Community Green

People of all colors discussing evergreen ideas.

Growing Up Morrisania: The Curse Of Red Kool Aid

Mother’s milk. I started life on it and grew healthy and strong with nature’s perfect food. It provided all my needs before I naturally transitioned to solid nourishment. Somewhere along the way marketing happened and maybe I went overboard as drank a big glass with every meal. And milk was even more quenching with sugar and vanilla or chocolate or strawberry flavor.

But chocolate milk doesn’t compare with Red Kool Aid. After my grandmother died, and we all had to pitch in to get dinner on the table, it became my job to make a pitcher of Red Kool Aid for dinner. I drank gallons of it from a Flintstone jelly jar glass and on Sundays from the good glasses with the green and white Grecian motif. Is Red Kool Aid the gateway drink to sugar addictions?

So what’s not to like about a package of chemicals, tap water and sugar, as much sugar as you want. Dosing yourself on that much sugar just can’t be good for you, can it? If a can on coke has 9 teaspoons of sugar, acid and carbonation to get it all into your system faster, Kool Aid with red dye that stains your tongue for what seems like hours, can’t be that bad. Besides, we are hard wired to enjoy sweet drinks. We have sour, salt, and bitter taste buds to protects us. Sugar serves satisfaction. There is a connection to survival. Our taste buds are just as important as the four food groups. I am sure there is a place for Red Kool Aid. As a kid, I thought I needed it to survive.

When my intake of Red Kool Aid surpassed my intake of milk I knew I was cursed by Red Kool Aid. Grandma never saw the projects. She had died a year or so before we got the letter. They gave the 5 of us 2 bedrooms: mom, my older sister, my older and younger brothers and me. That may have been one of the reasons my sister didn’t come with us when we moved. I realized everyone living in the projects had the Red Kool Aid curse. Funny, but that knowledge helped me move beyond Red Kool Aid. It became cool to drink iced tea.

I didn’t drink my first cup of coffee until I was 27, but that’s a story for another day.

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Growing Up Morrisania: Slaving Over A Hot Stove

My mother was a single, working parent. Slaving over a stove wasn’t an option available to her. Her mother wanted more for her than “domestic” work so Cornelia cooked a lot of  meals and washed a lot of laundry so Ruth could stay in school and get a job in “business”.

So grandma did most of the cooking and all dinners were eaten at the table with all family members present. There was a delicate balance in keeping hungry kids waiting, keeping food hot and waiting for a tired parent to get home. Grandma was a master at it as she carefully put her pall mall in the ash tray on the table and rinsed her hands and dried them on her blue and white apron before she gently stirred a sauce or attended a pot. We didn’t have a dining room, just an eat in kitchen with a glorious ball and claw foot oak table generally covered with oil cloth with some gaudy kitchen pattern. Holidays an extra leaf or two would appear magically to extend the table so we could accommodate the bounty of food.

There were generally no supper guests for holidays but grandma, and mom too, would regularly feed someone at the table after we, the kids, had eaten. There were no second helpings. You got your portion when the food was plated, but one usually got more of their favorite without the others complaining. Without saying, we all had different favorites. There was always dessert. Yes, every night. Usually something simple with the more elaborate things reserved for special occasions. I believe grandma went out of her way to always make dessert for mom feeling she deserved it for being in business in the garment industry. Sunday dinners were great and, every now and then, grand affairs that included roasts and luxurious deserts left over from a Saturday night dinner party Grandma had prepared for someone somewhere else. Grandma made really wonderful vegetable dishes and deserts and I still lovingly remember her creamed spinach and lemon meringue pie.

I don’t think mom minded not cooking more. She certainly likes good food. I believe had she the opportunity, she would whip up all sorts fancy things every chance she got but she was never taught to cook. She was sort of a reverse Cinderella. Cooking isn’t  glamorous but there is lots of love in it or there should be. Grandma died when I was 10 so we were relegated to the burgeoning fast food generation. With 4 kids, Mom took advantage of the latest convenience foods and we ate lots of beans and franks out of old pie plates while watching Rawhide on TV from chairs turned backwards. Mom liked Arthur Treacher’s Fish & Chips and would splurge every now and then. More often it was fish sticks and French fries heated in the oven.

Convenience food now, fast food was coming. The trend had begun, and was speeded up by the civil rights movement and new found freedoms. Especially freedom from traditional roles like who wore the pants and who wore the apron. Canned, frozen and instant foods were supplanting the all types of things and by the late 60’s Black Panthers were feeding children in their landmark Breakfast Program because they weren’t getting fed at home while America was serving Tang to astronauts. It became socially inappropriate to slave over anything, even the household stove and McDonald’s went from being an occasional burger to being included in regular “meal planning”.

Red meat remained master of the menu though and cooks at home devoted the lion’s share of kitchen time to preparing meat dishes. Vegetable side dishes, once specialties with interesting combinations and seasonings cooked with love and care, became grey green beans and mushy carrots. Vegetables came colorlessly from cans of  salted water and no one wanted to eat them, especially the parents who had grown up with fresh vegetables they had peeled and snapped and chopped as kids. There were folks, who missed vegetables, and added bacon bits and all sorts of things to canned vegetables but when you start with such a compromised food, it’s really hard to make it tasty again. Vegetables became casualies in the food wars.

Candied yams, glazed carrots and creamed spinach became something you had for Thanksgiving rather than something that made regular dinner appearances. Even frozen vegetables, which were a little better, we’re seldom turned onto something interesting. You had to thaw them before you added them to anything and that seemed to defeat the purpose of having them conveniently frozen. Gone was the notion of main dish and main course. Modern dinners became whatever was on your plate. And they’re were no second helpings because you put everything on your plate you wanted the first time, which was often too much, because no one wanted to go back into the kitchen. If you wanted a home cooked meal, and could afford it, you ate out. But lots of people couldn’t afford it and they still ate out and what they ate/eat, fast food, is no where near the rich, wholesome food you could get at home.

So here we are. Satisfy your cravings for salt, sweets and fats with supersized portions delivered to you in the blink of an eye. Take a couple of 4 oz. “meat” patties, put them on a bun with lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise, ketchup, add fries and a soft drink and call it a meal and day. Honestly, it was never like that growing up in Morrisania.

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Tour de Bronx Sunday October 26, 2014

Registration is now open for the Tour de Bronx, the largest free cycling event in New York State.

Choose either a 25 or 40-mile course through the borough’s 61 neighborhoods. Fun for families, casual riders and avid bicyclists, the tour starts at the Bronx County Building at Grand Concourse & 161st Street and ends with a music festival at the New York Botanical Garden.

All Riders must check-in on the morning of the tour.

9 am Check-in time:
10:30 am    40-mile route departs
10:40 am    25-mile route departs

Tour De Bronx riders don’t pay a fee — thanks to generous sponsors!

You may also register the morning of the ride at 9 am at Grand Concourse & East 161st Street at the Bronx County Building (near Yankee Stadium). Please arrive early.

See more at:

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Bronx River Alliance “An Upstream Soiree” September 17, 2014

9th Annual “An Upstream Soiree”

The Bronx River Alliance celebrated the revitalization of the Bronx River Wednesday, September 17, 2014 with delicious hors d’oeuvres, a buffet supper, live music, wine and beer, and a silent auction at the Bronx Zoo. At the pre-party at  Zoo Center, patrons caught a glimpse of the new “Amazing Monitors” exhibit. Jose the Beaver joined us for photographs, and we toasted the honorees with a signature cocktail: The Bronx

The Bronx River Honorees:

Nancy Mann –  Principal, Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School
Tim Tompkins –  President, Times Square Alliance & Founder, Partnerships for Parks
Sims Metal Management – Business leaders in sustainable practices that minimize impact on community and local waterways
Live Mambo/Salsa Music by: Orlando Marin “The Last Mambo King” and his band
or copy the link below and paste in your browser

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Growing Up Morrisania: Dinner Lessons

I was invited to a friend’s house recently and it was nice having a home cooked meal including a green and a yellow vegetable as part of the meal (salads don’t count). I’d say the meal was old fashioned but my friend is not old enough to be in that category. She’s just a great cook. She served, and handed me a plate that was fuller than I would have made for myself, but it smelled and looked so good that I wasn’t going to suggest she take anything back. I stuck to my latest eating habit; half loaded my fork, put it down after every mouthful and enjoyed every bite. The meal was a real treat, especially the corn and okra.

After I had cleaned my plate, the host pleasantly asked if I wanted more, to which I quickly replied no, really wanting to say yes. Oh well. I like a good cup of coffee with dinner when I am out so I offered to brew some up and followed her into the kitchen. The good host said she’d make the coffee as I spied at least another generous serving of corn and okra. Noticing that I noticed, she again offered second helpings. This time I agreed and ate all the remaining vegetables enjoying the guilt of having a second helping of something that’s good for you.

The after dinner conversation over coffee was about the great meal and when prodded I had to admit I wanted seconds by was so entangled by my “eating habits” that I hardly ever have seconds (except for any type of ice cream). Sure, when I was a bicycle racer, I loved my 4,000 calorie a day diet which barely kept me from losing weight, but those days are well behind me and these days, I very carefully watch my diet and my waistline.

Growing Up Morrisania, always there unconsciously, sometimes surfaces consciously at the most peculiar times like dinner. Growing up in a single parent household with a Grndmother and 3 siblings meant that everyone had to get a fair share of dinner and portion control was built into every loving ladleful of stew and every 1/2″ slice of pound cake. You ate everything on your plate, even the vegetables you didn’t like. Not finishing a meal was not an option nor were huge portions or seconds. Sometimes I went to bed still hungry but now I realize had I eaten until I pushed myself away from the table, I would have learned overeating rather than to appreciate food.

Meals were generally planned and usually balanced and even though there wasn’t any hard science behind some of them, they seemed to have always been in moderation and not slathered with gravies or sauces beyond recognition. Grandma was from Baltimore and Mom was a New Yorker who loved a good steak. There were some family food traditions but when Mom took over “cooking” most of them came from the dog-eared Betty Crocker Cookbook I stiil have and use. Mom had been groomed for business, not to become a domestic as Grandma had been. Still, Dinner, as I remember and maybe imagined, has stood the test of time.

As a kid, dinner was always eaten at the table with the rest of the family, until I was 10 and my grandmother passed away. Mealtime was a chatty, egalitarian affair with everyone getting appropriate food portions and a share in the conversation. Everyone got and ate vegetables, a green one and a yellow one, because Mom felt having both at dinner was an integral part of a balanced diet that also included a meat and a starch. Occasionally there were seconds but not usually as leftovers were generally someone’s lunch the next day. If there was really a lot left, it was repurposed into the next day’s meal.

I realize now that Mom had a healthy sweet tooth so with most meals there was also desert: fruit, apple sauce, fruit cocktail, jello, pudding or pound cake. Sunday dinner was more elaborate as was desert and cakes were multi-layered and frosted and even jello had Kool Whip on it or fruit mixed in it. I didn’t realize it at the time but my eating habits and social habits were being shaped.

Now that food has gone from convenience, to fast, to microwaved and everyone eats at counters, in their cars or on the run I wonder if there is a correlation between the illnesses,ills and obesity that plague us and society. You be the judge and carefully consider your next meal.

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Growing Up Morrisania

We are the soil we grew up in. Mine was Morrisania. Morrisania was the Negro neighborhood in the Bronx. Thelonius Monk lived in Morrisania for a time and the Boston Road Ballroom was as popular as Roseland. When I started Jordan L. Mott – Jr. High School 22, I remember someone asking in amazement if I lived in the “Colored Neighborhood”. Funny, I had just “moved up” literally from an unlicensed basement tenement apartment on Franklin Avenue and was then living in the Claremont/Webster Butler projects.

Most of the folks in Morrisania were Colored. We became proudly Negro when I was about 10 years. By the 70’s, I had become Black and I’ve remained that way though some folks have moved on and become African Americans. My 93 year old mother is still Negro though. She isn’t stuck in time. She is a product of the social crucible that is America and her self image and politics make her Negro just as mine make me what I am.

I remember The “Colored Store” owned by Miss Martha and her sister. It was a luncheonette but with a very special feature. It doubled as a candy store. There was a breakfront in the back filled with all manner of penny candies and kids would stand patiently in front of it until they caught Miss Martha’s eye. She would glance over to her sister who would scowl, wipe her hands on her apron, come around from the lunch counter and attend to the sugar greedy children. Each kid would wait their turn to point to the candy of their choice which would be dropped into a small brown paper bag and paid for with assorted pennies, nickels and an occasional dime.

As a child I believed the world was negro with an interesting mix of other ethnicities. That changed when I started Jr. High and was one of the 6 or 7 “coloreds” in my class. Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered when I was in Jr. High School. They told my class, and several others, the news and released us before they told the rest of the school population which wasn’t originally, but was now mostly Black and Hispanic. I remember walking several of my classmates to the Grand Concourse, the opposite direction, from my house, before heading home. I remember the odd looks and nervous conversations. Many things changed over the years but I didn’t see that look again until 9/11 when the world made another monumental turn.

Filed under: African-American, Blacks, Morrisania

GreenThumb Summer Festival June 21st

Summer Festival
Saturday, June 21st
10:00 a.m.4:00 p.m.
Marcus Garvey Park

GreenThumb invites you to join our community gardeners and partners for the 2014 GreenThumb Summer Festival! This festival is a celebration to recognize GreenThumb community volunteer gardeners throughout New York City. This event will feature live music and dance, gardening workshops, children’s activities, food demonstrations and much more. Come meet GreenThumb’s many partner organizations and learn about the resources we offer to help New Yorkers grow successful urban gardens.
More info

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Bronx River Run May 3rd

Screen beans character running

Shoelace Park 10K Fun Run & Walk May 3. Don’t miss running along the Bronx River!

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New York Restoration Project in East Harlem

You COGs (Colors of Green) out there know that during the season you’ll often run into the hard-working folks from New York Restoration Project. The photos below were taken at the Rodale Pleasant Park Community Garden with the fabulous foodies from Harlem Seeds and during a street tree planting near by.

You can also find these photos in my NYRP Flickr Photo Set.

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Bronx River Alliance Winter Assembly 2013

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Tour de Bronx

Join 6,000 cyclists for the 20th Annual tour this Sunday!October 26th, 2014
4 days to go.

Community Green Photo

Community Green Photo

Community Greens

Certainly it takes more than a parent(s) to raise a child and prepare him/her to live in the here and now and to do well in the future. The world is more than the sun, moon and stars of our village but it's also the village on the other side of the river. It's not that they are different objects in the sky, but viewed from a different orientation. Community Greens

Food Tuesday

I have gone to bed fed but not nourished physically or spiritually. These days some folks call that being food insecure. Let's change that on a lot of levels. Lets start with healthy food that makes us happy. Welcome to Food Tuesday.

Garden Wednesday

Hyperlocal Food: Grow Your Own Fresh grown vegetables from your own garden is incredible. Nothing tastes better and it's not difficult to grow your own. Try some of the favorites like tomatoes, zucchini and collard greens. Strawberries are also pretty easy if you have the space and are willing to put in a little more work. While you could grow these on your apartment balcony,it's a lot more fun, and neighborly, to join the local community garden. Get started now and by the end of summer you'll notice you are saving money on groceries, reducing your environmental impact, and benefiting from knowing you are eating healthy food.Welcome to Garden Wednesday.

Blacks In Green

There are more of us out there than you realize and we are coming together to express our perspective, concerns and ideas. This could be called a seat at the table, a plot in the garden or a home in this hood!

CG's BIG of the Month:

Nilka Martell

Nilka Martell
Harlem Seeds

Morgan Powell’s

Bronx River Sankofa

Kim Beazer’s Nature’s Nurses

Nature's Nurses
Bronx River Alliance

Bissel Gardens

Bissel Gardens is a community garden that serves many purposes — It brings people together, beautifies the neighborhood, creates safe outdoor space, offers community gardening, grows food for donation and provides environmental and educational programs.

Find Your Community Garden

Anyone can join a garden. With more than 600 gardens across the five boroughs, potential members and volunteers should choose carefully. To aid in your search, GreenThumb has provided a Garden Finder from GardenMaps.
MillionTreesNYC - Make NYC Even Cooler

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Did You Know. . .

Capacity Fund Grants fund projects to strengthen groups’ outreach, membership, and program-planning capacity. Grants range from $250 to $5,000. Three grant cycles a year, with deadlines on February 1, August 1, and November 1. Projects must take place on NYC Parks property. - See more:

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