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Sunday, June 20, 2010

Treadle Pump

This week I delivered this prototype Treadle Pump that was designed by Mike Fenley, an intern who worked with me last summer on Rainwater Harvesting projects. Mike was a Masters in Engineering student at Syracuse University and his internship at Grow NYC was sponsored and paid for by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Mike and I built the Treadle Pump from easily obtained lumber and plumbing parts as well as some homemade parts. The piston was made from a flip flop sandal cut to fit tightly in the cylinder. Mike's design was adapted from plans found on-line.

The Rainwater Harvesting systems we install in community gardens all use gravity to create water pressure which does not give enough pressure to water anything that is at a higher elevation than the level of the water in the tank. Community gardens also do not have access to electricity so using an electric pump is not a possibility. Using a solar powered pump is a possibility but it is expensive, somewhat technical for most community gardeners and an attractive nuisance for vandals and thieves. So we looked into human powered pumping. As an avid bicyclist, my first thought was a bicycle powered pump but I have not found any plans for modifying a bicycle to pump water directly. Many plans are available for generating electricity or powering a blender by pedaling.

There are Treadle Pumps available in developing countries that help tremendously with irrigation in areas where electricity is unavailable but they are not sold in the US. So we had to make one ourselves. Here is a video of the pump being tested.

The Walt Shamel Community Garden in Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, New York was one of the sites where we installed a 1000 gallon cistern for collecting rainwater from the adjacent building. We could not raise the tank more than a few inches off the ground because the spot we were able to tap into the building downspout was very low. We promised Greg and Debbie Anderson, the garden contacts, that their garden would get the prototype treadle pump. This week I was able to keep that promise.

The Walt Shamel Community Garden has a number of elements of the sustainable garden. They have compost bins, raise chickens (the coop is just to the right in the above picture), have a beehive and the Rainwater Harvesting System. The Treadle Pump became the latest piece of the sustainable community garden puzzle.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

PF. 1

I have a book to recommend, Above the Pavement - The Farm!. I have to admit I have a personal connection here, I was interviewed about this project and some of that interview is included in this book. Interviews of the key players in this project tell the story of PF. 1 a combination of art, architecture and urban agriculture which was a temporary installation at PS 1 - MOMA in Queens, NY in Summer 2008. It is a stretch to call this community gardening but the architects and others involved in the project invoked community gardens as inspiration for their work.

Each year PS 1 holds a competition for young architects to design an installation for their courtyard space which serves as the venue for Summer Warmups - Saturday afternoon cocktail parties. The architecture firm proposed an elevated urban farm, including chickens and my connection to the project - a Rainwater Harvesting system. Everything was solar powered including the water pumps, a cell phone charging station, fans, video and audio. Oh, and the structure was built from cardboard tubes called Sonotubes and used a lightweight soil mixture called Gaia Soil. Plants were grown at Rikers Island prison and at Queens Farm Museum a 47 acre working farm within New York City limits.
The story of how PF 1 developed from an idea to reality is interesting reading, part drama, with many heros and lucky breaks for the team. For anyone who is curious about how art, architecture and farming come together in a beautiful, functional creation, this is the book for you. And you have the added pleasure of reading quotes from me - much like you are doing right now.

Thursday, June 10, 2010


UPDATE on the New YoRk

City Community Garden Settlement

An article that appeared in the Wall Street Journal today highlights the controversy surrounding the expiration of the settlement that is currently protecting the community gardens from being developed. In a previous post I outlined the discussions that were going on and continue today.

The City Council is supposed to be deliberating and voting on a new rule that will basically continue the protections currently in place. They are dragging their heels. It seems that they work best when dealing with 11th hour deadline decision making. The gardeners are also drawing a line in the sand - some want gardens mapped as parkland, others want changes in zoning. Both options are problematic and the enactment of these protections are a long term processes.

In terms of the political situation, the current Mayor Bloomberg and the City Council are generally supportive of community gardens but if there is a garden on a lot needed for housing or other development anything is possible. The former Mayor Giuliani was antagonistic to community gardens and his actions led to the loss of numerous gardens, lawsuits and demonstrations. A unexpected benefit of Giuliani's actions was a tremendous increase in the awareness of the nature of community gardens by the general public locally, nationally and internationally and the benefits to a municipality from community gardens and gardeners.

In the Giuliani era there was a significant threat to gardens and a tremendous amount of activity from civil disobedience (marches, tree climbers, gardeners on 24 hour occupation of garden sites, coalitions being formed to work together against the threat, street theatre, demonstrations) to lawsuits to letter writing campaigns to lobbying politicians to fundraising campaigns for the purchase of gardens to behind the scenes maneuvering by community garden professionals and activists as well as organizations both local and national.

During the Giuliani era several lawsuits were filed against the city by nonprofit organizations such as the Green Guerillas, the NYC Community Garden Coalition and individual gardeners. The New York State Attorney General at the time and now NYS Governor Eliot Spitzer joined one Green Guerilla lawsuit which resulted in an injunction against the city that stopped the city from bulldozing any gardens. This injunction remained in effect from 2000 to 2002. Giuliani would not settle the lawsuit. It was settled once Bloomberg took office as a compromise where some gardens were lost some saved and some given a choice of a relocation site when their garden was lost.

The text of the settlement is here.


I would suggest that both sides use this a a template for a permanent agreement with the policy for new and existing gardens spelled out so that folks that want to start new gardens know what they have to do and current and future gardeners know what their rights and responsibilities are.