Some good news from the Big City
This is the kind of article that gives us for for humanity and for a simple, community friendly life style. It's a great idea that needs to grow and spread over the country.
SEEDS OF DIVERSITY GROW IN BED-STUY GARDEN
On a lazy Saturday afternoon, two women, one black, one white, make preparations for a party in the Greene Acres Community Garden on Franklin Avenue in Bedford-Stuyvesant. Musicians from The Central Brooklyn Jazz Consortium are performing. A barbeque smokes near an overgrown bush. The women are preparing for the expected 40 guests that will be part the garden's second annual celebration of Buster Bailey, a black jazz clarinetist who moved to the area in the 1950's from Harlem.
According to the 2000 US Census, the zip code in which the garden is located is 68.5 percent black. But the party guests that wonder into the garden throughout the afternoon are of different races, religions, sexual orientations, and eating habits.
"That's what makes it work so well I think, that there is such a diversity, all focused on this serene place in this urban jungle of ours," said Rowe, when she took a break from preparing for the party. "That's what brings the beauty besides the greenery and flowers and veggies and fruits. It's the growing of minds and people and tolerance." Rowe, who describes herself as "a woman in her early sixties," has lived in the neighborhood since she was 7-years-old.
Since last year the Obama administration has promoted community gardens for their environmental and health benefits. In February of 2009, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack "broke pavement," turning an impervious surface at the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington into a community garden. Vilsack announced that he intended to do the same at each USDA facility worldwide. In a show of support, Michelle Obama gave the USDA a historic magnolia seedling that was an offspring of a tree planted at the White House by Andrew Jackson. In her effort to promote healthy eating, she has also praised community gardens for being sources of fresh fruits and vegetables.
But community gardens, like Green Acres, can also be places that encourage social connections and personal interaction. "It's rich ground for growing community," said Annie Hauck-Lawson, an associate professor of health and nutrition sciences at Brooklyn College. Hauck-Lawson says that community gardens in New York City became important neighborhood symbols in the 1970's when "times were bleak."
"It is one thing to join a community garden because now it's really trendy," she said. "Its another thing when the city's got god-awful conditions...to start from the ground up."
There are over 600 community gardens in New York City, more than 30 of which are in Bedford-Stuyvesant, according to GreenThumb, the community garden program of the Department of Parks and Recreation.
Like many gardens in the city, Greene Acres Community Garden has been involved in political turmoil in the past.
In the late 1990's, the administration of former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani tried to auction off some community gardens in an effort to create more housing in the city, a plan that was objected to by gardeners and activist groups. Green Acres Community Garden was one of the gardens embroiled in the controversy.
As part of the fallout from Giuliani's attempt to auction some gardens, Greene Acres, along with at least 50 other gardens, were bought by a land trust operated by The New York Restoration Project (NYRP), a non-profit organization founded by the actress Bette Midler that is dedicated to beautifying and cleaning New York City.
"Good public spaces [create] a healthier place for people to live, a healthier place for businesses to open," said Amy Gavaris, executive vice president of NYRP. According to Gavaris, when planning how to build and improve community gardens, NYRP considers how the local community is developing and changing.
"There are bigger economic forces out there. We try to make nice places without displacing people," said Gavaris. "We're also recognizing that communities do change, and that's a new constituency."
NYRP works with neighborhood residents when planning gardens. "It's a design process in the end that people who have participated have signed off on," said Gavaris, noting that some communities want farms, while others want pocket gardens or playgrounds.
Gavaris says that in some gardens, like the Target Community Garden, also located in Bedford-Stuyvesant, NYRP had to cultivate a membership. In the case of Greene Acres Community Garden, she says a diverse membership was already in place when NYRP took over the garden and began its design process.
"A community idea means that it wasn't my idea or her idea or his idea it was pieces of everyone's wishes, hopes dreams, imaginations - creativity, " said Rowe, a founding member of Greene Acres Community Garden. She says that being part of a garden that has such a diverse membership has allowed her to learn about other religions and cultural practices.
"I'm the run your mouth person," said Rowe. "Some people could tell you about how we're organic here and we don't use chemicals...I'm the person if you're walking by the street and you're looking I'll be like 'Hey, hi, how are you? Come in. Look at our garden.'"
It is through the garden that Rowe met Suzan Frazier, who also prepared the garden before guests arrived for the Buster Bailey celebration. After meeting in the garden, the two discovered that they attend "sister churches," which are in the same dioceses.
Frazier, 55, originally from Ohio, came to New York to attend Barnard College. She says that not all members of the garden join with the sole purpose of harvesting fresh fruits and vegetables. "They enjoy growing," she said. "Its intriguing to people. And then it brings them in and they enjoy other aspects."
According to Hauck-Lawson, who is the author of the book Gastropolis: Food in New York City, community gardens can be places that build bridges between new and old residents in a community. "I see the residents who have always lived there as valuable resources for new arrivals," she said. "They provide a sense of place for newcomers."
The Buster Bailey celebration Greene Acres Community Garden started last year to commemorate the clarinetist who played with Louis Armstrong and Fletcher Henderson. Born in Tennessee, Bailey moved to Chicago, and then Harlem before eventually settling in Brooklyn.
"I've seen the area go, come, go, come, you know. It's just a circle," said Rowe, referring to the cycles of demographic change that she has witnessed in the neighborhood.
The celebration of Rowe's grandfather was in full swing by late afternoon. Hotdogs, burgers, and ears of corn smoked on the grill. Attendees gathered round a picnic table to talk and eat, as Rowe sliced a watermelon. According to Frazier, most of the attendees were new faces, not members of the garden.
"For years you walk by people in your neighborhood and you see neighbors you've seen for years, and you might smile and say, 'Hello. How are you?' But, you don't even know their name," said Rowe. "But here, with a community garden, you get to learn people's names...It makes for a little more conversation and a little more getting to know you."
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Posted by Marilyn Renaker at November 4, 2010 5:30 AM