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Queens, NY: Community Garden News

  • Subject: [cg] Queens, NY: Community Garden News
  • From: Adam36055@aol.com
  • Date: Fri, 16 Jul 2004 08:34:34 EDT

Two articles from the Queens Chronicle:

I. Teens And Flowers Blossom In Flushing Gardening Program

by Kim Brown, Central and Mid Queens Editor July 15, 2004

Teens from the Forest Hills Community House help restore Meadow Garden in The Flushing Meadows-Corona Park Conservancy. (photo courtesy of the conservancy)

   Michael Zezon has spent the last 10 years trying to keep teenagers out of trouble. As an outreach worker at the Forest Hills Community House, he tried basketball, computer classes and even cooking lessons.
   But nothing helped 13 boys in his program grow like the gardening program he supervised. Last Thursday, the formerly troubled teens completed the restoration of Meadow Garden in Flushing Meadows Park. 
   "It's fantastic," Zezon said about the recently completed project. "It opened up doors for the participants that they didn't know existed before." The program is a partnership between the New York City Department of Parks, The Flushing Meadows-Corona Park Conservancy and Forest Hills Community House.
   The gardening program was intended not just to teach teenagers about ecology but also to encourage them to become stakeholders in the park. "The idea was to train young men from the local community and also to dissuade them from things they shouldn't be doing," said Pat Dolan, president of the conservancy.
   Since May the young men, ranging in age from 15 to 17, have been clearing weeds and planting hibiscus, daisies, lilies, irises and other plants that are native to Queens, near Meadow Lake in the park. The result is a 1,000-square-foot garden that restores the area to what it looked like during colonial times. "I am very, very proud of the young men who have put time and effort into this," Dolan said. "The result is an example of the real potential of Flushing Meadows."
   Some of the teens in the program are starting to reach their potential as well. If it weren't for the gardening program, 16-year-old Chris Fernandez would have been doing the same thing he did last summer-"just hanging out with friends," as he says. Instead he helped transform Meadow Garden. "I see the difference. It looks a lot better and I feel good."
   What was once a weedy, overgrown area has become a natural habitat for plants, fish and birds. As planners intended, red-winged robins and blackbirds have already started returning to the park. During the winter and spring migratory seasons, many more of the millions of birds that fly over the area will stop to nest in the restored garden.
   Besides planting, participants also installed biodegradable logs in Meadow Lake to act as barriers against trash. They pulled overgrown weeds and planted marsh grass along the shoreline as well.
   The work wasn't easy and it took a while for Zezon to convince the teenagers to help with the project. He spent time in playgrounds and other areas where they gathered before speaking to them about the community house. He selected some of the leaders who he thought were at-risk for getting into trouble during the long summer days without adult supervision. A small stipend provided by the City Council and the JM Kaplan Fund helped persuade the teenagers to do the work.
   The first week of the project was the most difficult. That was when the teens used sledgehammers to drive stakes into logs along the lake's shoreline. "In the beginning it was long and grueling," Zezon said. "As we went along, they've enjoyed it more."
   The site, which is located off Jewel Avenue by the Grand Central Parkway, is open for the public to view, but the recently planted flowers won't bloom until next spring. By then, Meadow Garden will be completely restored.
   Many of the teens who participated in the program will use their new skills to prune trees and do landscaping work in the city's parks during the remainder of the summer. For some, the lessons they learned will stay with them well past August.

II. Queens' Community Gardens Prepare For A New Permanence

by Keach Hagey, Eastern/Southeastern Queens Editor July 15, 2004

Evelyn Adams surveys the bounty in the McIntosh Neighborhood Association Garden in East Elmhurst, which she began creating in the vacant lot across from her house in 1978. (photo by Keach Hagey)

   By the 9th of July, the corn in East Elmhurst's McIntosh Neighborhood Association Garden was as high as an elephant's eye, as the old song goes, and the beans, squash, peppers, lettuce, tomatoes, turnips, broccoli, beets, sweet potatoes and collard greens weren't doing too badly either.
   But as she did the morning weeding, Evelyn Adams, who has been cultivating the abandoned corner lot across from her house at the corner of 100th and McIntosh Streets since 1978, noticed that something was amiss. A squirrel had crept in overnight and stolen a few ears of corn. 
   "We're going to have to find a solution," said Adams' neighbor and gardening partner Ada Smothers, shaking her head at the telltale scratches on the stalk. "There's not going to be any corn left."
   Beneath their concern, Adams and Smothers are secretly thrilled that four-legged thieves are once again the greatest threat to their community garden, which six years ago was on the auction block for development, along with 113 of the city's 700 gardens.
   From the 1970s until the late 1990s, the derelict lots had been run as community gardens through the city's Green Thumb program, which leased the land to neighborhood associations for one dollar a year. But as property values rose, so did the temptation for the city to sell.
   But when former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's administration announced its intention to do so in 1998, it met with an outcry from the public and a lawsuit from New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer. The day before the auction in the spring of 1999, the Mayor's Office agreed to sell the lots at a fraction of market rates to a coalition of conservation groups.
   One of these groups, the Trust For Public Land, bought the Macintosh garden and 62 others for $3 million. Since then, the national non-profit organization has invested another $3 million in capital improvements for the gardens like wrought-iron fences, gazebos and tool sheds, and has been preparing gardeners to take legal ownership of the land.
   As of this March, the formerly city-owned vacant lots are officially part of the country's largest urban land trust, which is broken down into three separate organizations: the Manhattan, Bronx and Brooklyn Queens Land Trusts. Each functions as its own incorporated entity, with its own board of directors and fundraising responsibilities.
   Once the gardeners get used to their roles as members of a non-profit organization, TPL will transfer ownership to the land trusts in 2005.
   The transfer will give the gardens a level of permanence that they have never had before. "Truly, before this (transfer), gardeners could come out and find a bulldozer in their garden," said Susan Clark, public relations director at TPL.
   The central organization will ensure that gardens are maintained even after the key people who tend them pass away or move somewhere else. But TPL also wants to make sure that the administrative backbone does not alter the unique approach that each community takes to its garden.
   While McIntosh is a meticulously planned vegetable garden, with each box set aside for a different type of plant, Dunton Block and Civic Association Garden in Jamaica is more of a community gathering place, with a range of social programs and different patches of soil cared for by different groups.
   One bed of flowers is tended by a neighborhood group of mentally disabled adults. Another plot, packed with corn and tomatoes, is tended by a nearby resident. The latest addition is a narrow herb garden at the back, planted by Rasheida Smith, who makes her own herbal cosmetics and is the third generation of gardeners to tend the lot.
   Smith's grandmother, Suzie Williams, brought her knowledge of how to make things grow from her family farm in Spring Lake, North Carolina. She moved to the city as a 21-year-old and has been living in her house in Jamaica for 55 years. "I've always had a garden," she said.
   Williams passed her green thumb on to her daughter, Sharon Smith, who serves as vice president of the garden.
   On Wednesday nights, the group runs a program for children ages 5 to 14, teaching them to weed and water. "We try to teach the children that you don't have to go to the supermarket. It can be grown locally," Smith said.
   The garden, located at the northwest corner of Remington Street and Shore Avenue on the site of a building that burned down 15 years ago, also hosts outdoor jazz concerts during the summer.
   When it is time for harvest, the bounty is distributed among the neighbors. "It is an inspiration to the community," said Carl Green, president of the garden.
   Some of the gardeners, like Sabriyah Abdul-Qadir, were so inspired by Dunton that they have begun working on other gardens. Abdul-Qadir is in the process of trying to reinvigorate the nearby Lakewood Garden of Eden, another TPL project, after one of its main gardeners passed away.
   TPL also owns the Malcolm X Garden in Corona and the Merrick-Mardsen Neighbors Association Garden in South Jamaica, both areas with limited access to green space.
   "I'm a country boy. I was born and raised up around stuff that grows," said James Barber, who was born in South Carolina and serves as treasurer to the garden. "I think the Lord blesses me when I make things grow."

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