As the pandemic surged, the group backyard organizers distributed practically 43,000 kilos of meals, together with 5,000 kilos that got here from Bronx gardens, in 2020. In 2021, they distributed greater than 162,100 kilos of meals, including practically 15,000 from the gardens. And they did this all whereas taking well being precautions. “The first thing we did was get the Department of Health to give us instructions on how to open up the gardens safely,” mentioned Washington.
At the Garden of Eden within the Bronx, gardeners set up a program early in 2020 that served cooked meals. To stop crowding, individuals filtered in by way of one gate of the backyard and out one other. “[Green Thumb] calls us and says that we can’t do that. The distance is six feet,” mentioned Ali Malone, who has been a member of the backyard for practically 40 years. So, after stopping this system, his son Al helped individuals join New York City’s emergency meals deliveries.
Now that the backyard has re-opened, Malone hopes that everybody strolling by will really feel welcome sufficient to cease in, take a look round, and choose fruit off the bushes.
Across New York City, different networks of group gardens have emerged to donate a few of their harvest as nicely. For occasion, within the East Village, which has the best focus of group gardens within the metropolis, gardeners helped to launch and provide the Loisaida CommUnity Fridge on the nook of Ninth Street and Avenue B. The free fridge opened in June of final 12 months as a part of a broader community of fridges, regularly stocked with free meals by volunteers.
“We rallied up with the help of community garden members and many different local, grassroot organizations from the area to start this successful community refrigerator,” mentioned Frank Gonzalez, a Lower East Side resident who leads the procurement for the fridge.
As comparatively low-risk, freely out there open house, group gardens have additionally served as important organizing areas throughout the pandemic. As a member of La Plaza Cultural de Armando Perez, a group backyard based in 1978, Gonzalez often convenes conferences within the backyard to debate methods to maintain the close by fridge well-stocked.
“It’s the only place I can feel happy. Everything is okay here.”
Community gardens additionally present social resilience, an missed useful resource that has been proven to assist communities fare higher in disasters. They are locations the place individuals kind friendships, supporting one another emotionally and logistically.
Carlos Melendez has positively skilled this profit. He has been a part of East Harlem’s Pleasant Village Community Garden since its 1974 founding. He has been spending his retirement tending to his backyard mattress with outdated pals. “I’ll be here every day, from six o’clock in the morning to five-thirty or six o’clock at night,” mentioned Melendez. He has no plan to vary this routine, provided that “it’s the only place I can feel happy,” he mentioned. “Everything is okay here.”
Part of the East Harlem backyard is slated to be became inexpensive housing. But many gardeners say it’s not needed for town to pit important group sources—entry to contemporary meals and housing—towards one different, pointing to the present constructing vacancies and the a “glut of inventory” in empty luxurious buildings. Figueroa characterizes this as a “false bifurcation” between linked points.
“This is an affordable housing strategy, growing your own food,” mentioned Figueroa. “It allows folks who are rent-burdened, and by extension food insecure, to manage that very unwieldy household economic situation.”
In response to a request for remark, the Parks Department, which operates Green Thumb, acknowledged that “the continued success of NYC Parks’ community gardens is at the forefront of our mission at Green Thumb, and we are proud to have supported our gardens during the ongoing pandemic,” noting that the company additionally began three new group gardens in 2021. The company didn’t touch upon the petition.
A Long Fight to Protect Gardens
La Plaza Cultural de Armando Perez backyard within the East Village is called after a group organizer and member of the Latinx group CHARAS, which took over and remediated an deserted lot crammed with trash. Later, Perez grew to become lively in pushing to guard La Plaza and different gardens from improvement—till he was shot on the sidewalk in 1999, in a still-unsolved homicide.
Like many others, Frank Gonzalez suspects that Perez’s homicide was doubtless linked to his work pushing again towards the specter of improvement. The battle reached a fever pitch below Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who determined to public sale off over 100 plots of land that have been house to gardens in 1998, main group members to have interaction in widespread protests the 12 months earlier than Perez was killed.
At the peak of the protests, as a metropolis was making ready to bulldoze the East Village’s Esperanza Garden, organizers constructed a construction formed like a coqui, a small tree frog and a cultural image of Puerto Rico, with sufficient room for 5 individuals. “So, we slept in it every night,” mentioned Bill Di Paola, a longtime group organizer. Amid a court docket battle to stop the auctioning of gardens, he remembers how town bulldozed the land in 2001, with the assistance of police, forcing out over 100 protestors.
“The city didn’t care about the judge [presiding over the lawsuit]. They destroyed the whole garden thinking they would get away with it,” mentioned Di Paola. But he credit the relentless protesting as spurring the 2002 agreement that preserved about 400 gardens for eight years and transferred the land to the Park’s Department.