They came by very different routes but Ian Marvy and Michael Hurwitz ended up in the gritty Red Hook section of Brooklyn, New York. Marvy, raised by a single mother in inner-city Minneapolis, hitchhiked through Europe and East Africa before graduating from Hampshire College and working for nonprofits in Philadelphia and New York. Hurwitz, a doctor’s son from Pittsburgh, worked in construction, conducted prison writing classes and detoured to Vietnam before finishing a masters in social work at U. Penn. They met at the Red Hook Community Justice Center, the nation’s first multi-jurisdictional court, which handles felony, family and housing cases and houses 15 support-service organizations.
Marvy and Hurwitz soon saw that, in practice, “community justice” meant intensified police scrutiny for juveniles who were charged for flipping a fire alarm or “trespassing” when visiting the projects without an I.D.—mischief that would not be considered criminal in more prosperous neighborhoods. The programs to which Marvy and Hurwitz referred young nonviolent offenders, while preferable to prison, turned out to be dull make-work, providing little reward for daily commutes of up to two hours each way.
Observing the transformative effect that work in a small community garden had on their toughest young clients—”heroin dealers love to transplant”—Hurwitz and Marvy thought of a way to keep children from being swept into the criminal justice system. With encouragement from the judge they worked for and the Parks Department’s donation of a barren paved lot, they founded Added Value, grew a vegetable farm from the asphalt up, taught business and leadership skills to teens at risk and began to use “food justice” to impart the lessons of social justice.
Marvy and Hurwitz reached out to an array of stakeholders, from school and tenant leaders to restaurateurs and senior citizens who yearned for the greens grown on their Carolina farms and Dominican fincas. Heifer International, an NGO with 60 years of experience in micro-development, quickly grasped the project’s potential. So did Cornell University Cooperative Extension, which dispatched seasoned agricultural interns to Brooklyn.
Three years later, Added Value is a thriving natural resource in a starkly urban setting, boasting raised beds of organic vegetables grown from seed in an on-site greenhouse; a vermi-composting program; and a twice-weekly farmers market staffed and managed by the program’s teen participants. More than 1,000 Red Hook residents have sown and harvested side by side and fifty teens have earned weekly stipends for 18 hours of work in the gardens, the market and the classroom.
In an isolated neighborhood without a supermarket, where the median income for a family of four is less than $15,000, residents now use their food-benefit debit-cards to purchase Added Value produce, augmented by organic fruits, meat and dairy products from upstate farms. Restaurants place daily orders for greens and fresh leftovers are delivered to area homeless shelters.
Exhausted but exhilarated, Ian and Michael beam when they talk about Jose Felix, Added Value’s first superstar. A withdrawn 16 year-old performing below grade-level when he joined Added Value’s first class, Felix’s confidence blossomed along with his growing responsibilities at the farmers market. Heifer sponsored his attendance at an environmental conference in Costa Rica, where Felix so impressed some Outward Bound staff members that they sent him on a trip to the Smokey Mountains and subsequently gave him a job.
With a task list a mile long, Hurwitz and Marvy have embarked on a 5-year plan to make Added Value the engine that will mobilize the entire Red Hook community to build a strong, just and sustainable future.