Most people who pass the empty lot on Beach 58th St. may see just another barren space on the Rockaway Peninsula.
The Far Rockaway couple started Culinary Kids/Culinary Arts Initiative, a nonprofit group that teaches about sustainable agriculture through cooking and farming activities. They recently found out they will be allowed to expand their program onto the city-owned property.
"We want to add more aquaculture and bring more fruit trees to the peninsula," Rivera said. "We also want to look into beekeeping because it's legal now."
But before that can happen, they have to raise funds to build a fence.
The tireless duo, who have five children, already have made their mark at the Culinary Kids Garden on Seagirt Blvd. and Beach 31st St., where they have worked with neighborhood children and adults to cultivate everything from tomatoes, eggplant and herbs to cucumbers and collards. They also give cooking classes and operate a food bank on the site during the growing season.
Fund-raising, they admit, has been a challenge. They have received help from Citizens Committee for New York City, but most of the operating funds come out of the couple's own pockets.
Both say they are confident they will be able to find the money, estimated at around $35,000, to purchase the fence.
"It will be an extension of what we are already doing," said Rivera, 39, who grew up in Brooklyn watching her grandmother cook.
They hope to spread their message that even people who live in struggling urban communities can grow their own food and learn to prepare healthier meals.
The garden has been a bright spot in Far Rockaway's bleak landscape, which is too often marred by violence. A shooting that claimed the life of her daughter's friend several years ago sparked Rivera to create programs that would engage kids as a way to keep them off the streets.
"There is nothing for kids to do out here," Rivera said.
"If I teach three people to farm, then maybe they will teach three people how to farm," he said.
For more information about programs and donations, email@example.com or write to Culinary Kids Culinary Arts Initiatives, P.O. Box 960576, Inwood, N.Y., 11096.