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Valery Rizzo is an American portrait, food and lifestyle photographer, interested in urban lifestyle and agriculture. In addition to her commercial work Valery is also working on a number of personal contemporary photography projects, one of which is a series for a book project focused on the rapidly changing borough of Brooklyn where she was born and raised. She lives in Park Slope and can often be found photographing urban farms, local producers, restaurants and the streets of Brooklyn.
Fine Dining Lovers caught up with the Brooklyn-born photographer to find out more about her farm-to-table and food market projects.
You are a born and bred city girl. How did your passion for photographing urban farms begin?
My photography of urban farming began together with a few other interests of mine. I was born and bred in Brooklyn, New York, which over the past ten years has been a place of constant change and gentrification, and most of my work is Brooklyn focused as a result of this. Around the same time as I started shooting food photography and the lifestyle and people behind the food I had joined a food coop in my neighborhood and through it found an interest in fresh local produce. I was also simultaneously working on a series for a project about Brooklyn, how it was changing, the juxtaposition of the old with the new and its preservation, along with my own self preservation as a Brooklynite. Through an editorial assignment I discovered the first rooftop farm in Brooklyn and decided it would be really interesting for my Brooklyn project as well. This farm was Eagle Street Rooftop Farm in Greenpoint. I think the fact that I am a city girl is the reason I responded so passionately to seeing a farm in an urban environment and the fact that it was on a rooftop made it all the more appealing and different then anything I was used to seeing. I then started photographing more urban farms for both assignment work and my Brooklyn project and started growing my own vegetable garden in the backyard of my apartment building. Then in 2013 I received a residency at The Brooklyn Navy Yard as a visiting artist and spent a year photographing Brooklyn Grange Rooftop Farm on a warehouse rooftop along with other things in the yard. That farm is perhaps my favorite place is all of New York City and I was fortunate enough to have formed a nice relationship with all the wonderful people and farmers there.
As a photographer can you explain to us what is unique about working on urban farming projects as opposed to other projects?
Growing food is so important to the cycle of life. When I am on a farm I am always learning something new and I am constantly impressed by how things are grown and humbled by the hard work and brilliance that goes into farming. Vegetables and plants are gorgeous to me and I love the feeling of being in complete awe and want to express that in my photographs. The growers are also really down to earth great people and I really enjoy being around them as well.
Urban farming is about re-connecting communities to their food - how do you manage to tell that story through a camera lens?
I think when you can visually understand where your food comes from you learn to appreciate and educate yourself about what you are putting into your body nutritionally. I also think seeing the community volunteering and interacting through educational programs is a story worth telling. Most recently I started photographing Edgemere Farm out in Far Rockaway Queens, who are particularly involved in educating and serving the surrounding community. A large portion of the things they grow are Caribbean vegetables.
What do you see for the future of urban farming from your experiences?
More Rooftop Farms as well as more home gardens. Gardening at home whether in containers or raised beds is very rewarding and good for the soul. I also think one day more than ever we may need to eat locally as a necessity and growing your own food may very well be a very important skill to have. It’s also good for the environment.
Any other future projects you'd like to tell us about?
This summer i started a new project in Southern Italy called Terre. Terre, explores the region of Campania, Italy, where everyone seems to own a piece of land, whether it be a garden, a farm, a little plot in their front yard, family wars are waged over it. It further explores the connection of that land to family, the people and their history.