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Saturday, May 29, 2010

C.A.U.S.A. Festival Community Garden

C.A.U.S.A. Festival Garden new raised beds

This week I had the opportunity to spend 2 days at the C.A.U.S.A. Festival Community Garden in East New York, Brooklyn. C.A.U.S.A. stands for Citizen's Against Unnecessary Senseless Abuses.
The land has truly been abused over the years becoming dumping grounds for trash of all kinds. The neighborhood of East New York has had much vacant and which is just now beginning to be built on. Many folks cleaned up the lots and started community gardens on the vacant land and today East New York is one of the New York City neighborhoods that has a cluster of community gardens. A group of gardens joined together to create East New York Farms. This group of gardens grows vegetables intensively and sells at a farmers market in the neighborhood.

The C.A.U.S.A. Festival Garden is coordinated by Filiberto Ayala, a retired grandfather with a warm smile and an engaging manner. The garden is going through a renaissance as the gardeners are rebuilding raised beds and dressing up the areas along the fence. The garden has a collection of fruit trees, including cherry, peach, apple and pear. The peach tree was laden with fruit but unfortunately not yet ripe.

As part of the improvements we worked to install a Rainwater harvesting system collecting rainwater from an adjacent 3 story 800 square foot building. A 1000 gallon tank collectes the water for future use.

The gardeners collect found objects like the creature adorning the dead tree in the above photo and the large snail shell which will be turned into a planter in the photo below.

This community garden is an inspiration for anyone who visits. The community gardeners have much to protest and be angry about but they have channeled that energy into creating a community garden that is helping to improve the neighborhood while providing an outlet for community members to get involved. All this while also providing nutritious local produce for the neighborhood.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Liz Christy Community Garden

Sapsucker handiwork

Reflections of the City

Turtle pace in the city?

This weekend I had the pleasure of spending some time visiting the Liz Christy Community Garden at Bowery and Houston St in lower Manhattan, NYC. This garden is a symbol in many ways for New York City community gardeners. It was one of the first community gardens in Manhattan. It spawned the organization called the Green Guerillas and the idea of guerilla gardening - greening up vacant land without any formal permission. The original recipe for seed bombs happened came from the Liz Christy Garden. That idea has resurfaced in several incarnations. Artists, Like Joan Bankemper have created an Urban Guerilla Gardening Kit. Seed Bombs can be found for sale.
The garden's namesake, Liz Christy is considered one of the founding mothers of the community garden movement in NYC. The area surrounding the garden is now upscale. In fact new luxury housing was recently built directly adjacent to the garden. The garden was closed for some time and recently reopened.
There is beauty everywhere you look although the traffic on Houston Street is a continuous background noise and the ground vibrates every time a subway train rumbles by below the garden. Perhaps most exciting is the unexpected nature you can find if you look closely. I saw a black swallowtail butterfly, heard many songbirds, saw evidence of sap suckers , a turtle, and a pond (see pictures) and yes there were vegetables being grown. There are many ornamental plants, roses, irises and daylilies of all kinds and a beautiful 60 foot tall specimen of Dawn Redwood. Definitely worth a visit.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Some random environmental connections to community gardens

A couple of news items in the past few weeks deserve mention and I think an awareness of possible consequences. 
The first was an article 2 weeks ago about Super Weeds in the New York Times of May 4th, 2010.  
A couple of quotes from the article:
"Today, Roundup Ready crops account for about 90 percent of the soybeans and 70 percent of the corn and cotton grown in the United States.
But farmers sprayed so much Roundup that weeds quickly evolved to survive it. “What we’re talking about here is Darwinian evolution in fast-forward,” Mike Owen, a weed scientist at Iowa State University, said.
“The biotech industry is taking us into a more pesticide-dependent agriculture when they’ve always promised, and we need to be going in, the opposite direction,” said Bill Freese, a science policy analyst for the Center for Food Safety in Washington."
So almost all of the soybeans and most of the corn grown in the USA come from Roundup Ready seeds and the weeds have evolved to resist this pesticide. Sounds like the promise of genetic engineering has not come to pass and in fact the worst nightmares of those who urged caution (like myself) have come true.
And just today in a related story, the government has approved the expansion of planting Eucalyptus trees genetically modified to tolerate colder temperatures. It is called a field test but it includes  "200,000 genetically modified eucalyptus trees on 28 sites covering about 300 acres".  Of course the USDA and the company planting the trees, ArborGen are saying that the planting of these fast growing trees will mean that the timber companies can produce more wood from fewer acres of land.
But will purposely planting an alien, invasive, fast growing species of tree outside of its normal range have unintended consequences? Oh and by the way these articles were in the business section of the newspaper, not the science section!
In more positive news more closely related to community gardens, NYC's Mayor Bloomberg shared the stage with Rachel Ray to announce her contribution to a program supporting school gardens in NYC. While the press event included way too many collaborators - a possible recipe for failure - the Mayor and others were promoting school gardens and connections between schools and community gardens.
Words we would never have heard out of their mouths just a few years ago....
Mayor Bloomberg, “From GreenThumb gardens to public housing gardens to countless community gardens, so many New Yorkers are greening our urban landscapes and greening their diets too."
and probably even more significant because he mentions the positive educational benefits of school gardens:
 NYC School Chancellor Klein. “And the gardens aren’t just about eating well. Research shows that school gardens are excellent learning environments, and students exposed to them do better on science exams.”
I sincerely hope that the programs mentioned in the last story will be wildly successful. At the same time, the potential negative environmental impacts of the first 2 stories will lead government and business to rethink those ideas in favor of more environmentally benign ones.     

Monday, May 10, 2010

Community garden dilemmas

I have mentioned in previous blogs how community gardens are places where people from different backgrounds and cultures have a chance to interact and govern themselves. That is often easier said than done and in some cases there are physical barriers that make it even more difficult. For example I recently spent time in a community garden that is actually 2 gardens separated by a 5 story building that splits the garden in two. The garden is run by a steering committee and a number of committees oversee various aspects of the garden. The difficulty is that gardeners from one side of the building are concerned about what happens on their side of the garden and could care less about what happens on the other side. Gardeners from each side are envious of any improvements that come to the other side. They would rather see anything that might take away garden space like a water system or compost bins on the other side. Not a prescription for harmony in the garden.

I know of a similar situation where 2 gardens are back to back. The gardens form a continuous green space that extends from street to street but there is a fence between the two gardens that neither garden is interested in removing. How did this situation come to be? A few years ago the gardens received city funding to install an in-ground water system. At the time one of the gardens was much more developed and organized than the other. The gardeners from the more developed garden were somehow able to get the water brought in to the less developed garden including the obtrusive above ground unit that contains the shut off and back flow preventer equipment. After this the less developed garden became more organized and decided to keep the water on their side, not wanting to further disrupt their garden to extend the piping to the garden on the other side of the fence. It became a clash of cultures and income levels. The disputants have resisted attempts at mediation and today both are beautiful gardens physically but the ugly dispute still continues below the surface beauty. One garden has a water system and the other uses the fire hydrant.

I can't say that I have the answers to resolve these particular situations. It is difficult enough for community gardeners to sustain-ably govern themselves in normal situations but introduce money or valuable equipment to the equation or attempt to take away limited space and the task becomes almost impossible.