In 2009, Annie Moss began working with a group of women who were transforming a neglected, overgrown plot of land in the South Bronx into a community garden. Moss saw the three-acre plot as a place where she could apply ideas she had been exploring in her job as a community health organizer in a school-based health center at a Bronx elementary school. Moss helped secure the support needed to convert the soil, which was contaminated by heavy metals and other toxins, into cultivated land. The group turned their grassroots effort into a nonprofit organization called La Finca del Sur (Farm of the South) that helps educate the public about the interconnections between food, social justice, and healthy living.
Since then, the volunteer-run garden has thrived, attracting volunteer gardeners from the community, who learn about horticulture and food systems. As La Finca del Sur developed, Moss realized that she needed additional skills to cope with the daily challenges of running a nonprofit. She enrolled in the Master of Science in Environmental Policy and Sustainability Management at the Milano School “because of its focus on social justice, its strong political character, and its community-based approach to work.” Moss used the fieldwork component of the program as an opportunity to develop her research and policy analysis skills. “Managing a farm requires a lot of information, and the program gave me the tools to gather data and interpret it from a human perspective. What is the impact of a single basket of fresh city-grown produce on a family’s budget? On a community’s health? These are questions that my instructors in Environmental Policy and Sustainability helped me ask—and use to advocate for just policies.”Today the gardens burst with vegetables, herbs, and flowers, some of which are sold in the local farmer’s market and some of which volunteers bring home to their families. School groups learn best practices for using polluted land safely and restoring its health. Moss says, “I wanted to improve my skills so that I could strengthen the infrastructure and productivity of La Finca del Sur. In the process, I discovered I could make a difference in other areas of public policy related to the environment, food, and social justice.”