News / USA

Community Gardens Thrive in Urban Jungle

New Yorkers grow crops, plants in green spaces

The 113th Street Play Garden is one of more than 500 community green spaces in New York City.
The 113th Street Play Garden is one of more than 500 community green spaces in New York City.

Multimedia

Audio

Friday, April 22, is Earth Day, a time set aside to appreciate nature and to dedicate ourselves to protecting and sustaining it. New York City, a place many think of as an "urban jungle," is home to more than 500 community gardens where the crops are as diverse as New Yorkers themselves.

Creating and sustaining these green spaces offer pleasure, camaraderie and much needed contact with the wonders of nature.

It’s nearly nine a.m. on a workday but Noah Kaufman, volunteer manager of the 113th Street Play Garden, cannot help stopping at the 12-by-30-meter green space. Grabbing a hand trowel, he turns over the pebbly loam looking for worms for his plot.

Organizer Catherine Wint helps train gardeners at the Roberto Clemente Community Garden in the South Bronx.
Organizer Catherine Wint helps train gardeners at the Roberto Clemente Community Garden in the South Bronx.

"New York City is, if anything, the built environment. We have plenty of concrete. We have plenty of bricks. We have plenty of steel," says Kaufman. "We have little, little places like this vest pocket park, which are a small oasis, a piece of green, a place where there are trees, where there are weed trees, fruits trees which have been planted by humans or planted by nature provide a little refuge from the city. So for the neighbors here on 113th street, this is our front yard and we share it."

The community garden has been a refuge for Alexandra Patz and her 7-year-old son ever since her family moved to New York from the suburbs where they had their own yard.

"When we moved to the city, I was glad to find on this block that there was this little garden where we could become involved, and where my son could experience digging and growing things," says Patz.

Noah Kaufman helps manage the 113th Street Community Play Garden.
Noah Kaufman helps manage the 113th Street Community Play Garden.

New York’s community garden movement began during the 1970s. It was a difficult era, when the city’s population was declining and many city-owned lots were trash-filled, rat-infested eyesores. Erica Packard is with the Manhattan and Bronx Land trusts, which raise money to buy urban green space and transfer ownership into community hands. The city offered to give the lots to organized groups in exchange for improving and maintaining them.

"Those neighborhoods were, and still are, least served by the existing parks system," says Packard. "So they provide some of the only open accessible green space, particularly for seniors and children in low income neighborhoods."  

A milestone in the movement was the creation of Operation GreenThumb. It’s a program within the city’s Department of Parks that offers free gardening classes and light equipment like shovels and rakes. Still, in leaner times, many communities have had to fight to keep control of their gardens when the city wanted to auction the plots to tax-paying real estate developers. Some green spaces have been lost this way because people couldn’t maintain them properly.

Community garden organizer Catherine Wint, of the Manhattan and Bronx Land trusts, says that because gardens are governed by grassroots volunteers with diverse interests, keeping them going is an exercise in democracy.

Alexandra Patz gardens with her son, Douglas.
Alexandra Patz gardens with her son, Douglas.

"It’s different than a park because individuals in a community garden have to have a relationship and they have to work democratically," says Wint. "And they have to come up with procedures to enable them to share this very small space in a way that’s going to benefit everyone."

The diversity of plants in the city’s community gardens reflects the variety of New Yorkers themselves. For example, there's a bed of special red peppers planted by a Mexican immigrant family growing next to a stand of flowering peonies tended by a homesick Chinese gardener.

Mint says gardens in African-American neighborhoods often feature the collard greens and black-eyed peas favored on many Southern family farms.   

"And they hold up that tradition of farming because it’s still within the memory of the family. They still go back down South and their relatives still come up to New York. So it’s always a source of pride for them to bring their relatives to the community garden to see that they are continuing this tradition that’s gone on in their family for so long. And people walk by it and say ‘That’s a farm. That’s a farm.’"

There is pride on the face of Lori Harris as she surveys the half square block of green her farm-raised father, now 90, helped create from a rubble-strewn Harlem lot in 1979.  

"You have to give back to the Earth. You can’t just take everything from it. You gotta learn how to recycle and clean up. People think groceries come from the grocery store, but they come from a farm," says Harris. "They start from somewhere. So you really have to treat Mother Earth right and she treats you just the same."   

You May Like

Republican Majority in Congress Off to Rough Start

Standoff over Homeland Security funding exposes philosophical, tactical problems within party More

Pakistan Blocks Baloch Activist from US Trip

Human Rights Commission of Pakistan slams Islamabad officials for stopping people from leaving country to attend human rights conference More

Video Muslims Long Thrived in North Carolina Before Students Killed

Idyll shattered February 10, when three Muslim university students living in Chapel Hill were gunned down by a neighbor More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Sierra Leone Ebola Orphans Face Another Crisisi
X
March 06, 2015 12:28 AM
There's growing concern about the future of an orphanage run by a British charity in Sierra Leone, after a staff member and his wife died this week from Ebola. The Saint George Foundation Orphanage in Freetown is now in quarantine, with more than 20 children and seven staff in lock-down. The BBC has agreed to share Ebola-related material with Voice of America because of the difficulties faced by media organizations reporting the crisis. Clive Myrie reports from Sierra Leone.
Video

Video Sierra Leone Ebola Orphans Face Another Crisis

There's growing concern about the future of an orphanage run by a British charity in Sierra Leone, after a staff member and his wife died this week from Ebola. The Saint George Foundation Orphanage in Freetown is now in quarantine, with more than 20 children and seven staff in lock-down. The BBC has agreed to share Ebola-related material with Voice of America because of the difficulties faced by media organizations reporting the crisis. Clive Myrie reports from Sierra Leone.
Video

Video Growing Concerns Over Whether Myanmar’s Next Elections Will Be Fair

Myanmar has scheduled national elections for November that are also expected to include a landmark referendum on the country's constitution. But there are growing concerns over whether the government is taking the necessary steps to prepare for a free and fair vote. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman was recently in Myanmar and files this report from our Southeast Asia bureau in Bangkok.
Video

Video Nigeria’s Ogonis Divided Over Resuming Oil Production

More than two decades ago, Nigeria’s Ogoni people forced Shell oil company to cease drilling on their land, saying it was polluting the environment. Now, some Ogonis say it’s time for the oil to flow once again. Chris Stein reports from Kegbara Dere, Nigeria.
Video

Video Winter Weather Strikes Eastern US...Again!

A new wintry blast has hit more than 20 states in the U.S. Midwest and Mid-Atlantic region, adding more snow to the piles from previous storms. Tired of shoveling snow, breaking the ice and dealing with accidents, flight delays and property damage, most Americans hope this is the last bout of cold for the season. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Muslims Long Thrived in N Carolina Before Slaying of 3 Students

The killings of three Muslim students in North Carolina early last month came as Muslims across the United States have felt under siege, partly as a result of terrorist attacks being committed internationally in the name of their faith. But Muslims have long thrived in university cities in this part of the American South. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Fuel Shortages in Nigeria Threaten Election Campaigns

Nigeria is suffering a gas shortage as the falling oil price has affected the country’s ability to import and distribute refined fuels. Coming just weeks before scheduled March 28 elections, the shortage could have a big impact on the campaign, as Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA.
Video

Video Report: Human Rights in Annexed Crimea Deteriorating

A new report by Freedom House and the Atlantic Council of the United States says the human rights situation in Crimea has deteriorated since the peninsula was annexed by Russia in March of last year. The report says the new authorities in Crimea are discriminating against minorities, suppressing freedom of expression, and forcing residents to assume Russian citizenship or leave. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video 50 Years Later African-Americans See New Voting Rights Battles Ahead

Thousands of people will gather to mark the 50th anniversary of a historic civil rights march on March 7th in Selma, Alabama. In 1965, dozens of people were seriously injured during the event known as “Bloody Sunday,” after police attacked African-American demonstrators demanding voting rights. VOA’s Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights pioneers who are still fighting for voting rights in Alabama more than 50 years later.
Video

Video Craft Brewers Taking Hold in US Beer Market

Since the 1950’s, the U.S. beer industry has been dominated by a handful of huge breweries. But in recent years, the rapid rise of small craft breweries has changed the American market and, arguably, the way people drink beer. VOA’s Jeff Custer reports.
Video

Video Video Claims to Show Shia Forces in Iraq Executing Sunni Boy

A graphic mobile phone video is spreading on the Internet, claiming to show Iraqi forces or Shia militia executing a handcuffed Sunni boy. Experts have yet to verify the video, but already Islamic State followers are publicizing it across social media, playing on deep-rooted sectarian fears. VOA’s Jeff Seldin reports.
Video

Video Ukrainian Authorities Struggle to Secure a Divided Mariupol

Since last month's cease-fire went into effect, shelling around the port city of Mariupol has decreased, but it is thought pro-Russian separatists remain poised to attack. For the city’s authorities, a major challenge is gaining the trust of residents, while at the same time rooting out informants who are passing sensitive information to the rebels. Patrick Wells reports for VOA.
Video

Video Myanmar's Traditional Fashion Choices Endure

The sartorial choices of Myanmar’s men and women quickly catch the eye of any visitor to the tropical Southeast Asian country. But at a time when Myanmar’s political and economic opening is bringing affordable western fashions to the masses, will the country’s unique fashion trends endure? VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Yangon explores that question.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More