A former real estate agent who escaped corporate America to work in community organizing, Alexis embodies what it means to be daring. The co-founder, lead farmer and creative director of Universe City NYC–Alexis is paving the way toward a new future in food.
How did you come up with the idea of Universe City NYC?
Part of my organizing work has been placemaking—which is basically identifying underutilized spaces and seeing what's the best use of that space. It’s about looking at community spaces from a point of view of what’s most needed, what contributes to the wellbeing of the community, which is a departure from thinking about spaces as they relate to profitability.
Being daring is about seeing problems differently. Approaching solutions differently.-Alexis Mena
So tell me a little bit more about what Universe City is.
Universe City NYC is currently a ten-thousand square foot warehouse that’s both a farm hub and an incubator space where we have several projects. Our own project is a nonprofit by the name of Grove Brownsville— a crowdfunded aquaponics farm. All of the produce from that farm will go directly to the community. Universe City is located inside of an industrial zone, where there’s a men’s shelter, a women’s shelter and three family shelters. So, we’re talking about a community that’s experiencing food scarcity and food insecurity at an all-time-high right now.
What does being daring mean to you?
Being daring is about seeing problems differently. Approaching solutions differently. Take the term “food desert.” It’s the wrong metaphor, with desert being a term that symbolizes a place where nothing lives or grows. But there is so much life in the desert. You just can’t necessarily see it all the time. So I think a more appropriate term would be food apartheid. Because the food is there. What’s not there is the access and the security. So that’s what Universe City is aiming to do—to ask the question: how do we remove the barriers of distance? How do we remove the stigma? How do we empower people? Our answer to those questions is establishing food sovereignty. That means not just controlling the food coming into our neighborhoods, but the economic value and the infrastructure behind those systems as well.
“It’s about looking at community spaces from a point of view of what’s most needed, not what’s most profitable.”- Alexis Mena