past incarcerations or lack of education.

“I’ve seen people who have never touched a tool before just blossom in working outdoors,” said Dwaine Lee, the field manager for the training program. “There’s something empowering and healing about using tools and working with your hands.”

“My whole life just changed.  It’s a whole different spin on everything now with the green collar work and the work that I’m doing,” said Gregory Deary, a graduate of the program. “When I first started, I was like ‘maybe I can get a job when I’m done.’  Now it’s a lifestyle.  I love it.”

Watch BEST trainees building a community garden

Economist Robert Pollin from the University of Massachusetts thinks that a green economy could work across the country, and even dramatically reduce unemployment.

“New investments in green manufacturing will be the source of new job creation,” he said.

Pollin, who is a consultant to the Department of Energy, says it will take massive government investment to tap the potential of green economics.  He recommended that the Obama administration invest $100 million, to produce 2 million green jobs.  A year ago The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act included over $80 billion for renewable energy and green jobs.

“The main way to sustain a strong clean energy sector is for the government to invest in it like other countries do,” said Pollin. “Our investments are feeble compared to Japan or Germany.”

But in the Bronx, where residents have been working green jobs for 30 years, they aren’t waiting for the government to get things moving.

“We want to make sure this truly is sustainable and not just a fashion trend,” said Miquela Craytor, Executive Director of Sustainable South Bronx.  “We’ll work on it long after talk and the stimulus is gone. “

Check out our feature on the meatpacking industry in Manhattan, as meatpacking plants come up with new marketing tools.

One Comment on “The greening of the South Bronx”

  1. Where’s the beef? | Industry NYC

    […] Check out our multimedia feature on the “greening” of the South Bronx, as it leads the city in the green jobs movement. […]

Leave a Reply

More News

Multimedia Stories

Green industry

The greening of the South Bronx

The greening of the South Bronx

New Businesses are Blooming Where Buildings Once Burned by Chris Prentice ...