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

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

There is growing uncertainty over whether West’s response to ISIS is adequate More

China Crackdown on Dual Citizens Causes Concern

New policy encourages reporting people who obtain citizenship in another country, but retain Chinese citizenship; move spurs sharp debate More

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

Losing ground to Islamic State fighters, Syria's government says it is ready to cooperate with international community 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.
Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?i
X
Henry Ridgwell
August 29, 2014 12:26 AM
U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Pachyderms Play Polo to Raise Money for Elephants

Polo, the ancient team competition typically played on horseback, is known as the “sport of kings.” However, the royal version for one annual event in Thailand swaps the horse for the kingdom’s national symbol - the elephant. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Samut Prakan reports that the King’s Cup Elephant Polo tournament is all for a good cause.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video America's Most Popular Artworks Displayed in Public Places

Public places in cities across America were turned into open-air art galleries in August. Pictures of the nation’s most popular artworks were displayed on billboards, bus shelters, subway platforms and more. The idea behind “Art Everywhere,” a collaborative campaign by five major museums is to allow more people to enjoy art and learn about the country’s culture and history. Faiza Elmasry has more.
Video

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Uneasy Calm Settles Over Israel, Gaza Strip

Israel and the Gaza Strip have been calm since a cease-fire set in Tuesday evening, ending seven weeks of hostilities. Hamas, which controls Gaza, declared victory. Israelis were more wart. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jerusalem.
Video

Video India’s Leprosy Battle Stymied by Continuing Stigma

Medical advancements in the treatment of leprosy have greatly diminished its impact around the world, largely eliminating the disease from most countries. India made great strides in combating leprosy, but still accounts for a majority of the world’s new cases each year, and the number of newly infected Indians is rising - more than 130,000 recorded last year. Doctors there say the problem has more to do with society than science. Shaikh Azizur Rahman reports from Kolkata.
Video

Video Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocks

How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid