Sharing the message: Red Jacket Orchards CSA in Fort Greene

Community Supported Agriculture

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Before the sun rose on November 17, farmers for the Red Jacket Orchards began picking apples from their orchards to share with their Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) members. Within less than 24 hours, these apples have arrived at the Urban Assembly of Arts and Letters (UAAL), the distribution location for their Fort Greene branch.

A relatively new farming model, CSA members pay forward to receive their weekly share of fruits and juices direct from the growers. This eliminates middlemen, which means the produce are more affordable. “But what’s really wonderful is you can get to know the people growing your food,” said Wen-Jay Ying from Red Jacket Orchards. “So you learn to trust the farmers and feel secure in knowing where your food comes from.”

Joined by community volunteer Grace Duyer, Ying distributed the fruits and juices to members while educating the students at UAAL about apple varieties and how fruits grow. “These kids are smart enough to know that fruits don’t grow in supermarkets,” said Ying. “But there are many who don’t, and that’s partly why I got into this industry; I want to educate the younger generation about the food crisis and how they can do their part.”

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Food Co-op Gets Mixed Welcome From Some Low-Income Fort Greene’s Residents

Daniel Morgan, 51, has lived in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, since 1976. He has never thought about leaving the area that he describes as the City’s war zone during the 70s and 80s, and where he raised two children, who now have families of their own.

Last year, when he heard about the opening of the Fort Greene Food Co-op at 18 Putnam Ave., he welcomed the initiative, but was concerned at the same time. Like him, some low-income residents in the area find it difficult to be part of this community project since they are still loyal to their nearby supermarkets for their food-shopping, and also because the one-time cost of the membership, $150 and a $25 processing fee, is unattainable for them.

But at long-term, what worries Morgan -who works various jobs, as security guard, construction worker or driver when he’s not at Rutgers University where he studies social work- is not about the supermarket’s sales declining but that the food co-op becomes an instrument of the growing gentrification trend in the city that is displacing low-income people from their communities.

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Hasidic Jews Deliver the Good

Excuse me.  Are you Jewish?

During Hanukah, young Ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students from Crown Heights, Brooklyn fan out across the city to ask passers-by if they’re Jewish and, if they are, if they’d like a free menorah.

For the students, who are members of an Hasidic sect called Chabad-Lubavitch, it’s a win-win.  The less observant Jews they approach get free candleholders, and the students get that sweet satisfaction that comes from helping to hasten the coming of the Messiah.

The Chabad-Lubavitch believe – as their last great leader, or rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, told them – that every good deed, or mitzvah, prepares the world for the coming of the Messiah.  Not content to wait for that day, the Chabad faithful have made it a habit to go out and convince other Jews to do mitzvahs – such as lighting menorah candles or reciting daily prayers – that will help redeem the world.

In the slideshow below, watch and listen as a yeshiva student named Yitzchok Schmukler, 20, and a few of his friends hit the mean streets of Williamsburg, Brooklyn to pass out Hanukah menorahs.  (Please note the decked-out holiday RV, er, “Mitzvah Tank,” that the kids drove to Williamsburg from the Chabad headquarters in Crown Heights.)

Then follow Schmukler as he makes his weekly mitzvah rounds in the South Bronx.  Like hundreds of other Chabad yeshiva students, every Friday Schmukler visits unaffiliated Jews around the city.  During the short visits, he helps them put on teffilin, leather straps attached to small, scroll-bearing boxes that Orthodox Jews wrap around their arms and foreheads each day during prayer.

Hopefully now you won’t hesitate the next time someone asks for the name of a good mitzvah delivery service.

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Learning to Skate at Rockefeller Center Ice Rink

More than a quarter of a million people come to skate at Rockefeller Center’s ice rink each year, and it’s nearby sights and surroundings make it one of the most notable skating rinks in the entire world.

But for those who want to come learn to skate here, there’s one person that can teach you: JoJo Starbuck.

Starbuck, a three-time U.S. National pair skating champion and a two-time Olympian, holds her “Cool Workouts” at the rink, a series of classes open to skaters of all levels. She also teaches individual lessons during open skate hours.

I sat down with JoJo rink-side to discuss what makes skating at Rockefeller Center so special, the kind of reaction she gets from her skating students, and just what it is about skating that she thinks is wonderful.

Please click the play button to begin the slideshow.

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Esther 2:9 Taking Inspiration From the Bible

LaChrisha Brown, 28 lives in Brooklyn and is a recent graduate from The New School for Drama. From an early age she was influenced by her mother and grandmother to seek natural cures for her health and beauty regimen. She was raised in Germany and Louisiana, a state known for being part of the bible belt. Her mom raised her in the church, but it wasn’t until the age of 14 that she began her own personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

Brown’s love of the book of Esther from the Bible and interest in using natural resources from the Earth made her interested in making her own body scrubs. This love led her to begin making the scrubs for friends and family fiver years ago. She started her own business Esther 2:9 based on a bible scripture three years ago. Quickly word spread about her body scrubs and now Brown sends several shipments a month to friends and family in Dallas, Texas as well as maintain a client base in New York City.

She mostly sells her products word of mouth. She has an online website that is under construction. Brown says her making the body scrubs is her “way of returning the natural goodness of the earth to itself.”

Listen in as Brown tells the story of her creating her own business, Esther 2:9 and watch her create her own spicy body scrub, Cinnsagenal. (pronounced sin-sage-gin-nal)

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NYC’s Danny Stiles, the “Vicar of Vintage Vinyl” Celebrates 63 Years on the Radio

Danny Stiles the self-proclaimed “Vicar of Vintage Vinyl” recently celebrated his 87th birthday and 63-years on the radio. With more than six decades on the radio, Stiles and 300 of his closest friends gathered at John’s Pizzeria in Times Square, New York City for an evening of pizza, big-band music and dancing.

Stiles has about 25,000 records that he keeps between his home and the radio stations WNYC and WNSW. A DJ since 1947, Stiles has spun records at 27 different New York area stations in his lifetime.

Stiles seemed a bit tired to host such a big party for such a big occasion.  He is still recovering from a recent surgery that took him off the air for a few weeks. But when asked about contemporary music he perked up: “I think it’s terrible.  I don’t understand it–I can’t understand the music. I can’t decipher the lyrics and the melodies all sound the same.”  He thinks that things started to go down hill after the Beatles.  Elvis, he said, was all right.

He counts “Body and Soul” by Coleman Hawkins as his favorite song, even though choosing just one was difficult. A love of music and being on the radio will always be his passion; when asked how long he’ll be on the radio Stiles says, “As long as I’m alive.”

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Enchanted Toy Store: The Magic of Being a Child

Gloria Mills is the buyer and one of the founders of Enchanted, a toy store in the Upper East Side that strictly stocks no electronics or plastic. “Electronics, like game boys, are didactic. They tell the children what to do,” she says. “But with a dollhouse, you can turn it into a garage or a house or a shop, and after some time the child makes of it what they imagine. It requires them to think creatively.”

It was begun by parents of the nearby Rudolf Steiner School, the first Waldorf school in the United States with a curriculum that encourages imaginative thinking instead of rote learning. A not-for-profit organization, the store’s proceeds go toward hosting workshops in the neighborhood, donating toys to children in need and funding the tuition remittance program at the school.

Already in their fifth year, Mills hopes that more children may have access to toys that help them think creatively. “It may be that every child in New York is brilliant, but if you don’t nurture that then the child can only develop so far.”

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Society HAE Brings Art and Music to Harlem

Ngozi Odita, 35, is Nigerian and lives in Brooklyn. She is the founder of Society HAE (Harriet’s Alter Ego) – a nod to abolitionist Harriet Tubman. After her clothing store, by the same name, closed down in Brooklyn last year, she began opening pop-up shops.

Most recently, she held a “Shop ‘n Mingle” event at her Harlem PoP store, which is housed in a hidden gem-like space owned by the National Black Theater, which is also on the same block.

While she says she doesn’t paint on a canvas and can’t sew to save her life, she considers herself an artist. “I transform spaces, that’s my art.”

Through her organization she hopes to bring art and music to communities of color in New York City and beyond. And, in turn, she hopes to give artists a venue to exhibit and sell their work.

“Galleries are fine and museums are fine, but in my opinion I feel like art belongs to the people,” said Odita. “You shouldn’t have to pay a price to experience it.”

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The Real Indiana Jones: Finding the World’s Oldest Subway Tunnel

Manhattan’s Second Avenue Subway has been in the pipeline for more than 75 years, the complaints resurface almost every year as the program inches forward. But the Second Ave Subway isn’t the only line that time forgot. The world’s oldest subway line is just a few miles away.

In 1980, Brooklyn local Bob Diamond, discovered the subway tunnel under Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn. Unlike the Second Ave Subway, this tunnel built in 1844, only took seven months to complete the half-mile long section with hand tools.

Bob’s commitment and passion for his find has caught the eye of the National Geographic documentary team who are due to begin a program to unearth the myth of a train buried at the end of the tunnel.

As the ultimate go-to man for anything related to the tunnel and its history, Bob now runs regular tours down the tunnel. But it is his story of how he found the tunnel, after dropping out of college, and following a clue in a book, that fascinates all those who venture down the dark, damp tunnel…

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Packing up the Aqueduct racetrack


Flea market vendor Mike Thai discusses the closing of the 30-year-old flea market that has convened on the front parking lot of the Aqueduct racetrack. To read more about the $380 million deal to install slot machines at the racetrack, check here.

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