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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Community Gardens Are Good Neighbors

Good fences make good neighbors. This old adage is true but it is only the beginning of being a good neighbor for community gardeners. Community Gardens can be seen as a positive neighborhood resource offering neighborhood residents space to grow vegetables, herbs and flowers, a place to meet neighbors, habitat for birds and insects and an amenity that improves property values .

Surprise, surprise, Community Gardens are not always seen as good neighbors. Other residents might see a community garden as a nuisance that brings unwanted visitors to the neighborhood both human and rat. Next door neighbors might be upset about noise, smells or problems with their buildings possibly caused by the garden. I know of a case where an adjacent landlord would not allow the gardeners to divert rainwater from his downspout which was not more than 2 feet from the garden because he was upset that he could not purchase the garden lot, so he was not willing to support he gardens in any way. There are many instances where community gardeners and neighbors do not get along.

In a recent posting on the ACGA community garden list serv someone asked if anyone had a survey she could use to gauge neighborhood concerns about a new community garden in their neighborhood. While this might be a good tool to have, it seems to me that this is a case where if you have to ask then this might not be the place for a community garden. Successful community gardens are created from the ground up by community residents who want a garden in their neighborhood. Attempting to get agreement before the project starts from all neighbors is probably a good idea but fraught with possible scenarios for short circuiting the yet to be community garden. Just one neighbor could bring up a concern that the folks don't have an answer for because they haven't had a chance to create their vision and run it for a season. I am totally in favor of a community garden being governed by consensus with every member having a say but to allow a neighbor not involved in the garden to block a project does not make sense to me.

A community garden group has to spend quality time being good neighbors by being open to all to join or to visit. Having good signage that informs passersby about the garden is important. Making connections and developing collaborations with community organizations, schools, senior centers and day care centers takes time but shows that the community garden is a community amenity and not just a private garden. Knowing and listening to concerns of adjacent neighbors and making realistic adjustments based on these concerns once the garden is up and running is also part of being a good neighbor.

There are instances where a garden group can do everything to be a good neighbor and positive community resource but marginalized groups like homeless squatters, drug dealers or substance abusers will still see a community garden as a threat to their lifestyles. One such case happened about 6 weeks ago at the Hattie Carthan Community Garden in Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. A fire burned their shed that was used to store supplies for their community market.

When I heard this my first thought was that a garden member that did not like the market or someone involved might have done this. There are times when infighting can cause real problems for a garden group. More likely it was squatters living in the abandoned building adjacent to the garden who were the arsonists unhappy that the market was drawing attention to their illegal activities. So here is a case where surveying the next door neighbors did not make sense, listening to their concerns (that the garden not exist?) would be ridiculous and that trying to be a good neighbor to these folks would be akin to abetting many criminal activities.

There are very community centric issues that one finds in a neighborhood like Bedford Stuyvesant that one might not find in a smaller less urbanized place. So how a community garden group relates to their neighbors will vary based on these local issues. As important as it is to work really hard at building a strong group, this strong group has to work really hard at being a good neighbor for the community garden to be successful and sustainable.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Lots of Community Gardening Research

Research about community gardening is happening on many fronts. Over the last few weeks news and events have come to my attention and I attended a workshop all concerning research on community gardening. The first was a simple notice on the ACGA listserv about a study in England that found that people who have allotment gardens (one of the European versions of community gardens that can be found in England, Sweden and France among other places) and especially seniors tended to be "significantly" healthier than those who did not have allotments. A relatively small study of around 180 subjects but none the less shows the health benefits of increased physical activity and eating fresh produce.

A second notice on the ACGA listserv announced an article that is a review of over 50 research studies over the past 10 years about community gardening in the Journal of Community Practice, a journal of research by and for social workers. 'Review and analysis of the Benefits, Purposes and Motivations Associated with Community Gardening in the United States' by Carrie Draper and Darcy Freedman analyze the research in terms of primary theme and secondary themes. They found that much of the research is qualitative with a dearth of quantitative research.

The Living Concrete/Carrot City exhibit at the New School also has been a forum for public panel discussions. The last in the series which I unfortunately missed was titled Engaging the University in Urban Agriculture. The premise was that much of the research up to this point has come from the land grant/ cooperative extension schools and focused more on the agriculture aspect of community gardening/urban agriculture. The need for a focus on additional liberal arts, social science and design research is clear. There has been some research as was pointed out in the 'Journal of Community Practice' article but there is a need for additional research, in particular qualitative research.

A workshop that I attended last week is the first step in a year long project titled Five Borough Farm: The Future of Farming in New York City that will look in depth at urban agriculture in New York City. A project of the Design Trust for Public Space that embarks on year long research initiatives relating to improving public space in the city. The workshop goal was to get input from practitioners and advocates before the research begins. Community gardening / urban agriculture in New York City is flourishing at the moment but so much is happening so quickly that it is hard to keep track of it all. What are the benefits of all of this activity? Are the outcomes from urban farms, rooftop farms, school and community gardens positive for the neighborhoods and the city? What are the variables we need to look at? Do the outputs justify the inputs? What are the social and political effects of all of this activity? There are many more questions and few answers.

These four publications and events point out how robust the community gardening movement is; much is happening and a lot of research has been done or is in progress to chronicle and measure what it all means.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

What Good is Community Gardening?

What Good is Community Greening is an often cited and quoted article written by David Malakoff for the ACGA Community Greening Review in 1995. In fact it was one of the first in depth articles that looked at the benefits of community gardening and greening. I was part of the discussions by the ACGA Board of Directors at the time on whether to use the word "Gardening" or "Greening". While it may matter to some who are looking for the most accurate word to describe what folks are doing, this blog is named Community Gardening hence the title of this post. Maybe we will look at the gardening-greening debate another time.

Over the course of my work over the past few weeks, I have supervised the building of 2 rainwater harvesting structures in 2 gardens in the Bronx. How that happened and several small occurrences gave several uncommon answers to the question " What good is community gardening?"

The first installation was at the Jacquline Denise Davis Garden (JDD), a garden that I have mentioned in previous posts. This garden is one of the host gardens for the GrowNYC LearnIt Grow It Eat It Program a program I helped create that connects high school students to community gardens. The students and the community gardeners were using a shade structure with a collapsing roof to get shelter from the rain and sun. We had a design for a new structure from a landscape architecture graduate student. With that in hand the Learn It Grow It Eat It program, and two neighborhood organizations, the Morrisania Revitalization Corp. and BASICS Inc. allocated the funds for the materials. Clients from BASICS Inc. helped with the demolition of the existing structure and building the new one. A crew from the Sustainable South Bronx Best Academy assisted in the construction and the rainwater harvesting installation. Learn It Grow It Eat It student interns helped with site preparation.

This community garden was a catalyst for neighborhood organizations to work together, teenagers and adults to be part of a building process and learn construction skills in a hands on project. The men from BASICS Inc. regardless of whatever hardships they have endured in their lives were happy to be involved in something constructive. The Best crew learned some new skills and were able to see a project through to completion.

Two very interesting things happened with members of the Best Crew. One woman kept saying she was afraid of heights and was not going on the roof to attach the roofing. With some encouragement from her crew members and courage on her own part she made it onto the roof and took part in that process. When we completed the project she was interviewed by a film crew who she told several times about her accomplishment.
One of the last things we do in a Rainwater Harvesting installation is to secure the tank with rope or wire to eyebolts to make sure it doesn't tip over or shift in the wind. I usually ask if any boy scouts or girl scouts are in the crew that might know how to tie knots. I handed a 100 foot long high strength rope to several people and went off to check on the rest of the crew. When I came back they had fashioned a very elaborate but very secure tie-down. The crew member who was leading the tie-down crew had been a paratrooper and learned knots for securing equipment and supplies that had to be lowered or raised into a helicopter. He was able to use his skills in a community garden.

The Neighborhood Advisory Committee Garden was the second garden to receive a Rainwater Harvesting structure. This garden is one of the Bronx Land Trust gardens and the land trust was able to raise the funds for the materials. One of the gardeners and a crew from the Green Apple Corps assisted with the installation. The Green Apple Corps members attended top high schools and colleges in the city and elsewhere and are learning environmental restoration, green roof and water management skills. Most of them have no construction skills but were able to master the use of basic power tools and carpentry techniques.

When the benefits of community gardens are discussed growing food, habitat for wildlife and neighborhood beautification are most often mentioned. Providing hands on opportunities for job training or rehabilitation programs are rarely mentioned. I don't think anyone has ever mentioned that a community garden provided an opportunity for a former paratrooper to utilize his skills or a young woman to conquer her fear of heights. To me these moments give us a glimpse into What Good is Community Gardening.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Garden Membership - Open to All?

How do you give everyone an equal opportunity to be a member of a community garden? Sounds like it should be simple but there are complicating factors. Theoretically it might make sense to start over each year with a lottery of some kind to assign plots. But if you think about what goes into making a community garden successful a lottery would not make any sense at all.
Community Gardens need some degree of continuity for the group to gain strength and cohesiveness and to develop social systems for setting rules and making decisions. To make a comparison with healthy soil, it takes many years to create a healthy soil by adding compost, using cover crops and allowing beneficial organisms to build up in the soil. A garden group needs people with various skills, time on their hands and the dedication to making the group successful. Usually the first stab at setting garden rules needs a lot of tweaking as the rules are tested by real world situations. The rules may be too strict for all but the most dedicated members who have lots of time on their hands or they may be too ambiguous where people can interpret the rule in several ways and each could be technically right.

Sometimes a garden member is very good at fixing or repairing tools, fences or garden structures out of found objects. Some gardeners are expert gardeners or horticulturists and provide the answers to gardening related questions. Other gardeners are astute at getting municipal services or donations from businesses. It would be counterproductive to the social sustainability of a community garden to remove members with these assets that are so necessary. But maybe the new people would have similar or even better skills. That is possible but a successful group has a certain chemistry that may take years to develop. To try to recreate this chemistry each year would be very difficult or I would say nearly impossible. To make another soil analogy, if you were to remove the soil from a garden and bring in new soil each year it would not be a productive soil or use of time.

Recently this question of a garden lottery came up in a listserv discussion. A garden that was on property owned by a college was being built on and moved to a smaller location. The gardeners fought the move but the college prevailed. The plots in the new garden the gardeners were told would have to be filled by an annual lottery to give everyone (particularly students) a chance at a space in the garden. The college may have seen this as an opportunity to get rid of some of the most vocal gardeners but even if their intent was to be egalitarian it was still misguided for the reasons I mentioned above.

The discussion did bring up some interesting ideas; One gardener wrote about creating an apprenticeship level of membership as a way to determine those most interested,

" In recent years there has been such an explosion of interest in gardening, so we instituted an apprentice system to be able to make space in our gardening community, given the limits of our physical space. This season we have about 15-20 apprentices. Apprentice members are asked to fulfill membership requirements (open hour shifts, 4 meetings, and 4 workday/events) for a season after which they are placed on a waiting list for a plot. This system is only two years old, but so far, every apprentice who has fulfilled their requirements received their own plot in the following season. During their apprentice year, apprentices learn how the garden works and are involved in maintaining our common ornamental beds, our welcome gardens and our community herb garden. There is also a vegetable plot set aside for apprentice gardeners to work on, with some guidance from an experienced member.

Our members are very active and our garden is pretty highly-functioning and I'm not sure how true that would be if there was an almost complete annual turnover and a lottery system. I don't think a lottery as described here would allow for any sense of continuity or growth of a garden community. I do think it is important to create a meaningful role for interested newcomers. "

Another gardener talked about a similar system where new members tend communal plots and the most committed are then offered an individual plot when one is available,

" ...we take all comers. We're in our third year of having community plots and it seems to work pretty well. We have 26 individual beds and then 3 (growing to 4) supersized beds that are community plots. New members generally start out with the community plots and get to do as much or as little work as they want. They can also work on our landscaping/non-edible areas. It becomes clear pretty soon who is committed to the garden and who just wants to play in the dirt a bit. Those who are clearly committed get offered an individual plot (or a share) when one opens up, and with our newly transient population, beds have been opening up annually. We also have some large pots by some beds and sometimes they are used by those without their own beds. Those working the communal beds are seen as of equal status as everyone else, and it is important that some old-timers stick around because they get to teach the newbies what they know."

These are good suggestions from garden groups that have been in existence for a number of years and have dealt with the difficult decisions. While to an outsider it might make sense to give everyone a chance at a garden plot through a lottery, the reality is that it is not as clear cut as that. At the beginning of the season when a lottery would be held many people may sign up out of curiosity but then find that they don't have the time or interest to be a community gardener. This happens with new member who join a garden from a waiting list or directly even without a lottery. Yes there are instances where a garden that is run by a small group or even a single individual may not be open to new members (a subject for another post). But in most community gardens run democratically or by consensus, if someone is truly committed to community gardening the group will quickly recognize that and welcome that individual.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Ghouls in the Garden

Halloween Ghoul in Campos Garden

I visited 2 gardens on Tuesday that were the inspiration for this post. The Campos Garden and the Diaz y Flores Garden are just 2 blocks from each other on E.12th and E. 13th Streets in Manhattan, NY. Both gardens had Halloween decorations and displays scattered around the garden and were planning Halloween events. Diaz y Flores advertised theirs as "Ghouls in the Garden". The gardeners said they would be in costume to greet visiting Trick or Treaters.

That the community gardeners were making this effort shows the fascination that people have with Halloween and the creativity that is unleashed for this celebration. It also is an example of how community gardens provide space that is used for neighborhood celebrations. The space allows a group of neighborhood residents to throw a party for the whole neighborhood. Community residents who may not be involved with the garden in any other way are welcome to visit and enjoy the space.

These are the intangible benefits that community gardening provides. You can't really put a price tag on these Halloween celebrations. How much is an outdoor party venue worth? How much are all of the decorations worth? People's time to create the decorations, to run the party, buy refreshments, clean up? What is the price of community building? There is no formula that can assign values to these services. Couldn't a community garden be considered the highest, best use for these two urban spaces. All this while having a ghoulish good time!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Healthy Neighborhoods

Even though this blog lives in the world of internet media there are examples of print media that are not available as internet media worth reading. Four times a year I receive The Underground News, a publication of Denver Urban Gardeners. The most recent edition, Summer 2010 , Vol.15, No.3 has a front page article by Dr. Jill Litt reporting on a research project looking at what makes a healthy neighborhood. In "Rx for Healthy Place Making Part 2" Dr. Litt points out that community gardeners have the highest rate of neighborhood attachment of any group that was surveyed. The theory of collective efficacy or a strong sense of neighborhood social organization, that I referred to in the previous post, "Institute of Community Gardening", is an important factor in healthy neighborhoods. Community Gardens are a prime example of collective efficacy in action. This research is worth reviewing. From the article: "Gardens represent a neighborhood and home environment that can be directly experienced. Gardening is an affordable activity that is accessible to all people regardless of age, income, education, ethnic and racial backgrounds and cultural heritage. Garden participation also requires active engagement and supports formal and informal social interactions with family friends and neighbors." The bottom line is community gardens can contribute to physical, psychological and social health of individuals and neighborhoods.
I would also recommend the Denver Urban Gardens website for good resources on organic gardening, weeds, composting and water conservation.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Institute of Community Gardening

RWH Display at the Living Concrete/ Carrot City Exhibit

About 2 years ago I proposed a concept I called the Institute of Community Gardening. The concept was a learning center or centers that would teach about community gardening both to community gardeners and those interested in studying or researching community gardening.

Two events happening this week together come close to realizing that goal. The exhibit at the New School gallery called Living Concrete / Carrot City highlights urban agriculture in all of it's forms including community gardening through exhibits, panel discussions and other events. The rainwater harvesting display I built along with coworker Lars Chellberg and a booklet of rwh designs, photos and text that I did with drawings by Andrew Casner are both on exhibit. The panel discussions and talks touch on what could be courses taught at the Institute of Community Gardening.

Also this week, the Farm School NYC began registering people for classes and training to receive a certificate in the practical aspects of gardening or farming in the city. Farm School NYC gets it's inspiration from the Agroecology program in the University of California, Santa Cruz that several NYC community gardeners and advocates have attended. Put these 2 together and you have something like the Institute of Community Gardening concept.

Who knows, maybe that is the next step.

Here is the text from my original proposal:

We propose to create an Institute of Community Gardening. The Institute would train students in all aspects of community gardening from the hands on to the theoretical.

Community gardening has moved beyond being a fringe activity to an important phenomenon of urban life. It has manifestations nationally and internationally, has a rich history to study and learn from and provides a living and changing real world laboratory to analyze and write about.

The research that an Institute will undertake, contribute to or sponsor will provide a lot of information to anyone involved in community gardening. The information will empower them to be long-term stewards of the land.
Classes in the fields of Urban Policy and Planning, Geography, Social Work, Horticulture, Natural Resources, Law, Landscape Architecture and other related fields could be offered on the undergraduate, graduate and continuing education levels.
In the New York area, agreements could be made with local Universities, e.g. Columbia, NYU, Pace, Pratt, Cornell and CUNY campuses to offer the credit courses at the University levels.

A certificate program could be independently developed for community gardeners and community garden professionals or the average citizen covering courses in the physical, horticultural and social aspects of community gardening.

The Institute can also initiate and encourage community garden research by the instructors and students or in collaboration with researchers from the Universities.

University researchers have in the past or are currently involved in ongoing community gardening research projects , for example Dr. Jill Litt UCHSC is working with Denver Urban Gardens and the Growing Healthy Communities Project to investigate the health and social benefits of community gardening
(The Underground News, winter 2006,vol11 no 2 p7).

A long term research project the
Whitmire Study, in St Louis undertaken by the Public Policy Research Center at the University of Missouri-St. Louis is examining positive effects that cgs have on their communities such as: crime reduction both to property and people, increased property values and improvement of property, improvements in the overall appearance of the neighborhood, and increased feelings of safety.

Jill Florence Lackey and Associates an independent professional evaluator conducted a
statistical evaluation of the southeast Wisconsin Community gardens showing community gardeners eat more fresh vegetables than in the previous 24 hours and engage in more physical exercise than the previous week while gardening.

Researchers studying crime and neighborhood interaction sometimes conclude that community gardens are a tool to help deter crime as in the case of Dr. Fenton Earls, professor of human behavior and development at the Harvard School of Public Health.

“His study, based in Chicago, has challenged an immensely popular competing theory about the roots of crime. "Broken windows," as it is known, holds that physical and social disorder in a neighborhood lead to increased crime, that if one broken window or aggressive squeegee man is allowed to remain in a neighborhood, bigger acts of disorderly behavior will follow.

In a landmark 1997 paper that he wrote with colleagues in the journal Science, and in a subsequent study in The American Journal of Sociology, Dr. Earls reported that most major crimes were linked not to "broken windows" but to two other neighborhood variables: concentrated poverty and what he calls, with an unfortunate instinct for the dry and off-putting language of social science, collective efficacy.

"If you got a crew to clean up the mess," Dr. Earls said, "it would last for two weeks and go back to where it was. The point of intervention is not to clean up the neighborhood, but to work on its collective efficacy. If you organized a community meeting in a local church or school, it's a chance for people to meet and solve problems.

"If one of the ideas that comes out of the meeting is for them to clean up the graffiti in the neighborhood, the benefit will be much longer lasting, and will probably impact the development of kids in that area. But it would be based on this community action — not on a work crew coming in from the outside."

As for policy implications, Dr. Earls said that rather than focusing on arresting squeegee men and graffiti scrawlers, local governments should support the development of cooperative efforts in low-income neighborhoods by encouraging neighbors to meet and work together. Indeed, cities that sow community gardens, he said, may reap a harvest of not only kale and tomatoes, but safer neighborhoods and healthier children.

The Furman Center at NYU has done a study on the effect of community gardens on property values, “
The Effect of Community Gardens on Neighboring Property Values” by Vicki Been and Ioan Voicu. The research shows the effect to be positive and increasing over time. There is a higher impact the closer the property is to the garden.

Some research has produced books such as
The Struggle for Eden by Malve Von Hassell. This book published in 2002 makes extensive reference to social theories while documenting the struggles to preserve community gardens that took place in New York City in the last 2 decades of the 20th century.

The publication of a detailed history of community gardening,
City Bountiful by Laura Lawson in 2005, firmly roots community gardening in the history of the past 120 years.

This varied and extensive research raises new questions, offers opportunities for study replication to refute or support previous findings and points to serious gaps in the knowledge about community gardening and community gardeners. Most notable is the lack of anything beyond a wild guess as to the number and location of community gardens in the country. Many cities have web pages, published maps or brochures highlighting that city’s gardens. New York City has an on line interactive website
OASIS locating and documenting over 700 community gardens.
(note: the current number is 483. I'll document the difference in a future post)

Undertaking a national or bi-national inventory would be an important undertaking. Maintaining and updating a garden database is a task that requires an ongoing focused effort for which the Institute of Community Gardening would be an ideal venue.

The Institute could also offer or host symposia or conferences on specific aspects of community gardening.
Income would be derived from course fees, contracts from agencies, non-profit and for profit corporations, grants, endowments, sponsorships and donations.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Vertical Gardening Update II

The backyard vertical garden

As Autumn begins, the mixed results in the Vertical Gardening experiment continues. The community garden experiment is finished, as I haven't been there in over a month and I haven't had anyone watering for me. On the whole that experiment was unsuccessful but I was able to try different soil mixes. The straight clay soil became almost a solid, the compost did best and the mix that was mostly lightweight soil did not do well because of the lack of rain and intense heat. The bags are showing signs of fraying and I am guessing that most won't last another season.
Pea sprouts

In my backyard the plants are not producing profusely by any means but cucumbers, tomatoes and hot peppers have borne fruit. In a couple of the bags I replaced dead vines and non productive cauliflower with pea seeds that have sprouted and are growing well. I transplanted a brussels sprouts plant into one of the bags which seems to be doing fine. I tried transplanting a potato which did not survive. There are a few tomatoes still growing. The yellow mini plums seem to be doing the best.

Transplanted brussels sprouts and a lone cucumber flower

With the warm weather likely to continue - it is in the mid 70's today - the experiment continues as will my reports. Next one in about a month.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

New Community Garden Rules Announced

New York City announced new rules for community gardens yesterday. They will go into effect on Sept 16th, one day before the existing agreement between the New York State Attorney General and the City is set to expire.

The Parks press release (below) pretty much says it all. I attended the announcement at the William B. Washington Garden in Harlem yesterday. The quotes are pretty much verbatim from what was said at the announcement.

To me, there are no ironclad guarantees here. There are cases where city parkland which has what might be considered even more protection was taken for other uses. But this is a good first step. Hopefully a creative permanent solution can be found and implemented. I also feel that all of this legalistic debate could lead to the gardens having much more proscribed parameters for their existence. Part of the beauty of New York City Community Gardens in particular is their diversity. Rules which become too specific will stunt this creativity.

The revised rules do include new wording not in the rules that were proposed in August stating that the Parks Department wants to keep the gardens and has no plans to sell or otherwise get rid of any gardens that are in "good standing". Good standing means that the gardens are open at least 20 hours per week, have no illegal activity going on and are open to all to become members.

This is a quote from the "Statement of Basis and Purpose"
"Parks intends to preserve gardens under its jurisdiction that are currently registered,
licensed and in good standing. Under this rule, gardens that are in good standing and
consistently comply with the Department's registration and licensing requirements and are under its jurisdiction will be preserved and will not be subject to transfer to another agency or sold by the City for a non-garden or non-open space use. This rule seeks to codify and strengthen the practices that Parks has followed since 2001 and set forth the practices Parks will follow for licensing City-owned gardens registered through the GreenThumb program."

HPD also quietly published their rules which are similar, except their statement of basis and purpose is quite different. There are about 20 active HPD gardens that are the most threatened. There are 282 registered Parks gardens.

The new rules clearly state that any new gardens will have the same protections as existing gardens. Yes!!

Gardens in default have 6 months to cure the problem. After the 6 months the Parks Department has 3 months to find a new garden group before the land can be transferred.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Parks committee chair Melissa Mark-Viverito are very supportive of community gardens and the new rule. The both stated that they will continue to explore other possible stronger protections like land trusts, mapping as parkland, long term leasing or conservation easements. The feeling is that the rules could be changed by a future mayor who is not so garden friendly.

The Community Garden Coalition while they were supportive in the press release withheld full support at the announcement as they look more closely at the actual document. They are planning a Town Hall Meeting at the New School on Oct 2nd to discuss future options. A group, "Times Up" has been most vocal in calling for further protections. They were quoted in today's New York Times. They also release a statement today condemning the agreement.

There were almost as many members of the press at the event including TV, radio, print and on line reporters.

Parks press release:
Note: the Parks press office used old information in the press release erroneously listing 600 as the number of total existing community gardens in NYC. The survey recently completed by Grow NYC counted 483. That includes GreenThumb, HPD, Land Trust and other gardens.

Monday, September 13, 2010
No. 78

Parks Commissioner Announces Final Community Garden Rules Strengthening Protections For Gardens

Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe today announced the Parks Department has finalized its Community Garden Rules, which incorporate significant changes based on public comments made on the draft rules. The Notice of Adoption, including the full rules, will be published in the City Record on Monday, September 13, 2010 and take effect 30 days later.

Key changes to the proposed rules, led by Commissioner Benepe in concert with elected officials, community boards, and community garden organizations, were made in response to testimony from the community at a public hearing on August 10th, 2010 which was hosted by the Parks Department. They include:

* Active gardens under the Parks Department's jurisdiction are preserved as gardens as long as they are registered and licensed by the Department.

* Licenses will be renewed as long as the garden satisfies the registration criteria.

* Parks must attempt to identify successor gardening groups for failing gardens and has nine months from time of default to return the garden to active status.

* New gardens may be created and will have the same protections as existing gardens.

* A party licensed by the City to perform work that results in damage to a garden will be required to return the garden to its preexisting condition.

* The Department will attempt to provide notices required under the Current Rules to gardeners in other languages.

* The Statement of Basis and Purpose states that gardens will be preserved and explains that the transfer and development provisions apply to abandoned and persistently non-compliant gardens under the Department's jurisdiction.

"Community gardens with active citizen participation offer enormous benefits to New York City's public health and quality of life," said Commissioner Benepe. "We appreciated the turnout from so many passionate community garden activists at last month's public hearing on the draft rules. The Parks Department shares the gardener's commitment to preserving these important open spaces and has been actively involved in the success of community gardens for decades. The final rules codify practices established in the 2002 agreement between the City of New York and the New York State Attorney General's Office as well as strengthen the protections afforded gardens under the Parks Department's jurisdiction."

"I want to thank the Administration, the Community Garden Coalition, and all the gardeners and other advocates who have worked so hard on this issue that many care so passionately about," said City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn. "Together, we were able to come up with protections that continue and strengthen the original Attorney General's agreement that is about to expire. The fact that these rules will now guarantee that as long as a community garden remains in good standing, it will be preserved and protected from development is a big victory for all of our neighborhoods, and is just one of the many things my colleagues and I called for when I testified at the Parks Department hearing back in August. Given that rules can potentially be repealed by future administrations, I will continue to pursue other strategies to achieve longer term protections, but in the meantime I am pleased that we have achieved the strongest rules possible."

"The revised rules published today represent a major step forward in the protection of our community gardens, even as we continue to explore strategies that will make these gardens a permanent part of our neighborhoods," said Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito. "In presenting these revised rules, the Parks Department and the Bloomberg administration have demonstrated the value and importance of bringing stakeholders to the table and taking their concerns into account. I would like to thank Mayor Bloomberg and Commissioner Benepe, as well as Speaker Quinn for her leadership on this issue, and in particular, all of the gardeners who have played an active role in this process."

"Today, the new rules pertaining to community gardens were published. While we are still reviewing the rules and will share them with our board and membership, it appears that the concerns of gardeners- additional protections for community gardens have been addressed," said Karen Washington, Director of the Garden Coalition. "I would like to thank Mayor Bloomberg, City Council Speaker Quinn, Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe and Council Parks Committee Chair Melissa Mark-Viverito for their leadership and for listening to the concerns of community Gardeners. Most of all I would like thank all community gardeners and their greening partners for advocating for community gardening protection and preservation as we all work together to make this city healthier and greener."

There are more than 600 gardens across New York City - the largest network of community gardens in the country. Parks has jurisdiction over 282 gardens.

In 2002, the City signed an agreement with the New York State Attorney General over the status and treatment of community gardens, creating a framework both for preserving gardens and finding alternate sites, when development of a lot is necessary.

With the 2002 agreement set to expire in September, the City has long been working on rules that clarify and codify practices regarding New York's community gardens. The new rules serve to codify practices established in the 2002 agreement as well as strengthen the protections afforded gardens under the Parks Department's jurisdiction. The rules, which were proposed in the City Record and then received a public hearing at the Chelsea Recreation Center on August 10, 2010, have been significantly revised to reflect the ideas and concerns of the community after the public hearing.

A community garden is a City-owned and community-managed parcel of land. Most are approximately 1/3 of an acre although some are larger. Active community gardens allow members of the public to play an active, hands-on role in the creation and maintenance of public open spaces used for recreation, education, and horticulture and food production. They also serve to increase civic participation and spur neighborhood revitalization, transforming vacant and unattractive plots of public land throughout the five boroughs. In addition, the gardens offer vital environmental and health benefits.

The City has been actively involved in the success of community gardens for decades. Parks' Green Thumb division, which currently has 15 full-time staff, is devoted to helping them and providing them with materials and expert advice. In an average year, Green Thumb runs approximately 55 workshops, and provides soil, lumber, tools, and ongoing expertise as needed and requested to both beginning and advanced community gardeners. Green Thumb began in 1978 under a City agency then known as the Department of General Services. In 1995, the program was placed under the Parks Department, though not all gardens are within that agency's jurisdiction, much less owned by the City. In addition, the Green Thumb division is responsible for licensing parcels under Parks jurisdiction to community groups for use as community gardens. For more information on community gardens and the new rules, please visit our website at .

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Me in Digital Print

Every so often I am interviewed about community gardening for written pieces that appear in print or digital media. Two such pieces appeared about 2 weeks ago and are worth a look and not just because you can read words of wisdom from yours truly. Another video interview is still being edited.

I was interviewed by Tali Woodward writing an article titled "Planting Seeds" for Sierra, the Sierra Club Magazine. Tali highlighted Brook Park, a community garden in the South Bronx where Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility ran a program called Into the Woods funded by a grant from Sierra Club's Building Bridges to the Outdoors program. She also included a sidebar that gave some background about community gardens where she used a few of my quotes and other information gleaned from our interview.
The important point here is that community gardens have value that is hard to quantify. In this case as in so many others, Brook Park provides the venue and the support for a wonderful environmental education program. This type of service or value of community gardens is often overlooked by those deciding whether preserving a garden is more valuable than another use for the land.

The environmental blog Grist covers a plethora of environmental issues and Umbra Fisk has a regular column called Ask Umbra that answers questions from readers. This particular entry "Ask Umbra on Healthy soils for Urban and Suburban Farmers and Gardeners" focused on the safety of urban soils. The only tidbit from our 20 minute interview that she used was my suggestion to add compost to bind up the lead and other heavy metals that might be in the soil.

This does bring up a point about urban community gardening and even backyard gardening that it is very important to test your soil and to amend it if necessary. In drastic cases, a soil test that shows high levels of heavy metals or organic compounds (most often petrochemicals) may need re-mediation and vegetables grown in those soils should not be eaten. Such extreme cases are very rare and in fact I have not heard of a case in 24 years of urban gardening where lead poisoning or other poisonings from urban soil have occurred. Caution is still necessary for the safety of all concerned.

At issue here is that the recommendations by government agencies for safe levels of lead in soil mostly deal with lead in playgrounds where children will get lead on their hands and then put their hands in their mouths. Not so clear or well documented is eating produce grown in soil with high lead levels. This has been the case as long as I have been urban gardening. Still no good research. Once again use caution but this should not be a reason for not growing vegetables and fruit in urban gardens especially if the soil is tested. Most often new soil with low lead levels is brought into community gardens. Now - back to my original comment - adding compost helps alleviate the problem.

I was also interviewed on camera for Paper Tiger TV for a video on Public Spaces. The video is still being edited but should be available shortly. In my comments during filming I mentioned the Youth Market run by youth in the Learn It Grow It Eat It Program (LGE) of GrowNYC as a good example of productive use of public spaces. The film makers posted a short piece on their blog called "The Square" which highlights LGE.

Now I probably won't be interviewed for a year!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

More on the Proposed new Rules for NYC Community Gardens

It has been almost 3 weeks since my last post because a lot has happened in that time and I wanted to wait to comment. There has been a lot of press in the newspapers, TV, radio and blogs, most have characterized the NYC gardens as being threatened. The Gardens of Fear in the Daily News, Your Community Garden on the Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC, even bicyclists are blogging about this issue. These were all written or aired after a hearing which was held on August 10, 2010 to solicit comments about the proposed rules. At least 300 people attended and over 80 gave testimony. I still believe that the new rules should be instituted as a first step to insure that there is some protection in place when the current agreement expires. Then there needs to be a mechanism found to permanently protect existing gardens and a policy to allow new gardens to be started and protected.

The way I read the rules it will be difficult to take away an existing garden. The real problem is the statements that have been made by Adrian Benepe, the Parks Department Commissioner - listen to the Brian Lehrer show link above - that sound more like the city is looking for excuses to develop any gardens that may do anything deemed to break the rule. The city really should be rewarding the community gardeners for their stewardship of city land which has provided many community benefits at no cost to the city.

The commissioner refers to problems with the gardens or gardeners. With nearly 500 community gardens in NYC there will be issues from time to time with characters who do things that might jeopardize all of the good work done by the overwhelming majority of community gardeners. The point is that the land that the gardens sit on happens in most cases to be in areas where their is a lack of open space. Building on even one garden means that a neighborhood, usually one of color and low income will forever have less open space. There are several organizations that work with community gardeners like the Green Guerillas, GrowNYC, GreenThumb, Brooklyn Green Bridge, the New York City Community Garden Coalition and Bronx Green Up to strengthen the social sustainability of the gardeners that can help if and when these issues arise. The people who are the community gardeners change all of the time as people age, move away or pass away but there seems to always be newcomers to the city and the neighborhood or longtime residents to step in and continue the good work.

So lets find a way to protect our community garden land.

Monday, July 26, 2010

New Proposed Rule for NYC Community Gardens

The settlement that has protected NYC community gardens from being bulldozed is set to expire in September 2010. The city has proposed a new rule to be included in the official NYC Rules and Regulations (who knew such a thing existed) to replace the settlement.
It is actually 2 rules, 1 for the community gardens that are under the jurisdiction of the NYC Parks Department (Parks) and 1 for gardens that are under the jurisdiction of the NYC Dept of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD).
The original settlement preserves many community gardens but slated some - the HPD gardens - for development. Even though the settlement is 7 years old some of the gardens slated for development have not yet been developed! Those gardens will be covered by the HPD rule. A larger number of gardens were given an "Offer for Preservation" and were preserved as Parks gardens. Those gardens will be covered by the Parks rule. That does not mean that they are 'mapped as Parkland' which would mean that it would take an vote of the State legislature to 'Alienate' them from being Parkland. There is some debate about how much protection is afforded by being mapped as Parkland. For instance, several mapped Parks were taken from a Bronx neighborhood to build the new Yankee Stadium, basically a gift to the wealthiest sports franchise in the world.
To add to the potential options the New York State Assembly is introducing a new bill that requires "municipalities which sell, transfer or lease community garden real property to use the proceeds therefrom for community garden purposes".
Many community gardeners are wary of the new rule. Some have proposed a new zoning designation for community gardens and others have championed mapping as Parkland. Some are using scare tactics - telling gardeners that their garden risks being bulldozed.
A quick reading of the new rules show that they are very similar to the settlement. In fact while the settlement only applied to gardens existing at the time of the settlement the new Parks rule also applies to any future community gardens. A policy for future community gardens is something that I have been proposing since before the settlement.
At this time I support the new rules as a way of preserving community gardens. It may not be perfect but the rules pretty much keep the heart of the protections from the settlement.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Vertical Gardening Update

I'm having mixed results with the Vertical Gardening experiment. I have 2 test sites, 1 in a community garden that I visit once or twice a week and 1 in my backyard. The heat and drought we have been experiencing in the Northeast is not helping matters. I knew that the planters would have to be watered regularly but had hoped for some help from the rainfall. So the planters in the community garden are not fairing as well as those in the backyard. At home I have been watering every other day. In the community garden, they are watered less often.

The peppers seem to withstand the heat and lack of rainfall the best. Cucumbers and tomatoes are doing well. The tomatoes are all heirloom. So far the San Marzano are staying upright without any support. All of the plants seem to be supporting each other with the tendrils from the cucumbers helping to hold other plants up.

I tried planting Arugula seeds which did not do well, so I just replaced those with a pole bean which sprouted in about 3 days. Otherwise the only disease problem I have encountered is the 2 broccoli plants are growing tiny heads in the middle of the florets.

This week I added the liquid that drains from my worm bin to the planters at home and some compost to the planters in the community garden.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Community Garden Rules

For a Community Garden to operate successfully the gardeners should have a written set of rules that everyone agrees to follow. This is no easy task. Devising a set of rules that takes into account all possible circumstances may be impossible so having a mechanism for updating or adding rules that is also fair and equitable is very important. The rules shouldn't be a a "NO" list or a series of "DON'TS" but a document that is positive and gives a rationale for why a rule is included. The example below from Madison Wisconsin is such a document. Note that fun and safety are mentioned at the beginning. How to resolve conflicts is clearly stated as well as how to get information and needed materials like compost. There are some "NO" rules - herbicides, pesticides, dogs, selling produce, cars - mostly at the end. As well as a few "DON'TS" like stealing, planting tall things that will shade your neighbors plot or vines that get out of control and invade others plots as well as a short list of plants that should not be grown in the garden. These are things that need to be spelled out because lets face it, for many people, if something is not specifically outlawed, to them it is allowed. Each garden will have some very specific rules because of the location or size of the garden or because of regulations or stipulations by the landowner or municipality. Creating the rules initially can be time consuming and argument provoking but going through the process at the beginning will avoid later conflict. It helps to have something to start with, so the Community Garden Rules below are a good place to start.

Community Garden Rules
Rev 12/1/05

Below are some of the rules created at Madison gardens, which should be fine-tuned to suit your garden. Clear rules help because it is better to have people mad at the rules than mad at the coordinators!

q The garden should be a safe place for the community, children, and other gardeners. Do not bring anything that will compromise the safety of the garden.

q Ensuring enjoyable gardening experience for all of the garden community is the primary goal of these rules and responsibilities. For this reason, observe the rules of the garden, and be a good neighbor.

q The garden’s executive committee or steering committee has the duty of enforcing rules and making decisions for the garden between annual meetings of all gardeners. They have authority to resolve conflicts, including refusing a plot to a gardener or dismissing a current gardener.

q Please check the bulletin board for a map showing where your plot is, as well as information concerning the garden - problems, classes, information, notices. Feel free to post information you have and leave messages for other gardeners there.

q Teach your children to respect others’ plots and not to waste water.

q Unresolved issues or disputes between gardeners will be referred to the coordinators or garden board.

q Each person must apply each year for a plot but returning gardeners will be given first preference and permitted to keep the same plot if they wish. The number of plots per gardener may be limited according to demand.

q You are responsible for your own plot and ______ hours of volunteer work (contributing to the upkeep of the whole garden.)

q If you are unable to care for your plot for a time because of illness or vacation, ask a fellow gardener or the coordinator for help with weeding and harvesting.

q Generally visit your plot at least once each week.

q If you decide not to use your plot, please contact the registrar so it may be reassigned to someone on the waiting list. If there is no evidence of activity at your plot by June 1st, it will be reassigned. There are no refunds on plot fees paid.

q If your plot is overgrown with weeds, you will receive a warning. After one week of no action, your plot may be mowed and reassigned.

q Biodegradable mulch such as compost, leaves, straw, and hay are encouraged. Carpet mulch is not allowed. Remove any non organic mulch by closing day. No wood chips as mulch. They do not biodegrade quickly. Black plastic is allowed, but must be removed at the end of the season.

q Please do not plant mint, catnip, Jerusalem artichokes, comfrey or raspberries.

q Keep tall plants such as corn or sunflowers at the center of your plot so they do not shade your neighbors plants.

q Keep vines and visitors out of neighboring plots.

q If you have a surplus of vegetables or fruits, please contact a nearby food pantry to donate. CAC can give you a list of pantries.

q Do not pick from your neighbor’s garden even if you think they have neglected their plot.

q The garden is not available for commercial use; don’t sell your produce.

q Keep plot boundaries weeded and trash-free. lf you are on a pathway, you are responsible to care for 1/2 of the pathway between you and your neighbor. Keep plot edges and fencing free of weeds that will go to seed. Don't put rocks and sticks in paths. Take them to the rock-and-stick area.

q Compost made from leaves should be available at your garden. You can also go and pick up the same excellent compost, free in small quantities and $10 for a pickup truck load. Get all the details on the Dane County compost hotline at 267-1502. Weeds and diseased plants should be put in plant refuse piles – not on the compost pile.

q If you use the garden’s tools, please return them to the storage area when done.

q Plant refuse piles are set up for weeds and diseased plants. Please use these designated areas. No trash in the piles, please. Please do not add kitchen scraps to the plant refuse piles because they are likely to draw animals.

q Pack your trash back home to dispose of properly.

q Stakes that mark your plot’s corners and have your plot number and name must be left in place all season.

q Never use any herbicides (weedkillers), and pesticides are discouraged and prohibited at many community gardens. Keep pest-control products and containers away from children. Dane County Extension at 224-3700 can give safe pest-control advice.

q No pets in the garden.

q Do not drive into the garden area.


From City Farmer


From Los Angeles

From Greensboro, NC

From Boston

From Johns Creek, GA

From Coupeville, WA

From Austin, TX

From Kilauea, HI

From NYC

Of course since it is NYC there are By Laws, an Events Policy, Plot Assignment rules and Plot Holder rules!!

The samples above are from individual gardens and from municipalities large and small from all areas of the country. There are many examples to choose from depending on your needs.