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Food and NYC Community Gardens

  • Subject: [cg] Food and NYC Community Gardens
  • From: Adam36055@aol.com
  • Date: Fri, 17 Dec 2004 22:56:50 EST

The realpolitik ( the real politics, nitty gritty, nut cutting stuff) of 
growing food in NYC on highly overpriced land. 

The Clinton Community Garden sits on a third of an acre in mid-Manhattan on 
land worth, if it were not permanent Park Land, $5 - $10 Million Dollars.  It 
produces about a ton of food a year, in addition to having 5,000 keyholders, 
110 garden members and serving a community of 90,000 folks in our Community 
Board 4 catchment area, serving as open green space, a bird sanctuary, having a 
beehive that produced 150 pounds of honey last year, as well as serving a 
multi-ethnic community that would make most folks heads spin.

We have soup kitchens in our neighborhood ( Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen) a 
block away from million dollar condos that serve 1,100 people daily. 

One of our gardeners is the wife of the minister of Holy Apostle's  and draws 
us into that food security effort. And low income gardeners  grow food for  
themselves and neigbors who don't have to go to the supermarket as often during 
growing month.  

9 blocks away from the local Whole Foods in the AOL Time Warner Bldg ( with 
40 million dollar condos)  we have folks growing lettuces, until the frost, and 
after the frost,  under cloches.  

Yes Don, we produce food. But we also live in a highly politicized 
environment where we have make deals to do the right thing by working class, poor and 
homeless people.  And this politics is a blood sport, not an entertainment - 
though some of us have learned to enjoy the rush of playing "chicken," in our 
sneakers with the political equivalent of the developer's Abrams tanks. 

Understand the politics - in NYC, a full 20 percent of our population is food 
insecure. Think 20% of 8,100,000 people...... 

We have the one of richest congressional districts in the country  on the 
upper east side of Manhtattan, between 50th and 96th Streets, and the poorest in 
the South Bronx, maybe 3.5  miles away. 

Our division of wealth is as extreme as anything out of Dickens, and the soup 
kitchen that my synagogue has run on Sundays for the last 20 years started 
with just undomiciled men but now serves whole families, including children. 

This weekend it will be in the 20s, and I'll be cooking soup in large pots, 
and then taking the  vegetable peelings over to the compost bins of my garden, 
where many folks grow veggies that feed them as well as seniors and folks in 
social service homes in communities. 

But to keep land to grow food for people, we have to be part of a political 
process or we lose the land.  For example, if you saw all the raised beds that 
have been plowed over on Melrose Avenue and 158th Street in the South Bronx ( 
with some of the fruit trees and shrubs moved to nearby feral lots to be be 
planted and turned into new gardens) in an area of extreme poverty, asthma and 
polical corruption, you would openly weep as I did, two weeks ago, wrapping 
tree and shrub roots, killing mad at a political process that could deprive poor 
people of a desperately needed source of fresh food. 

To walk into South Bronx grocery stores, is to see the dregs of the corporate 
food system sold in small packages at exhorbitant prices if you look at price 
per pound. It is the same in Harlem and most communties of color in NYC, 
where we are suffering most of our community garden loss. 

Much of this is due to what I call the worst kind of black on black crime - 
namely venal African and Hispano American politicians and "program directors", 
i.e., poverty pimps, who drive from their suburban homes in good cars every 
day to their top heavy, inefficient social service programs, versus the working 
class and poor people in their communities. This is in addition to the real 
estate developers who are building a Bush-type, "ownership" community of three 
family townhouses atop community gardens in the Bronx, in which most of the 
owners don't live, but are filled by Section 8 tenants. 

Section 8 is a Federal Housing Subsidy that is slated for the chopping block 
in this second Bush Administration, so I wonder if this new housing will 
eventually be abandoned and burned out like the old housing stock was in the 1970s. 

So yes, Don, we do care about food. When you and others were bicycled around 
NYC during the 2002 convention, you saw the sculptures, the cute casitas, and 
the pretty events - an emphasis I didn't entirely agree with.  We even had a 
weird Japanese dance concert at the Clinton Community Garden - but maybe we 
should have lined up some of the hungry folks we feed here, for your edification, 
as well as our native plants and roses. 

 I would love to hear about how other parts of this country's community 
gardens are dealing with hunger issues.  Maybe you have wheels we can share. 

Adam Honigman

Adam Honigman
 Clinton Community Garden  

> Subj: [cg] community garden history - comments 
>  Date: 12/18/04 12:32:14 AM Mid-Atlantic Standard Time
>  From: dboekelheide@yahoo.com
>  To: community_garden@mallorn.com
>  Sent from the Internet 
> Hi, all,
> Thanks to Adam for the community gardening history
> lesson, in response to Michaels question. In a
> nutshell, Adams posts together do two things  give a
> very helpful overview of a powerful and perhaps
> dominant view of community gardening, and invite all
> of us to speak our own minds and think for ourselves. 
> A couple of discussion points:
> In this worldview, there appear to be two main poles
> of the universe, New York (big pole) and Europe (small
> pole). Somewhere out there in the distance, maybe, you
> might glimpse Los Angeles (Watts Tower) and other
> hamlets in the hinterlands, but the community
> gardeners of New York are at the center of community
> garden history.
> Who are these New York gardeners? An eclectic bunch,
> with a strong artistic streak. They have charismatic
> leaders, whose names are venerated and remembered, and
> at the same time have an equally strong anarchistic
> streak. But this is Kropotkin anarchism, a
> constructive cooperative force that creates garden
> beauty in the bleakest wastes of Metropolis. These
> gardeners come from different cultures. Their gardens
> are both expressions of their unique cultures, and
> common ground where different cultures meet.
> Theres also a strong element of political organizing,
> and a push-pull relationship with legitimacy. On the
> one hand, gardens fight to be independent of city
> hall; on the other, they delight in getting leases,
> money and recognition (respect or power is perhaps
> a better term). But it doesnt appear to be fame or
> (god knows) money thats the motivator  it is a
> desire to keep, even in the midst of a paved-over
> cityscape shaded by skyscrapers, a modest patch of
> soil where people can grow plants, hang out with the
> neighbors, and create things, all kinds of things,
> from Latin jazz concerts to whimsical sculptures of
> junk.
> Surprisingly, theres barely a mention of food. 
> Certainly, both victory gardens (on both sides of
> the continent, and both sides of the pond) and
> allotment gardens do make food production a key
> element and raison detre. The point is not, of
> course, that NYC gardeners dont eat great food from
> their gardens. Its that garden organizers dont
> necessarily emphasize it, perhaps because they take
> this element for granted, or because they honestly
> believe that food production, while nice, isnt really
> central (a belief already shaping policy in
> Philadelphia, where an established greening agency
> that once focused on community gardens is instead
> doing little faux suburb fescue lawns and fences on
> vacant lots, since community gardens are  in essence
>  too much trouble).
> Missing from the NY history, too,  is the ecology
> element thats very strong in other places, including
> here in the Carolinas. While love of nature may flavor
> NY garden ideology for publicity purposes (see the
> lead of the history piece on NYC gardens, with the
> croaking froggies of 2 centuries ago and chirping
> birdies), maybe ecology, like food, isnt seen as a
> central element  or is taken for granted as something
> too obvious to fuss about.
> If, in this view, NYC is the center of the modern
> community garden universe, then Europe is
> simultaneously the venerable source and the unholy
> other.  The standard story says allotments came into
> being thanks to the largesse of wealthier classes,
> seeking to keep the poor folks out of the pub, after 
> enclosure had booted all the peasants off the land and
> into those dark satanic mines and mills. Makes a nice
> story, but was it that simple? Though Im not thrilled
> with it, heres a somewhat more longer and more
> detailed timeline for English allotments:
> http://dspace.dial.pipex.com/town/close/xpz05/history.htm
> Starting history with the Paris Commune makes some
> sense (wed adapt to Paris or London of 1850 much more
> readily than we would to, say, New York of 1750 or
> even 1800), but there was this small provincial revolt
> and a continental regicide a bit more than a
> half-century earlier that did have some impact on
> global political development. Thinking globally, there
> was also the small matter of colonialism. 
> But debating this kind of thing may just be a detour
> from a broader question  havent there been gardens
> in cities since the first cities were invented? In
> fact, quite possibly, the availability of water,
> rechanneled for more reliable crop production was a
> key factor leading to the growth of cities. Plus, as I
> saw firsthand in West Africa, piles of excrement and
> waste from intense human habitation (especially with
> livestock in the mix) are ideal, once composted, for
> vegetable crops. Underneath all the art and the
> politics, even with that unparalleled New York
> chutzpah, those gardens in Manhattan may express a
> very long-established human pattern, and perhaps an
> even deeper human yearning. This may be true for
> community gardens everywhere.
> While NY was doing its thing, so was California and
> the West Coast, particularly the work of Alan Chadwick
> at Santa Cruz in the mid-1960s, and, at the same time
> and shortly thereafter, the community gardens in Santa
> Barbara lead by Richard Merrill and in Berkeley
> (remember Peoples Park, and the Free Speech
> Movement?). That ecological/spiritual/food-oriented
> garden ethos is still here in community gardening,
> informing, motivating and inspiring gardeners.
> More fundamentally, while white American and Europe
> can be pleased about victory gardens and potato
> patches for the poor, the vast majority of humanity
> living elsewhere in the world - in Asia, Mexico,
> Africa, The Middle East, Oceana, and among North and
> South Americas First Nations - have been doing
> community gardening all along. This constantly strikes
> me, working locally with Latinos from various
> countries, Hmong gardeners, and rural Southerners.
> They were gardening with a community element long
> before they ended up at our community garden gates. My
> working theory is that modern community gardening in
> North America owes a great and growing debt to
> immigrants bringing in ideas, plants and know-how.
> When all is said and done, maybe the element that
> Americans bring to community gardening is a sense of
> artistry, defining the garden a shared space where
> people create and enjoy a blend of whimsy, beauty and
> utility. And NY has certainly helped pioneer and
> establish that.
> Anyway, history books on the English part of story:
> Ive enjoyed Jenny Uglows A Little History of British
> Gardening, and the clunky but worthwhile The
> Allotment, Its Landscape and Culture by David Crouch
> and Colin Ward. The definitive book on American
> community gardening hasnt been written yet, I dont
> think (Adam? Interested?) 
> Heres a good list of contacts for allotments in the
> UK.
> http://dspace.dial.pipex.com/town/close/xpz05/allotlinks.htm
> One of my favorite garden spots in the UK is Emerson
> College. Im no true believer in Steiner and
> biodynamic stuff, but, wow, this is one glorious
> garden. http://www.emerson.org.uk/biodynamic.htm
> My guess is that you can find some wonderful
> allotments in Holland, though Dutch commercial farmers
> apply huge amounts of fertilizer and chemicals to
> conventional farms (no bovine growth hormone, though).
> Heres a story, from the UK, about Dutch allotments:
> http://www.bexleychronicle.com/July04/DutchAllotments.htm
> Actually, Michael, since Seattle gave us Master
> Gardeners, Master Composters, a super community garden
> program, Jimmy Hendrix and (for better or worse)
> passable espresso on every street corner from Cheyenne
> to Beaufort, maybe you ought to quality as a center of
> the universe, too.
> Don Boekelheide
> Charlotte, NC
> (in deep grits)

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