Q&A with Elizabeth Bee Ayer, Youth Farm at BK Farmyards

Brooklyn, NY

November 2012

Elizabeth Bee Ayer is the Collective Member & Co-Farm Manager at the Youth Farm at BK Farmyards in Brooklyn, NY (Learn

more about BK Farmyards

Farming is hard enough work on its own. Why not just farm, why also teach?
I get asked this question a lot. The first thing I always say when people bring this up is that if I wanted to just farm, I would move to the country. To me the urban agriculture movement is about creating social justice using food production as a base. I see education as integral to changing the way our food system is designed and the way that we interact with it.

What do you like best about being a co-manager at the BK Farmyards Youth Farm?
BK Farmyards works as a collective. Each member plays different roles for various projects, but we are a team. We use collective decision making, and all members have equal standing. There is so much to love about my job -- from working with amazing youth and getting my hands dirty every day to the everyday beauty of being on a farm. My favorite part of each week is when the food we nurture and grow goes from ourhands to the hands of people who will prepare it for the people they love. In the larger scheme, what I love best about my job is providing people with the space and tools they want to fulfill their desires. As a teacher, the greatest gift is seeing people grow from what you have passed on to them, to the point where you are not needed as a teacher. This past year we were able to pass on the operations of our chickens, which we’ve named Fort Hen, to a group of people who went through our Chicken Apprenticeship Program. Watching the program thrive under their management, and seeing what they’ve learned in the training and are now passing onto others is amazing.

When and how did you get into farm-based education?
My first experience doing horticulture-based education was working with Growing Hope, a community gardening organization in Ypsilanti, Michigan in 2004. I ran a 4-H club for elementary school students based in the community gardens and farmers market. Through growing and selling flowers I watched youth go from being so shy they wouldn’t even say their names aloud to leading tours of the garden, proud of their work.

What is your teaching philosophy?
I look to the philosophies of open and popular education in my work. I am inspired by the works of activists like Myles Horton, Paulo Freire, Herbert Kohl, and Jonathan Kozal to name a few. I love learning about pedagogy and watching others teach.

What piece of advice would you most want to give beginning farm-based educators?
Remember to be patient with your students and yourself. We all have an innate desire to learn, and we are our best students when we are learning in a safe environment, at our own pace, and about fun and relevant topics.

If there was one thing you could change about the food system, what would it be?
If I could change one thing, the food system would be driven by the goal of providing healthy food to everyone using sustainable practices -- not built on companies driven to make as much of a profit as they can.

In addition to being a farmer, you also have an amazing culinary knack. What’s your go-to D.I.Y. home cooking project to do with students?

The recipe I get asked for the most is my tomatillo salsa. Here it is:

·         4 - 6 cups tomatillos, peeled and left whole

·         2 - 4 onions, chopped in quarters

·         4 - 20 jalapenos (For milder flavor: halve and seed. For spicier flavor: cut just the tops off and leave in the seeds.)

·         4 - 8 garlic cloves, peeled and whole

·         1/8 cup vinegar

·         1-2 limes worth of lime juice

·         ½ cup cilantro

·         Optional: other types of peppers, fun fruits, or secret ingredients

Fill a 9x13” cake pan with all of your ingredients. Place the pan under the broiler and wait for the skins to blacken. Use tongs to carefully flip them to blacken the other side. The tomatillos should pop open, leaving a delicious sauce in the bottom of the pan. Place your roasted tomatillos, garlic, onions, and peppers into a food processor. Add lime, vinegar, cilantro, salt, and any special ingredients. Purée to your preferred consistency.

The best way to eat tomatillo salsa is for breakfast. Pour the salsa into a frying pan, poach an egg in it, and place both on top of strips of crispy tortillas. Shave sharp cheese on top. Don’t forget the hot sauce and coffee!

When you’re not hard at work, how do you enjoy your time?
I try to make sure I have a balanced life, even when it’s so hard to tear myself away from the farm. I love making food for people I love, sitting on the beach, and dancing.

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