Brooklyn has the greenest thumb of all five boroughs, if you measure that by our 349 community gardens (Manhattan comes in second with 204). The Brooklyn Queens Land Trust defines a community garden as “a shared green space which is planned, designed, built and maintained by some community members for the use and enjoyment of the entire community,” but how each garden interprets that definition varies greatly.
At the Garden of Union in Park Slope, no one gets an individual plot, and the produce grown is divvied among members. Clinton Hill’s Hollenback Garden assigns separate plots, but requires its members to attend four meetings and four group “workdays” a year and spend two hours a month hosting the garden’s weekly “open hours,” the 10-hour period all gardens are open to the public. The rules are strict because there’s a waiting list to get in next year.
The Green Thumb website (greenthumbnyc.org), part of the city Parks and Recreation department, allows you to enter your street address or zip code to find the gardens nearest your home (or office). You then call Green Thumb (212-788-8070) to get the name, phone and email of the garden’s coordinator for details on how to join.
If your heart’s set on joining a garden with a waiting list, you typically need to invest some sweat equity for admission. This Saturday, for instance, Hollenback is hosting a workday starting at 11 am, open to interested parties.
Once you’re in, you’re expected to abide by the garden’s rules — and not be an idiot. “We’ve only asked one to person to leave in 10 years,” said Wayne Tobias, co-coordinator of the St. Mark’s Avenue Block Association garden, “and that was because she would go into other people’s plots and dig their flowers up.”
This spring Just Food (justfood.org), an organization dedicated to cultivating and strengthening community food systems, is launching the City Chicken Project. Community groups, including gardens, can apply for a chicken grant by April 19, which includes a coop and a site-appropriate number of chickens.
Founded in 1973 by Liz Christy, the original community gardener, the Green Guerillas (greenguerillas.org) don’t manage gardens or place volunteers; rather, they offer vital support to gardeners in the city through workshops, education and advocacy.
The Brooklyn GreenBridge (bbg.org/edu/greenbridge), part of the Brooklyn Botanical Garden, offers gardeners free workshops like Street Tree Gardening on April 24, and hosts a plant giveaway for community gardens after its annual plant sale May 7-9.
Among the tips GreenBridge director Robin Simmen offers first timers: Check the soil, the amount of sun your plot gets, and plant accordingly. If the soil’s too alkaline, add compost, and if it’s shady, consider salad greens, coleus, pansies, and begonias. Sun-loving plants include sunflowers, cosmos, lantana, portulaca, and zinnias, which attract butterflies. She favors annuals over perennials for newbies because they’re cheaper and easier to plant.
Until recently, Brooklynites could get free compost at Spring Creek. Now you’ll have to trek to Staten Island to take as many bags as you can haul this Saturday and Sunday from 8 am-2 pm. (directions here). Local garden centers also stock it, and you can learn how to make your own through the NYC Compost Project. (nyccompost.com). The BBG also hosts free classes like “Composting in the City” on May 28, 6-8pm.
If you don’t want to commit to your own garden, you can volunteer or shop at a city farm. Added Value in Red Hook (added-value.org) holds a Wednesday farmerâ€™s market from 10-2 and one on Saturday from 9-3 during the growing season, which helps support youth farming programs in the neighborhood. East New York Farms (eastnewyorkfarms.org) is a group that has helped start an array of community gardens in a neighborhood that has long relied on bodegas for produce. The small urban farms in this emerging food system include several hives and a beekeeping apprentice program. The Saturday farmer’s market from 9-3 in the summer and fall features produce and honey from dozens of neighborhood gardeners, and an unparalleled display of community pride.
Sent by Annaliese Griffin
East New York Farms photo courtesy BBG GreenBridge