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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!