Re: question on community gardens
- Subject: Re: [cg] question on community gardens
- From: Adam36055@aol.com
- Date: Wed, 20 Aug 2003 12:05:47 EDT
Go the the ACGA website and read: <A HREF="http://www.communitygarden.org/">
American Community Gardening Association</A>
The 1996 ACGA survey is still pretty accurate
1) Off the top of my head, give or take from the mid nineties ACGA survey,
about 10,000. While cities like NYC have had a number of bulldozings of gardens,
there is a vigorous, relatively new community gardening movement ( mostly
focused on food security) in the southern USA.
2) Folks have always gardened communally in US cities - first in commons,
and when cities enclosed their commons, on any scrap of land they could find -
old timers can remember when folks kept a few chickens and pigs within the city
3) During the 1930 Depression, gardens started in neighborhoods under the
aegis of the WPA were called "Relief Gardens" That program ended around 1937 -
but a number of these urban green spaces became Victory Gardens during the
second world war. A few of the older community gardens in our country started out
as Victory gardens.
4) Urban community gardening in it's latest incarnation ( with the exception
of places like the Eagle Heights Community Garden, in Madison, Wisc - which
stared in the early 1960s) picked up again in e 1970's in New York City.
This piece by Sarah Ferguson, which originally appeared in "Avant Gardening"
tells a good part of that story: <A
Here is the article, for folks who may have trouble with that link:
A BRIEF HISTORY OF GRASSROOTS GREENING IN NYC
by Sarah Ferguson
In the Fall of 1748, Peter Kalm, a Swedish naturalist, visited New York City
to catalog the local flora and fauna. "I found it exceedingly pleasant to walk
in the town for it seemed quite like a garden," Kalm wrote. "The trees which
are planted for this purpose are chiefly of two kinds, the Water Beech... are
the most numerous... and the Locust... Likewise lime trees and elms but they
are not by far so frequent. Tree frogs... are so loud it is difficult for a man
to make himself heard. Homes [are] shingled with White Fir Tree."(1)
Kalm's bucolic vision of Manhattan was soon to be plowed over by the
imposition of the grid-iron street pattern in 1811. Yet even today, an observer
passing through the streets of the Lower East Side can still capture some inkling of
the natural wonder that once was.
Start early in the morning at the Hua Mei Bird Garden, a patch of green
carved out of the cracked asphalt of Sara D. Roosevelt Park between Forsyth and
Chrystie Streets, where Chinese men come to air their canaries, finches, and
golden-brown Hua Mei (literally, beautiful eyebrow) birds in delicately carved
bamboo cages suspended from wrought-iron perches. Fellow members of the Forsyth
Gardening Club have studded the neighboring trees with colorful birdhouses,
home to numerous sparrows, crows, starlings, and bluejays whose cacophonous
twitters and shrieks cascade through the park, all but drowning out the rush-hour
Make your way east through the congested streets south of Houston, where
Puerto Rican and Dominican gardeners have turfed out small casita gardens on stray
lots, filled with domino tables, homemade shrines, and vegetable plots lined
with plastic coca-cola containers. A few blocks north at the 6th and B Garden,
Edie's Watts-like tower of plywood, stuffed animals and plastic figurines
rises from an eclectic patchwork of plots brimming with fruit trees, flowers and
veggies. Half a block east at the 6BC Botanical Center, gardeners have
relandscaped the gritty city earth into a meandering oasis, replete with a grape
arbor, a koi pond fed by a miniature, solar-powered waterfall, cactus and Japanese
rock gardens, a "chinoiserie" teahouse, and a recessed grotto devoted to
northeastern woodland flora.
Two blocks south, Parque de Tranquilidad conjures the overgrown, lush feel of
an English garden, with tiled bird baths and winding stone pathways lined
with holly, birch and dogwood. By contrast, the oversized brick barbecue in Green
Oasis on 8th Street and Avenue C looks like something out of an old Italian
village. During the Fiesta de Cruz in June, Puerto Rican women can be found
singing fervent hymns of devotion in the rose-covered gazebo as fully veiled
Muslim women and their children amble on the lawn. Next door, Albert's Garden is
filled with carved African totems, the legacy of Albert Eisenlau, a sculptor
who died in 1999.
Many of these community-tended spaces have evolved into teaching programs for
local children, like the LES Garden on 11th Street, next door to Junior High
School 60. Once a toxic wasteland--contaminated with propane and heavy metals
after the city demolished an old bus garage--the garden now boasts a
compost-heated greenhouse, startlingly verdant, organic lawns, a goldfish pond, and
bird and butterfly habitats. At sundown, you can hear peals of laughter from
neighborhood kids gathered for potluck suppers oscillating with the sound of the
imam intoning evening prayers from the steps of the mosque next door. And on
warm, weekend nights, slip over to the 4th Street Casita garden, whose front
porch is generally packed with musicians performing traditional plena, bomba, and
meringue, their plates brimming with arroz con pollo.
This quite brief sampling of the roughly 50 community gardens still thriving
on the Lower East Side is testament to the tenacity of this former immigrant
haven, which has clung to its small-scale, village charm far longer than anyone
would expect for a neighborhood situated within such a short commute to Wall
Street. Collectively, these green havens are like an urban rainforest of
cultural diversity and social expression whose beauty and ingenuity grow all the
more precious as their margins are encroached by gentrification.
Community gardening in New York has always followed the boom and bust cycles
of the economy, with gardens sprouting up during periods of stress and falling
land values, then withering away when demands on the land became
overwhelming. During the Depression, the City's welfare department and the federal Works
Project Administration sponsored nearly 5,000 'relief' gardens on vacant and
city parks--including Tompkins Square, where thousands of neighborhood kids were
issued 4' -by- 4' plots, and the crop divided equally at the end of the
harvest.(2) But the WPA canceled the relief project in 1937, when the USDA
initiated its food stamp program for farm-surplus products. Though many immigrant
families continued tending backyard plots, the gardening cause remained dormant
until WWII, when the city announced that all available, city-owned land would be
cultivated for Victory Gardens. Despite their success, these plots were
abandoned at the close of the war, when the end of food rationing and a burgeoning
frozen-food industry squelched the initiative of urban farmers.(3)
By contrast, the eclectic patchwork of more than 800 community gardens that
have taken root in New York since the 1970s were born not out of government
support, but rather its neglect. During the fiscal crisis, waves of arson and
abandonment left the city scarred with thousands of crumbling buildings and
vacant, rubble-strewn lots. By 1977, there were more than 25,000 vacant lots in New
York.(4) Littered with trash and rats, these open sores became magnets for
drugs, prostitution, and chop shops for stripping down stolen cars. Yet the
city's only response was to spend thousands of dollars enclosing the lots with
Fed up with government inaction, in 1973 an impassioned artist named Liz
Christy and a band of like-minded activists called the Green Guerrillas began
taking over abandoned lots on Manhattan's Lower East Side. Armed with bolt-cutters
and pickaxes, they conceived of themselves as a strike force to liberate the
crumbling landscape around them. They founded their first garden on the corner
of Bowery and Houston, where a few months earlier a couple of bums had been
found frozen to death in a cardboard box. "You could not have picked a more
unlikely place to start a garden," recalls Bill Brunson, an early Guerrilla. "At
the time, there were still all these men lined up along the Bowery drinking
wine and panhandling. To put a garden there--in what was probably the ultimate
slime spot in the city--that was unheard of."
It was also, in the eyes of bureaucrats, illegal. At first the City accused
the group of trespassing and threatened to boot them off the land. But after a
media blitz, when the Guerrillas brought in TV cameras to show how they
transformed the lot--creating soil with nothing but sifted rubble and compost--the
City backed down and offered them a lease in 1974. (5)
The Liz Christy garden, as it later became known, was a lightning rod for
do-it-yourself greening, inspiring passersby to create similar plots in their own
neighborhoods. The Guerrillas held training sessions and set up a phone line
so people could call to find out where to get free plants and trees. They also
lobbed 'seed Green-Aids'--balloons or Christmas-tree ornaments stuffed with
peat moss and wildflower seeds--into fenced-off lots and along highways across
the five boroughs. "It was a form of civil disobedience.," recalls Amis
Taylor, another early GG member. "We were basically saying to the government, if you
won't do it, we will."
By 1976, their efforts were beginning to win over government officials,
including Brooklyn Congressman Fred Richmond, who pushed through a federal program
to support urban gardening. In Brooklyn, the first demonstration project was
set up through Cornell University's Cooperative Extension Service. It was so
successful that a national program was funded at $3 million and expanded to
include 15 other cities.
Appalled by the devastation he witnessed during his historic walk through the
burnt-out sections of the South Bronx, in 1977 Jimmy Carter pledged $500,000
for new parks and recreation facilities, part of a $10 million proposal for
immediate aid to the area. That proposal eventually led to the allocation of
$1.2 million in federal and New York State funds for community garden and parks
development in the South Bronx. The grant required a 50 percent match of local
funds--monies the bankrupt city government could ill afford. So, in one of the
first official recognitions of the value of sweat equity, gardeners tallied
up their volunteer hours--as well as the bricks, beams, and fallen telephone
poles they'd recycled from their devastated community, and even the compost they
generated--in order to come up with $300,000. The city made up the remaining
$900,000 through street trees and sidewalk improvements.
The gardens became catalysts for community development."Once people succeeded
with the garden, they went on to other things like fixing the schools,
housing, creating jobs, whatever was needed," says Taylor. In the Bronx, some of the
community groups that emerged through the early greening schemes include the
Bronx Frontier Development Corp., the Institute for Local Self Reliance, and
the People's Development Corp.(6)
On the Lower East Side, gardens grew in tandem with the burgeoning
homesteading movement. In the early '70s, a former Civil Rights activist from the South
named Sarah Farley formed a group called LAND (Local Action for Neighborhood
Development) aimed at creating self-help housing and open space. "Sarah told
us, do the gardens first, then the buildings," recalls David Boyle, who helped
found the 6th and B Garden in 1981, as well as a series of squatter homesteads
on East 13th Street (five of which were evicted in 1995 and 1996). "The
gardens were a natural screening process for who could be good homesteaders," says
Boyle. "We figured anyone nutty enough to climb over a fence and start clawing
away at the dirt with a hammer would be a good squatter. The gardens also
attracted more activist minded people into the neighborhood who appreciated the
social fabric they provided."
For many of these activists, gardens were seen as part of an overall strategy
of urban self-sufficiency. In addition to cleaning up empty lots for
gardening, a group called the East 11th Street Movement topped one of their homesteads
with a solar greenhouse and the nation's first rooftop windmill generator.
They also installed a 300-gallon fish farm in the basement of another squat,
stocked with hundreds of tilapia, African fresh-water fish. While the fish farm
and windmill were shortlived, the garden they started on East 12th Street went
on to become El Sol Brillante, which incorporated as a landtrust in 1978 and
is now run by members of the East 12th Street Block Association.(7)
With so many gardens cropping up on city-owned land, in 1978 the city
established Operation Green Thumb, which leases plots for $1 a year. Gardeners and
greening groups had pressured for the program as a way of legitimizing their
efforts. "They realized they were squatting and wanted some recognition of their
right to be there," says former Green Thumb director Jane Weisman. But others
saw it as a bureaucratic means to control the ad-hoc appropriation of
abandoned land. From the start, the City made clear that all leases were issued on a
"temporary" basis. In order to enter the Green Thumb program, gardeners had to
agree to vacate their plots within 30 days if the land was ever selected for
development. In 1983, the City began issuing some five and ten-year leases. But
property interests remained primary; any gardens occupying land valued at
over $20,000 could not receive a long-term lease.
By the early 1990s, some 850 gardens had been established--more than 60 of
them on the Lower East Side. Yet these plots were becoming increasingly
threatened as the neighborhood gentrified, and the city revived long-standing
development plans. Inspired by the destruction of Adam Purple's world-renowned Garden
of Eden, in 1994 another Lower East Side woman named Felicia Young began
hosting pageants to dramatize the plight of the area's green spaces. Every spring,
throngs of glitter-and-gauze wrapped dancers, giant puppets, and mud-caked
performers wind their way through the neighborhood's eclectic spaces, re-enacting
the gardeners struggle to keep their land.
Through Young's group, Earth Celebrations, gardeners on the Lower East Side
began organizing around the concept of creating a neighborhood land-trust. In
1995, they began holding monthly meetings to strategize for longterm
preservation. When HPD announced in 1996 that it intended to take back half of the Green
Thumb gardens citywide, Young and her fellow activists joined with gardeners
from other boroughs to form the New York City Garden Preservation Coalition.
On February 13, 1997, they organized the first citywide garden rally. Led by
giant puppets, more than 300 gardeners and supporters marched from City Hall
Park delivering 'valentines' of flowers and herbs to city officials, along with
petitions demanding that the city recognize the validity of their green spaces.
The street tactics clashed with non-profit greening groups, including Green
Guerrillas and the Trust For Public Land, which had privately taken the
position that not all gardens could be saved. Instead, TPL worked with Green Thumb to
get the more established gardens preserved as park land. In 1996, the 6th
Street and Avenue B garden--a large corner lot known for its bizarre, Watts-like
tower of plastic toys and stuffed animals--was granted parks status. Fourteen
others gardens have been transferred or are in the process of being
transferred to the Parks Department. Among them are the 6th and B Horticultural Center,
which features several goldfish ponds, waterfalls, and flora native to New
York State; and Green Oasis, which offers a large stage for children is theater,
a carp pond, and raised beds for the handicapped. But for every garden saved,
it seems, another is sacrificed. Fourteen of the Lower East Side's gardens are
to be auctioned this May, and the remainder are endangered, including,
ironically enough, the Liz Christy garden. Despite its magnificent plantings, this
mother of all community gardens could soon be destroyed, a victim of
1. Cited in John Kieran, A Natural History of New York(Fordham University
Press, 1982) p. 11.
2. Bill Weinberg, "Legacy of Rebellion: Tompkins Square and the Lower East
Side," Downtown Magazine, Feb. 14, 1990.
3. H. Patricia Hynes, A Patch of Eden (Chelsea Green Publishing Co., 1996) p.
xi; Tom Fox, Ian Koeppel, Susan Kellam, "The Struggle For Open Space"
(Neighborhood Open Space Coalition, 1985), pp. 3-6.
4. Mark Francis, Lisa Cashdan, Lynn Paxson, Community Open Spaces(Island
Press, 1984) p. 4.
5. Lili Wright, A Labor of Love, Not Just a Garden, The Villager,Nov. 12,
1987; interview with Bill Brunson.
6. Fox, et. al., pp. 16-21
7.John Kalish, "Urban Agriculture is Working in the Middle of Manhattan," The
Aquarian, June 25, 1980; Francis, et al., pp.85-97. John K.
Originally published in the book Avant Gardening,Autonomedia 1999.
<A HREF="http://www.clintoncommunitygarden.org/">Clinton Community Garden</A>
<< Subj: [cg] question on community gardens
Date: 8/20/03 11:07:34 AM Eastern Daylight Time
From: email@example.com (Sharon Lezberg)
Dear ACGA folks,
I'm looking for some basic information on community gardens in the United
States. Does anyone have the following info. (or sources to learn more):
1) How many gardens are there in the U.S. right now?
2) What were the gardens called during the depression?
3) When did community gardening originate in the U.S.?
Thanks for any info. you can give me. Please post responses to
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