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Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Year in Community Gardening

This is the week when everyone reviews the year that just passed and makes top ten list and best of lists. It would be nearly impossible and possibly unfair to come up with a best of or top ten list of community gardens.

2012 was notable for community gardens for several reasons. This was the year that the policies that have gone into effect over the last several years have been tested and from all the reports have passed with little problems. Maybe not earth shattering news but it is important that these policies prove worthwhile to politicians and city bureaucrats as well as useful for community gardeners.   For community gardens to be sustainable one piece of the puzzle is policies that work - not too restrictive while making the municipality supportive.

Research on urban agriculture and community gardening continues at a brisk pace, most notably this year the Five Borough Farm Project and the Michigan State University Metro Food Innovation Cluster at Detroit  looked at what is happening in New York and Detroit respectively while making proposals for future direction.  It might be better if this research money went directly into community garden programs but if this research leads to even more dollars in the future then it will be money well spent.

Hurricane Sandy was also big news for community gardens in New York City. My blog post on the subject covers the details. Once again community gardens are a microcosm of the our world. Climate change threatens community gardens just as it threatens the earth. Maybe we can find some solutions  to prepare community gardens for future climate change that will work for us all.

This was a great year for me as a presenter. I made presentations about policy, rainwater harvesting and sustainable community gardens. Probably the most fun was doing a presentation about the bicycle powered water pump at the World Maker Faire . So now I am officially a Maker.

As in most years there are positive and negative events that happen over the course of a year. 2012 fits right there with the good, bad and ugly of years. Let's look forward to next year being one that is healthy for community gardening and community gardeners.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Sandy and New York City Community Gardens

First of all I must apologize for the amount of time between posts. Maybe it is blogger's block, if there is such a thing but also sometimes life gets in the way of blogging. I do have to wait on line to use the computer. My kids homework trumps dad's use of the computer.

I have been mulling over what to say about Sandy and the community gardens. I live on Staten Island and was directly if only slightly affected by the storm. Some of my fellow Staten Islanders lost their homes and in some cases their lives. The effects of the storm still linger for many. Oddly we had no damage due to Sandy (we lost electricity for 28 hours - short enough to be a novelty and not long enough to cause major inconveniences) but a large cherry tree came down in the Northeaster storm the following week. The tree still had it leaves and the wet snow and a gust of wind took it down. It disconnected our neighbors and our electric and cable lines but only caused minor damage to our garden and none to our house. This 30 inch diameter trunk even fell neatly between 2 beloved rose bushes I had pruned just a week earlier.
Large Cherry Tree,  Front of My Home, Staten Island
Some of the community gardens fared much worse but on the whole most avoided damage from the storm. In fact I know of one garden with solar panels where the gardeners were able to charge their cell phones as they waited up to 2 weeks for the electricity in their apartments to be restored. Chalk one up for sustainability initiatives in community gardens.
Culinary Kids Garden, Far Rockaway, Queens, Debris and Intact Rainwater Harvesting System
In the low lying areas of Coney Island, Far Rockaway, Red Hook and the Lower  East Side, the community gardens were flooded with up to 12 feet of water which brought with it all kinds of debris, sewage and whatever the ocean, river and bay were carrying. Fallen trees also caused damage in these gardens as well as other gardens inland in neighborhoods in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Manhattan.
College Avenue Garden, the Bronx, Downed Trees
The flooded gardens have been advised not to eat anything that was flooded and not to grow anything in inundated soil for at least 60 days. That's not bad considering that the 60 days will fall in November, December and January when little grows in the gardens here. In several gardens that I visited after the storm there were sewage and petroleum smells which tells me that there may be cause for caution growing vegetables this spring in some of these areas.
Debris, Campos Garden, Lower East Side, Manhattan
Like my home some community gardens lost large trees and limbs which caused everything from minor inconvenience to lost plants to damage to structures, fences and raised beds. New York City's Green Thumb program and Parks Department helped remove some of the larger trees and limbs and some gardeners and helpers from the community took care of smaller trees on their own but much more work needs to be done to cut up and chip branches and to assess and prune trees that may be vulnerable to future storms.
Damaged Raised beds and Inundated Soil,  Campos Garden
Community Gardens that were inundated with debris have been cleaning up on their own with assistance from volunteers from all over. Often the community gardeners were overwhelmed with volunteers and did not have enough tools, gloves and garbage bags to get the job done. The organization I work for, GrowNYC helped with some of these things but we had supplies to assist only a couple of gardens. GrowNYC was also hampered by the fact that the vehicle we use, Grow Truck, was parked on a pier on the East River where it was flooded and became unusable.
Downed Tree and Damaged Shed, Villa Santurce Garden, Manhattan
More work needs to be done and the community gardeners and non profit organizations are planning for the spring when the gardens will need to repair and improve infrastructure and plantings and prepare the community gardeners so that in future storms the impact will not be as great.
Damaged Fence, El Sitio Feliz, Manhattan
So what is needed is not just to replace what was but to rethink the use of some materials and plants and to use storm resistant species and materials. Planting smaller trees like dwarf fruit trees as an example. Using plastic and composite lumber instead of wood will hopefully keep the raised beds in place if flooded again. Existing trees will need to be pruned preemptively to remove any limbs that are in danger of falling in future storms.
Inundated Soil, Battery Urban Farm, Manhattan
Other than the experienced labor to accomplish these tasks like tree climbers and pruners the most important thing needed is the dollars to pay for these services and the tools and materials needed to make the necessary repairs and improvements. Hopefully next time there will be a much happier story to tell