Press Release: Promising Garden Springs up in Sunnyside

06.28.2020

For Immediate Release

PROMISING GARDEN SPRINGS UP IN SUNNYSIDE 

Guerrilla gardeners quickly win over neighbors and 

property owner with compost concept

Sunnyside, Queens, NYC – Early on Saturday morning, one year and one day after the City Council declared a climate emergency, a group of western Queens guerrilla gardeners arrived with bike trailers loaded, to a vacant lot located at 41-12 45th St. They placed composting signage and a large banner exclaiming “RESISTANCE IS FERTILE”. Then they entered the lot carrying plants, tools and a prefabricated 3-bin composting system. A week earlier, teams of guerrilla marketers had set up a free lemonade stand on Juneteenth, then handed out flyers advertising a new public food scrap-off in the area over the weekend. From 9:30am-1pm on Saturday over 100 earth stewards of Sunnyside, who knew better than to send their organic scraps to a landfill, continually swarmed the vacant lot and contributed to the formation of this new community garden.

Image from @oikofugicrchl in Instagram https://www.instagram.com/p/CB9DjlSj3kI/ Art credit: Barrel @glopezsez; Banner @ClimbitJustice

As the last bike trailer was unloaded into the lot, a land acknowledgment to the Canarsie Lenape people was shared as one organizer unfurled a ceremonial blanket on the ground revealing several objects representing the elements; a singing bowl, a shell, incense, a blue heron feather, candle, a ceremonial hand drum, crystals and seeds. Meanwhile another group quickly built the compost bins and called onlookers into the lot to form a circle around the new infrastructure. They offered the ceremonial objects and cue cards prompting participants to call in the four directions, as well as the sky spirit, our earth mother and our inner selves to hold a safe space for what the organizers called a ground healing ceremony, noting that this is the opposite of a groundbreaking ceremony in name and act.

Cargo bikes moved several loads of plants, tools and supplies in the early morning. (Photo by gil lopez)

It didn’t take long for the superintendent of the adjacent apartment building to notify the owner since the neighboring building and the vacant lot are both owned by HB Village LLC and managed by Norcor Management. A Norcor Management representative, Micheal Otterman quickly arrived on the scene and requested that everyone vacate the property. When the gathering crowd did not comply, Mr. Otterman suggested that the police must be alerted to uphold lawful use of the land. The compost activists who had initiated the action began trying to deescalate the situation. They were quickly joined by supportive residents pleading not to involve the police. As neighbors had been watching the scene unfold from their apartment windows and viewing live streams of the action on social media, they were inspired to come join the event and lend their voices in support of non-police intervention. The crowd went on to advocate for an agreement with the property owner that would allow continued community use of the land for a community garden. At one point the Mr. Otterman commiserated with the crowd stating, “I compost too!” The crowd spontaneously began chanting “JOIN US, JOIN US” referring to the compost chopping and processing happening near the center of the lot. While Otterman did not join the action, he did make it clear that he would not call the police and instead left the site to bief his superiors over the phone.

A moment of tension as the Norcor Representative hears out the guerrilla gardeners and community members, screenshot from FB live stream https://www.facebook.com/100005138764913/videos/1701659666681976/

A resident of the building across the street named Tess witnessed the events unfolding from her apartment window and quickly went downstairs to see what was happening. Although she had no prior knowledge of the action or organizers, months earlier, she had initiated a discussion about this vacant lot via an online neighborhood group. She also sent a note to the owner about community use of the land, but got no response. She was surprised and elated by the guerrilla garden forming before her eyes. She quickly identified a need to collect email and contact info for supportive neighbors who wanted to stay involved. When Tess was asked about the day’s events she exclaimed, “I am so glad this is happening! I’ve been having conversations and hoping this lot could be used by this community for years. This is so needed and uplifting!” This same sentiment was repeated by several neighbors throughout the day as more and more people learned of the action and stopped by. One neighbor who lives in the building on the other side of the lot declared, “I’ve imagined this lot being turned into garden since middle school. This is my dream come true!”

Supportive Sunnysiders signing up to get involved. Image from https://www.instagram.com/p/CB9R55ijM3J/

The guerrilla gardeners acted on the grounding principle that composting our organic food scraps is absolutely imperative for the continued existence of human societies and other life on this Earth. If the City cannot, or will not support this basic ecological task, then they would take it into their own hands. They released a media advisory the day before the event which outlines the premise of this action. They were also spurred into action by the fact that the NYC Compost Project is set to officially close all seven of it’s city-wide operations this Tuesday, June 30th, leaving no publicly funded compost processing sites open in NYC. Some Sunnysiders who were recently laid off from the NYC Compost Project played supportive roles throughout the day. One of which was gil lopez, who has a history of guerrilla gardening in western Queens and was a vocal advocate for retaining use of the land for composting and a community garden when the property owner’s representative arrived. Approximately 100 people stopped by to drop-off kitchen scraps they had been saving for the occasion and several community composters helped mix their neighbors’ scraps with leaves and wood chips to kickstart the decomposition process. Other participants were planting and watering dozens of plants from corn and pumpkin to ornamental flowers and even fruit trees, including two native paw-paws. Neighbors began bringing more flowers purchased from the farmers market around the corner, someone brought watermelon for everyone and onlookers posted images and videos on social media. The lot was relatively clean already, but participants filled a couple trash bags and sorted out metal and plastic into the adjacent buildings recycling. Signs were placed on the fence that highlight the importance of community composting and two large banners were hung, one stating “Resistance is Fertile”, while another declared “Food Justice = Social Justice”

Former Compost Project and GrowNYC employees help neighbors compost their kitchen scraps by chopping and mixing with leaves and paper (Image credit @oikofugicrchl)

One organizer pleaded to the Norcor Management representative their reasons for occupying the land and that while the entire city is closing all municipal compost sites, community gardens continue to do the work, but cannot even accept volunteer labor due to Covid and they are running out of space and reaching capacity. Right around the corner from the site, the Sunnyside Community Garden compost team is out of space and has created a petition requesting use of another nearby parcel of dissued City Parks land. With no reaction or comments from officials concerning the petition, Sunnyside residents will soon be forced to send their organics to the landfill. This bureaucratic red tape and denied land access is creating a specific form of environmental racism and ecocide that is not acceptable. Micheal Otterman told people on site that Norcor Management also owned and sold that parcel to the city last year.

The western Queens guerrilla gardeners planned and executed this direct action to address these inequities at their root cause and to call out the hypocrisy of the NYC City Council which declared a Climate Emergency in June 2019 but has failed to act. The activists also used this occasion to call for City Council to pass and fully fund the Community Organics and Recycling Empowerment (CORE) Act, which would create a minimum threshold of recycling and composting sites across five boroughs, allowing for proper disposal of non-general waste and refuse (including compost, e-waste, toxic substances like paint and textiles) in order to deal with the environmental racism issues ingrained in the City’s waste management infrastructure. These issues are detailed in NYC City Council Intro 157-C the “Waste Equity Bill” which was passed in 2018 but has yet to affect the Department of Sanitations practices on the ground. In absence of political action, the compost activists created a solution to these problems and more.

After hearing the plight of the community composters and the many residents who responsibly save their kitchen scraps, the property owner turned a sympathetic ear to occupiers of the lot. By the end of the morning, Mr. Otterman had conveyed the community’s concerns to the owners and they agreed to let the gardeners continue their peaceful action until the advertised food scrap drop-off ended at 1pm.

Police did arrive on the scene with red lights flashing at 12:40am but Micheal Otterman met them in the street and assured them that he did not call them and that they were not needed here, as the community and the landowner had come to an agreement and it looked as if everyone was going to vacate the property as requested, at 1pm. The police turned off their lights and left as quietly as they came. Meanwhile the very presence of the police had energized the gardeners to move quickly in getting the rest of the plants in the ground and gather up any material that would not stay on-site after 1pm.  

Gardeners rush to finalize things before the 1pm deadline (Image @resistance_is_fertile)

Neighbors brought water from adjacent apartment buildings to water the new plants.

In a final act before vacating the site, the organizers called their neighbors into a circle around the new pile of food scraps and thanked the four directions, the sky, Mother Earth, our inner selves and our ancestors, including the indiginous peoples who are the traditional caretakers of this land, for inspiring and protecting all those involved with this direct action.

The activists and community composters made good on their word to vacate at 1pm. As the group stood outside the lot, the superintendents of the neighboring Norcor owned building put up new “NO TRESPASSING” signs and placed a new lock on the gate. Micheal Otterman extended an invitation to meet with community members in the coming week. In a subsequent phone call Micheal stated that “BH Village is open to a dialogue with the community to provide legal and safe access to the site.”

The guerrilla gardeners seemed pleased that Micheal and BH Village LLC met them with compassion on Saturday. There is currently a community of supportive neighbors forming and organizing towards a community garden on the site. It truly seems like this bold action may result in a new garden for Sunnyside residents and maybe some justice for the communities that have bore the weight of Sunnyside’s organic waste in the past.

For press contact and questions 

contact gil lopez 347.837.2423 glopezsez@gmail.com

Media Advisory for Sunnyside Guerrilla Garden

For Immediate Release

June 26, 2020

GUERRILLA GARDEN TAKING ROOT IN SUNNYSIDE FOCUSES ON ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE

Directly Addressing Issues of Compost and Waste Equity.

SUNNYSIDE, NY— The Western Queens Guerrilla Gardeners are a group of local gardeners, environmental activists and community composters are creating a new green space in the Sunnyside Gardens neighborhood in Queens. We invite the press and the public to join in this joyous occasion.

The Western Queens Guerrilla Gardeners acknowledge and honor the Canarsie Lenape people as the traditional custodians of this land. While colonization has largely extirpated these peoples, it is vital to recognize their continuing connection to land, water and community and pay respect to Elders past, present and emerging.

  • What: Ground Healing Ceremony and inaugural food scrap drop-off  
  • Who: Western Queens Guerrilla Gardeners
  • Date: June 27, 2020 Ceremony at 11am; 
  • Food Scrap Drop-off from 9:30am – 1pm
  • Time: 9:30am-1pm Food Scrap Drop-off
  • Where: Near the corner of Skillman Avenue and 45th Street

This is a community garden, which will cultivate a fun, neighborhood oriented, all-ages environment. It is also a guerrilla garden; a direct action done without permission. And it is an activist garden, which are inherently political project addressing power in our society and shifting it into the hands and hearts of the community. The impetus of this action is based on environmental justice, waste equity, public access to composting services and admonishment of speculative land holding in our communities. The organizers encourage the participating public to engage with the new space, embellish it, and maintain it as their own, while devising ways of defending and governing the garden  moving forward.

This action is separate from, but done in solidarity with, the Woodside-Sunnyside Compost team’s request and petition for use of publicly owned land to produce food for the local pantry and expand their composting operations in the neighborhood. Their current compost site, run by volunteers, has seen a dramatic increase in participation and has effectively run out of space to process their neighbors food scraps into compost. The Western Queens Guerrilla Gardeners assert that composting is not just an essential service, but part of each individual’s and the community’s responsibility to care for the planet and its resources. Taking on and expanding this responsibility strengthens community, reduces inequity, and reestablishes our place in the natural world and cycle of life.

“Compost is the core, the essential foundation of natural gardening and farming. It is the heart of the organic concept.

Compositing is not new. Neither in theory nor practice are the basic tenets of returning organic matter to the soil revolutionary or even comparatively recent vintage. The pages of history are filled with emphatic evidence that nothing is more fundamental to [hu]man’s prosperity—to civilization itself—than a lasting, productive agriculture. This, the past proves, can stem only from the most primary of Nature’s laws—the law of return, the very cycle of life itself.

Wherever a nation has adhered to this principle, there alone has a people survived and a land flourished. Where it has been violated and abused, whether through ignorance or mistaken custom, there has a race perished, a metropolis fallen to ruins, and a country’s soil withered and blow to sterile desert.” 

—Introduction to “The Complete Book of Composting” Rodale Books, 1971

This guerrilla garden is not about any of the individual activists helping to create the garden, nor is it about the individual(s) or entity/entities who own the land beneath this garden. It is not personal, but systemic and institutional. The city government’s waste policies, past and present, created and perpetuate the conditions for waste inequity, founded on and part of a deep and hidden history of environmental racism. Most of our waste in NYC is sent “away” to low income areas and communities of color, treating the homes of society’s marginalized as garbage bins. For years, the taxpayer funded composting programs entitled NYC residents to convenient options for our food waste. Unfortunately, the convenience of these programs hid the fact that much of this waste was removed from our communities to be processed and composted in low income, mostly Black and Brown areas. In Western Queens, most kitchen scraps collected were processed near NYCHA’s Queensbridge Houses without incident. Now that this processing site has been defunded, and residents search for other ways to responsibly dispose of their kitchen scraps, we can and must reimagine how our community engages with the natural cycles of life and how our waste becomes the input for the next step in the process. In this action, we call attention to the fact that we must not return to the inequitable ways of the past, no matter how convenient or fiscally sound they may have been.

In 2018, our City Council passed Intro 157-C, known as the Waste Equity Bill, into legislation. The City has yet to take actionable steps in address these inequalities and the bill leaves many other injustices unspoken and unaddressed. In the absence of leadership, compounded by a fiscally insolvent situation created by a global pandemic, it is time for New Yorkers to stop expecting elected representatives to save us and begin saving ourselves and the planet. This guerrilla garden is a launchpad from which we may take responsibility for our own waste in a healthy way that lightens the burden of communities that experience waste inequity due to harmful practices.

This inaugural event on June 27th also corresponds with the one year anniversary of the NYC City Council passing Resolution 0864-2019 passing a formal declaration of Climate Emergency, calling for an immediate emergency mobilization to restore a safe climate.. Many decisions have been made to undermine, delegitimize and otherwise ignore this official state of crisis since. Failing to mandate or fully fund an equitable composting system for NYC is just one of those shortcomings. 

At the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Governor Cuomo deemed waste and recycling services essential. Mayor de Blasio immediately and ironically countered by empowering Department of Sanitation Commissioner Garcia to slash the NYC Compost Project’s budget, then move on to completely defund and cancel both of NYC’s public composting programs, which consisted of curbside organics collection (Brown Bins) and over 170 public food scrap drop-offs, public education, compost givebacks and so much more (NYC Compost Projects hosted by seven different nonprofit organizations citywide).

While we support the Save Our Compost Campaign and the Community Organics and Recycling Empowerment (CORE) Act, which would would create a minimum threshold of recycling and composting sites across five boroughs, allowing for proper disposal of non-general waste and refuse. Until the CORE Act is passed, the we do not resign ourselves to be victims of a government that fails or refuses to serve us. We are a capable, powerful and caring community who are resolved to illuminate and activate truly just solutions with or without official support of our governing bodies or their funding. This garden is a propositional act of love for our local and extended communities, acknowledging all the ways in which our waste has caused harm for others, and a beginning for responsible, engaged solutions for ourselves in the present, not policies for some undefined and unfunded future.

June 27 is also the birthdate of activist Grace Lee Boggs. The organizers of this action remember and are inspired by her life, work and words,

“The first outcome of these conversations [during the late 1960s, in the wake of the urban rebellions and the explosive growth of the Black Panther Party] was our recognition that the ongoing rebellions were not a revolution, as they were being called by many in the black community and by radicals and liberals. Nor were they only a breakdown in law and order or a riot, as they were labeled in the mainstream media. A rebellion, we decided, is an important stage in the development of revolution because it represents the massive uprising and protest of the oppressed. Therefore it not only begets reforms but also throws into question the legitimacy and supposed permanence of existing institutions.

However, a rebellion usually lasts only a few days. After it ends, the rebels are elated. But they then begin to view themselves mainly as victims and expect those in power to assume responsibility for changing the system. By contrast, a revolution requires that a people go beyond struggling against oppressive institutions and beyond victim thinking. A revolution involves making an evolutionary/revolutionary leap towards becoming more socially responsible and more self-critical human beings. In order to transform the world, we must transform ourselves.

Thus, unlike rebellions, which are here today and gone tomorrow, revolutions require a patient and protracted process that transforms and empowers us as individuals as we struggle to change the world around us. Going beyond rejections to projections, revolutions advance our continuing evolution as human beings because we are practicing new, more socially responsible and loving relationships to one another and to the earth.”

— Grace Lee Boggs, June 28, 2017 
Introduction to Revolution and Evolution in the Twentieth Century

For media related questions, contact RotSquat@riseup.net

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Apple as the mark of the beast?

Ok, I don’t usually put post up like this, just file this under “Things that make you go hmm…”

As a kid coming up in Mississippi, the children of the Bible Belt used to share what I can only convey as rural religious campfire tales. One of which is the mark of the beast. The mark of the beast is a biblical prophesy which asserts (as my childhood mind recalls) that, in end days all the sinners will be marked or branded with the mark of the beast. The fact that the number “666” was indisputable in the middle schoolyard. So we all assumed that at some point we would be literally burned and branded with this numerical mark.

Later in life I would drunkenly debate these ideas with others in college and we came to the conclusion that the mark would actually be some sort of microchip imbedded into our flesh, don’t ask how this conclusion was reached. I image it’s a fairly popular one in as far as christian apocalypse stories go.

Just the other day, I was recounting these half baked concepts an a particularly brilliant artist friend of mine began weaving a yarn of modernity. Starting with the ubiquity of Apple products, iPhones and their Bluetooth earbuds impregnated in our head, iWatches affixed to our wrists creating a Pavlovian response while collecting & analyzing our biometric info, iPads and MacBooks kept as silicon lap dogs to do tricks and entertain us. These ubiquitous products can be connected to our bank accounts for convenient impulse buying, remotely accessing music and pictures, as well as our homes thermostat or baby monitor.

Another nuance was that people would be able to buy or sell anything without the mark of the beast on their hand/wrist and forehead. I guess the biometrics if fingerprinting and retells scans could go a long way I satisfying the prophetic requirements for Armageddon.

This analogy seemed funny and a bit appropriate as a sign of the times, but here is the kicker. As Apple has become a household name, so to has its logo.

A graphic apple with a bite taken out of it.

Despite Rob Janoff’s claims of innocence, the biblical symbolism is uncanny. As Eve lead Adam to eat the apple, the Apple logo reminds us that we have already taken the bite of the forbidden fruit.

My mind takes this to some bizarre places I won’t go into. But one is driven by the biblical counter story presented of takers and leavers in Daniel Quinn’s book Ishmael.

Another branch of thought here stems from the often repeated claims of righteousness from rural America, damning coastal cities as godless heathens. A claim that would surely be bolstered with a simple comparison of Apple product ownership between God-fearing country Christians and spiritual not religious urban dwellers.

Run fir the hills or stare blankly into the abyss of your screen, either way, the end is nigh.

Two Row Treaty Renewal Camp

In 2013 I was camping out in the courtyard of MoMA PS1 (a different story altogether that I may one day tell). During that summer, I happened upon a dinner in the courtyard that hosted members of the Two Row Renewal Campaign. This was a paddling and camping trip from Onondaga Lake in the Onondaga nation to Albany, NY, down the Hudson River to the Atlantic Ocean. This also happens annually in Canada. This one is called Two Row on the Grand, more info on that here. I was only privy to the final dinner of the Two Row Renewal, and it was beautiful and inspiring. I committed myself to learning more and participating in what was to become an annual tradition of honoring the Two Row in this way of camping and paddling together, speaking of the treaty and its meanings and ramifications as well as acting out the symbolic virtues in order to glean the real lessons of the treaty today, in our own times and lives.

So what is the Two Row Treaty? Let me first say that there are many other people who are more studied and qualified to explain this than I, here are a few links to more comprehensive info:

https://www.onondaganation.org/culture/wampum/two-row-wampum-belt-guswenta/

http://honorthetworow.org/learn-more/history/

https://briarpatchmagazine.com/articles/view/a-short-introduction-to-the-two-row-wampum

That said, here is my, very brief explanation. It is the first treaty, enacted in 1613, between the Haudenosaunee (or Iroquois Confederacy) and the Dutch newcomers to Turtle Island (now called North America). The agreement was documented by both parties. While the Haudenosaunee rightfully questioned the longevity of the Dutch’s decision to write the treaty on paper, likened to writing it on leaves at the time, the Haudenosaunee created a Wampum belt using white and purple beads traditionally crafted from quahog clam shells.

http://www.onondaganation.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/Guswenta.jpg

The treaty set forth boundaries and expectations for trade and mutual aid between the two peoples. It was also extended to the British when they arrived on Turtle Island. The Wampum Belt was created as a symbolic reminder of the treaty which has been passed down as oral tradition over the years. It consists of five bands, three white and two purple. The first column of the belt is a field of white and represents the divine law the treaty upholds. The three white bands represent Peace, Friendship, and Forever. The two purple bands represent the indigenous people in the canoes and the Europeans in their ships going down the river of life together, in peace and friendship, forever. Both rows express their own governance structures, spiritual traditions and cultural mores. Neither row is to cross into the other side and try to control the others vessel. Both groups of people have a responsibility to one another to steward the natural resources and environment for the enjoyment of both.

This agreement is affective as long as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, as long as the grass grows green during certain seasons and as long as water flows downhill. In these ways, this is a living document for the Haudenosaunee and they have been honoring this treaty since its inception.

There is a lot to say about the dishonorable ways the newcomers to Turtle Island have acted over the centuries. Shameful the disgrace visited upon this foundational agreement between the First Nation People’s who’s Land we now occupy and continue to colonize. That said, I/we cannot change the past. I cannot change anyone else’s actions, much less the government at large.

So we convene each August to physically renew and honor the Two Row Treaty. I physically gather with others of European decent and we are joined by Haudenosaunee friends to paddle, in two columns, down the Hudson River. From the Bear Mountain Pow Wow, to the United Nations in Manhattan. We camp along the banks of the River, reclaiming the commons. We have Grand ideas to replant the traditional grit producing trees and shrubs along the way, and possibly some new varieties respectfully added into the mix. We cook on camp fires and camp stoves. We set up and break down our tents every morning and evening. We must get our boats and paddles in the water in time to catch the ebbing tide, for the Hudson River, or Muhheakantuck (“river that flows both ways”) is actually a tidal estuary. We fridge new friendships, we see imperfections in ourselves and others. We commune with nature. We are received, and fed, by supportive community members along the way. We hold one another accountable and we pray for the rest of society to honor the Two Row.

In these very visceral, hands on ways, we honor the Two Row. I always return to the city with a renewed respect for Mother Nature, humble acknowledgment in my place in the world, a profound gratitude for the abundance we live in, and an evolved understanding of what it means to be in service of my community(s).

I’ll close this blog post with a call for others to join us next year, mark your calendar for the first 9 days in August and keep an eye on the FB page for details https://www.facebook.com/TwoRow/

And bring consciousness about the treaties that allow us to be here on this land. Consider how, in your every day, you can be an Ally to Indigenous People.

https://ratical.org/many_worlds/6Nations/BeAllyToIndigenousPeople.html

The softest thing on earth overtakes the hardest thing on earth

An ancient Taoist text Daodejing which foreshadows the character of Chinese Zen koans.

The softest thing on earth overtakes the hardest thing on earth

My interprietation is that of water or even wind, eroding stone and mineral. Over time, the softest of ideas can come to change even the most solid. This may also be reflected in the Communist Manifesto’s quote “All that is Solid melts into air” which was later teased out into a treatise on modernity by author Marshall Berman.

Coming to understand that of the world which sustains us as a living species upon this planet and teasing out this basic understanding of where our sustenance comes from and how it, our food, land, water, soil, air and minerals, are renewed in the larger balance of things is the soft and steady energy that will slowly chisel away at the hard and fast insistence on extraction, commodification, wealth building and consolidation that predicates our contemporary, developed and developing nations’ lifestyles.

It will take care and love to actually hear the heart of the narrative, but us humans and the earth that carries us have forever been in this dialogue. It is fairly recently that we have allowed the noise of our own hubris to eclipse the sweet sound of Mother Earth’s songs of reciprocity and healing. I believe we can get back to the understandings gleaned from fostering the right relationship with Earth. I’m currently working to relearn Her language spoken in budding leaves, blooming flowers, ripening fruit, dry rustling leaves, snowstorms and eggs. As I study Her intricacies, I am also becoming indigenous to a place.

A major contributor to this belief is that my neighbors in New York City, the center of the calamity, or cockpit of capitalism, as I oft refer to it, have used their slow medicine of knowledge, triggered by outrage and self preservation, to overcome the Mayor, the Governor and their collusion with one of the largest multinational corporations. The defeat of Amazon in Long Island City, Queens is one worth reflecting upon. Through a diversity tactics and an avalanche of criticisms, activists, workers and everyday folks joined to go over, under, around and stand right up against the world which a globalized nation of consumers assumed was inevitable, and even desirable.

The defeat of Amazon in Long Island City, Queens is one worth reflecting upon.

I hate to say “I told you so” but when one intuits the unlikely outcome of an event of such dramatic and meaningful repercussions, it is worth reflecting upon. Weeks before Amazon announced they would move to LIC, I had friends and colleagues tipping me off to possible locations that Amazon may choose. Excited rumors amongst the political and business community that Amazon was indeed coming surged through my community here in Western Queens.

While my rational mind agreed that keeping Amazon out was a pipe dream, in my heart I knew it was possible. I knew that if it could happen anywhere, it could happen in NYC. Long Island City May have been the absolute WORST choice for Amazon. If it was the Manhattan, Brooklyn or maybe out in Eastern Queens the plan may have come to fruition. But LIC is already the fastest growing neighborhood in America. Folks are being displaced by hotels and the creatives are scared shirtless any one of us will be next to have our studio or apartment rent jacked up to keep in line with the growth. We where ready for a fight and Amazon stepped into the arena as dumb and slow as Goliath.

I remember Amazon, I remember being a teenager, hearing my grandfather talk about possibly buying stock in Amazon, and pondering the ramifications of such a global endeavor. I remember the subtle news stories over the years of Amazon flexing it’s market muscle to edge out competitors, using it buying influence to drive them out of the market or purchase them outright.

Now, presidential hopefuls like Senator Elizabeth Warren, are building a election platforms, including a plan to break up Amazon, Google, and Facebook. While I do believe these corporations hold too much power, I would much rather see corporate regulation and updated anti-trust laws rather than busting up a few current offenders.

There is so much more to expand upon here, but I’m gonna leave it there for now. I’m sure this topic will come up again, or at least a variant. Especially as the Sunnyside Railyards decking project continues to rear its ugly head. So I’m an attempt to publish more and reduce the number of blog drafts, I send this into the ether, half finished and in-edited. Enjoy.

DPG Anniversary and Milestones

Yesterday, a picture on Facebook reminded me of cleaning up a trashed and overgrown corner of LIC, a memory from 5 years ago. The picture with friends that three day weekend reminded me of so many milestones that have been quietly and not so quietly reached over those five years. The place us Hogshead folx know as DPG, or Dead Possum Grove 💀 has been a boon to our community.

It was an overgrown trash heap complete with phragmites growing on grungy old wisp of soggy bedding suffocated by a gnarly asiatic bittersweet tangle. The railroad-tracks where somewhat clear from people using them to access the rail cutoff above.

Our friend Shig joined us on Day 1 and we added depth of meaning as we brought present to our minds that in these days and acts we actively create an empathic world. We did all this by dreaming, planning grant-writing and scheming. http://www.empathicworld.net/images/empathicworldTheGist.png

But on those three days, we made it all with our hearts and our hands. Many people joined the 3-day work party. Bagging trash and debris strewn along the ground and in the vines. only to unearth a layer of plywood and a whole different stratification of debris underneath.

Several hearty souls even managed to work all three days. Over 50 XL contractor bags where filled and put to the curb that weekend. Plus many large items like box springs, lamps, old dank luggage’s…

Found moped in front of a pile of vines

It was a lot of work and we found some weird, funny, old and even disturbing objects. But the name of the place ended up being more organic. The trash offered a narrow cross section of the life of this place and the anthropogenic history here. Amongst the trash was a dead possum which we referee to when talking about the place afterwards.

This place, with its modern names holds some history. Montauk Cutoff, a short run of tracks connecting a yard to a line, in this case the Sunnyside Railyards to the Montauk LIRR Line. Degnon Terminal is a spur of the cutoff named after the industrialist who boarded the tunnel which created the filings used to fill the tidal estuary that used to be here. Michael J. Degnon built many of the warehouse that populate the LIC IBZ. He built the railroad tracks that moved raw material from around the world via the Newtown Creek’s working waterfront. These inputs where manufactured into finished goods such as zippers and chewing gum and send them back out to the world from this corner of NYC in the early and mid-twentieth century.

I honestly do not know the name of the place before that, what the indigenous peoples of this land called this swampy ecology. The settlers history called it the Badlands.

As we shed the names the settlers before us placed on these newly made places, we can begin to resettle the place. In our case we are attempting to unsettle this post-industrial parcel of land in forgotten NYC. Some call it rewinding. The is getting too esoteric, what we actually do reveals our soul. We never claimed to be indigenous, but as I learn more about sacred sites and their names. How we have forgotten how to respect, much less understand our surroundings, which are also extensions of ourselves, we loose our connection to all of it, ourselves included.

There is more I want to say about this, but I’m the interest of finishing a blog post for once, I’m gonna cut it short.

I’ll sum up by saying that after we cleared this area at the Ranch, we used it and our visitors use it. For workshops, performances, picnics, yoga, dancing, meditation, concerts, singing, and so many other amazing things that could not have been possible if we never dreamed of cleaning the space and worked together to accomplish what was in fact a huge feat. A heartfelt thanks goes out to all of you who have helped clean and build and activate this space so beautifully for the past five years. I hope we have many more. Here is an image of the current state of Dead Possum Grove.

NYC Urban Ag & Community Gardens Legislation: An Advocate/Activist Perspective – Part 2

This blog post will outline some of my reasoning for the arguement I laid out in my last post and the conclusion that, anyone supporting NYC’s Urban Ag Bill (as it was passed) is in solidarity with any community led efforts towards food justice in New York City.
Intro 1661-A: An Urban Agriculture Bill for NYC?

In December 2017, the NYC City Council passed Intro 1661-A. It was sponsored by council member Rafael Espinal, at the request of Eric L. Adams, the Brooklyn Borough President, and the bill passed overwhelmingly with a 47-0 vote. According to Espinal, this bill will bring a new excitement to New Yorkers who are looking to go green and healthy with the expansion of the urban agriculture sector. The intro summary states that…

This bill would require the City to develop an urban agriculture website to promote the expansion of urban agriculture in the City. The website would be required to be active by July 1, 2018. The Department of City Planning, the Department of Small Business Services, and the Department of Parks and Recreation would be required to prepare content for the website. Agencies responsible for the construction and maintenance of the website would be required to issue a review of the website’s efficacy to the City Council by January 1, 2019.

The bill is available in its entirety here, and I will be dissecting it  later in this post…

Our Demands

Over the past several years, The Design Trust for Public Space (DTfPS), through their Five Borough Farm Project has cultivated fertile ground for the growth of both community gardening and urban agriculture in the City. They have worked with academia, design professionals, community gardeners, and urban farmers to come up with a comprehinsive snapshot of the state of community gardening and urban agriculture in NYC. They have outlined some solid recommendations and I appreciate the advocacy. I’d like to lay all of it out, but in the interest of time, I’ll embed these links and encourage you to do some digging on your own.

Urban Agriculture Stakeholders  – Needs and Challenges – Policy Recommendations

I want to point out that 4 Types of Urban Ag have been teased out in NYC. These are Institutional Farms and Gardens, Commercial Farms, Community Gardens and  Community Farms

From what I understand DTfPS actually did helped draft some of the original languages in this Intro #1661. But between the Bill’s introduction and its passage, it was gutted by City Council. In response, DTfPS created an online change.org petition so that the stakeholders they gathered during their multi-year advocacy project could raise our collective voices and help legislators, who don’t have an in-depth understanding of this topic, come up with a real urban ag plan. The petition called for the restoration of the bill before it was enacted.  This included incorporation of their policy recommendations and three steps to ensure accountability:

The first phase of the Five Borough Farm project resulted in policy recommendations, including for the creation of an urban agriculture plan, that would:

  • establish goals, objectives, and a citywide land use scheme for garden and farm development
  • integrate urban agriculture into existing plans, programs, and policy-making processes in city government
  • address disparities in access to funding, information, and other resources by creating more transparent and participatory processes to enable gardeners and farmers to influence policy and decision-making.

Our recommendations, released in 2012, align with the original legislation proposal Intro #1661 that Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and Council Member Rafael Espinal have introduced for developing an urban agriculture plan. However, systems of accountability are essential to maximizing the benefits of the Plan for all New Yorkers.

The Plan must apply not only to commercial urban agriculture, but also to community gardens, school gardens, permaculture gardens, vertical farms, and all other forms of gardening and farming practice.

We urge the New York City Council to incorporate the following three means to ensure accountability in the generation and execution of the Plan:

  1. a citywide task force—composed of City agencies, support organizations, and gardeners and farmers representing a variety of types—for reviewing the development and implementation of the Plan. This task force would build off of the Urban Agriculture Task Force with NYC Parks established through Five Borough Farm, and the roundtable convened by Brooklyn Borough President Adams in Spring 2016.
  2. open forums at many points in the Plan’s development process, including input-gathering in each borough at spring gardening and farming events, such as GrowTogether and Making Brooklyn Bloom.
  3. communication within the City and with gardening and farming support organization and advocate networks, including GreenThumbNYCHA’s Garden and Greening Program596 Acres, and the New York City Community Garden Coalition.
I see this is a common sense approach. The Design Trust for Public Space worked with existing garden and farming support groups as well as NYC urban gardeners to anticipate and plan for this specific issue. They funded a multi-year, multi-phase, semi-public process that yielded solid results. This is the definition of proactive advocacy. Then they offered these results to the City as it pondered a comprehensive plan. In a typical move, the City took all the community input, drafted logical legislation, then in the 13th hour, cut all the community input, kept all the special interest bits, and swiftly passed the new bill.

I want to believe that Espinal and Adams are acting in good faith, but any politician patting themselves on the back for finally recognizing the urban agriculture movement in our City, is either clueless of our plight or has forgotten who they are supposed to be representing. I doubt it is the former, since we show up on the steps of City Hall on a fairly regular basis to air our grievances and demand justice.

It is shame that the bill was gutted after all the hard work went into it. But I must be honest, I’m kinda glad it did.  I say this because if it passed in its original form, I probably wouldn’t have gotten so pissed off, which means I would not have given it a second thought or come to this deep analysis, or written this lengthy post about this issue. Because it was gutted, we actually have a chance to look more closely at the suggestions within the original bill and demand better.

The Bill

This is the full text for Intro 1661-A (the revised and version that passed in December 2017).   I’ll bold & underline some things I want to tease out.

A Local Law in relation to requiring the department of city planning, department of small business services, and the department of parks and recreation to develop urban agriculture website

Be it enacted by the Council as follows:

Section 1. Urban agriculture website. An urban agriculture website shall be developed on nyc.gov or any successor website maintained by or on behalf of the city of New York and shall include such information as is set forth in subdivisions a and b of this section.  a. Commercial urban agriculture uses. The department of city planning and the department of small business services, in cooperation with other relevant agencies and stakeholders, including but not limited to food policy educators and representatives from urban farming businesses, shall prepare content for such urban agriculture website. Such content shall include, but not be limited to, the following:

(i)                     zoning regulations for agricultural uses, including but not limited to, farms, greenhouses, nurseries and truck gardens;

(ii)                     assistance available from the department of city planning in obtaining information about specific properties;

(iii)                     a link to ZoLa (Zoning and Land Use Application) or its successor resource; and

(iv)                     other existing business resources relevant to urban agricultural businesses available from city agencies.

b. Community urban agriculture uses. The department of parks and recreation, in cooperation with other relevant agencies and stakeholders as needed, including but not limited to, food policy educators and representatives from community gardens, shall prepare content for such urban agriculture website. Such content shall include, but not be limited to, the following:

(i)                     a list of existing urban agricultural spaces, and those city-owned spaces, which are available and potentially suitable for community urban agricultural use, including community gardens and urban farms. When compiling or revising such list, the department of parks and recreation shall consult with other relevant agencies, including the department of housing preservation and development and the department of citywide administrative services;

(ii)                     information on how such spaces can be established and supported; and

(iii)                     information on how produce grown on-site at community urban agriculture sites can be distributed within communities.

c. For purposes of the uses specified in subdivision a of this section, “commercial urban agriculture” shall be as determined by the department of city planning and the department of small business services. For purposes of the uses specified in subdivision b of this section, “community urban agriculture” shall be as determined by the department of parks and recreation.

d. The website specified in subdivisions a and b of this section shall be active no later than July 1, 2018. Relevant agencies responsible for the construction and maintenance of the website shall issue a review of the website’s efficacy to the city council due no later than January 1, 2019.

§2.  This local law takes effect immediately.

Over the next few sections, I’m going to unpack my issue with the bold & underlined passages in this gutted piece of legislature

#####

BILL ANALYSIS…

The Problem with the DCP and Zoning Ordinances

In researching this blog post I found the New York State Assembly’s proposed Bill A7181 which has been sitting in committee since the 2011-2012 Legislative Session and would “Require municipalities which sell, transfer or lease community garden real property to use proceeds therefrom for community garden purposes” Since this bill was not met with overwhelming support upon introduction, some community gardeners have proposed a new zoning designation for community gardens and others advocate for mapping gardens as Parkland. To be honest, I’m not for either of these options, here’s a story about why.

I used to live in Central Florida where I worked as a landscape architect. Much of my work was reading zoning ordinances and creating tree preservation plans and code minimum landscape plans for developers. As I learned about these issues, I became aware of how restrictive land development code can be and I began to involve myself with professional groups advocating for walkable, mixed-use communities designed for people, not cars. (This is a HUGE issue for peri-urban and suburban areas. If you are a New Yorker, you may have never pondered these issues as it basically doesn’t affect you, but design around cars, not peopel is one of the biggest problems with ourcontemporary infrastructure, IMHO.)

One of the major impediments to this type of land use and (sub)urban design is zoning laws (I will address the other, more insidious, stumbling block of finance later in this post). Through the separation of space necessitated by the heavy industrial past of the American landscape, zoning had been piecemealed together in a way that did not allow for a sensible use of space in our post-industrial cities. Half of the battle was undoing zoning regulations and ordinances that were no longer relevant for the land use needs of contemporary cities and towns.

I hope to compile the info about other urban agriculture plans and ordinances already on the books in other major US cities (including BostonChicago, and Atlanta). So far, I have only encountered new zoning ordinances which create a better business climate for commercial urban ag while creating a more restrictive space, legally speaking, for community farms and gardens. In only one example have I seen how changing existing zoning ordinances can be beneficial for community farms and gardens.

When I mentioned my intention to write about this NYC urban ag. bill on social media a while back, I asked for thoughts from others. A friend and land use expert/advocate commented with this sage advice, “Be careful about putting the Dept. of City Planning (DCP) in charge of making decisions about gardens and ag. DCP’s main tool is zoning and currently, the NYC zoning code says nothing about where gardens and nonprofit farms are permitted – which means they are permitted everywhere hurray! but if DCP creates a zoning, there will be places where they are prohibited…”

It is clear to me that an urban agriculture zoning ordinance is NOT necessary for NYC. At least not for community farms and gardens. There are some scenarios where I have seen zoning prohibit specific types of urban agriculture (not necessarily community gardens). But many of these were addressed in April 2012 when New York City approved Zone Green. This is a zoning text amendment that strives toward a variety of goals including saving energy and money, managing stormwater, and growing fresh, local food. The amendment allows and even encourages  building efficiency improvements including improving rooftop features that were previously disallowed due to building floor to area (FAR) ratios, height restrictions, and footprint limitations. The Green Zone amendment allows greater flexibility for green features on rooftops, including stormwater green roofs, and encourage educational and food production-oriented rooftop greenhouses. The full Zone Green text amendment can be viewed here.

Housing Preservation and Development Hijinks

The Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) are implicated multiple times in this bill as a primary city agency in charge of developing the urban agriculture web site. It is worth pointing out that HPD has been used as a tool for destruction of community gardens at least twice by two different NYC Mayors and is currently actively obfuscating information about the quantity, location and quality of publicly owned land in HPDs real estate logs.

In 1994, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani directed HPD to identify “abandoned lots” (community gardens) that should be sold at auction to help the City pay its “bills”. One hundred and fifteen gardens fell under this order and a watershed moment in NYC’s community garden movement transpired. Many of these gardens were “saved” by two non-profit organizations the Trust for Public Land (TfPL) and the New York Restoration Project (NYRP). I will take a moment here to quote this illuminating study by Efrat Eizenberg, who points out that these two NGOs,

…confront the marketization of public space in New York City through privatizing the land of community gardens. The TfPL promotes a model that emphasizes community ownership, while the NYRP promotes a model that emphasizes the preservation of land ….Through the lens of community participation, sense of ownership and control over space, [the study] argues that both models transform the meaning of public space in ways that undermine its opportunity to develop as an autonomous community space.

To elaborate on this briefly. We are losing our societal autonomy and every step of the way, we are tricked into thinking it is a win. More on that in a future blog post…

Again, in 2015 HPD was weaponized by a mayor to issue injury to the community gardening movement. This ploy was crafted by the Bloomberg administration and created a false dilemma pitting affordable housing against community gardens. HPD issued an RFQ for developers to build rental and ownership housing within the limits set by the program and in exchange get the land for free. Eighteen of the sites selected where active community gardens while over 750 sites in HPD’s inventory were not even included in the list.

Intro 1661-A specifically calls for a “list of existing urban agricultural spaces, and those city-owned spaces, which are available and potentially suitable for community urban agricultural use” and names HPD as a key agency in the implementation of the bill, and thus the creation of this list. Over the same time period this urban ag bill was being written and amended in City Council, HPD was being dragged over the coals in City Hall as “the latest iteration of the decades-old debate over the quantity, quality, and status of New York’s city-owned vacant lots has been raging” with HPD outright denying FOIL requests and offering only undecipherable chunks of raw data describing its real estate holdings to the general public.

HPD opposed Intro. 1039, the bill that would require the department to “conduct annual surveys of all city-owned properties to identify vacant buildings or lots that may be suitable for affordable housing.” While the bill was enacted on January 8, 2018, I do not trust the Department of Housing Preservation and Development any farther than I could throw it, especially when it concerns matters of community gardens… and niether should any of you!

State Controlled Information about Starting a Community Garden

1661-A mandated that “information on how such spaces [gardens] can be established and supported” be included on NYC’s new Urban Ag web site.  As the state defines the means and access points of starting gardens and farms, it potentially lays the legal groundwork for tougher prosecution of anything outside the predefined legal pathways for establishing a garden. Furthermore, info on how to start a garden in NYC is already accessible via the 596 Acres and Greenthumb websites as well as this hand Wiki-How. So what exactly is this NYC portal accomplishing here and at what cost?

Community Control of Resources

The NYC urban ag portal will also dispense “information on how produce grown on-site at community urban agriculture sites can be distributed within communities.” What we choose to do with the food we grow is not something the government gets to tell us. When people organize to produce something using seeds, soil, water and sun, our representative government does not get to legislate or otherwise determine how that produce is distributed, prepared, or consumed.

That should be all I’d have to say about that, but there is more…

For many communities, growing their own food is a direct response (or direct action) to counter the structural inequities built into policy decisions such as the National Farm Bill and other rules and regulations that actively oppress certain people through food apartheid (some of you may mistakenly call this Food Deserts), Million Dollar Blocks, the 13th Amendment and a myriad of other racist, classist and sexist policies. I hope to unpack this financial inequity piece more in a future post, but before moving on, I’ll repeat myself, the state does not, ever, get to legislate how food grown out of a direct action created in resistance to the state, is used, distributed or consumed. If and when the state attempts legislation around a direct action where no laws governed previously, the new laws should be openly and vocally disavowed. By proxy of this bill, any use, distrobution or consumption of food by a community that is not specifically deined on the official NYC protal, would be illegal and subject to persectution, fines or general harassment by governmental officials, see the legal raw milk debate for one scenerio.

The Failure of Definitions

I’m basically unopposed to allowing the Department of City Planning and the Department of Small Business Services to define what “commercial urban agriculture” is.  Commercial activities need to be restricted and definitions are a form of restriction. But I have absolutely no faith in the Department of Parks and Recreation successfully defining “community urban agriculture”.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the Parks Department and think very highly of the people who work there, but when it comes to defining something as broad and amorphous a community urban agriculture, no person or agency will ever do it justice. Therefore, by defining something that has, up until this point remained undefined, one can only restrict the understanding of the term.

This is similar to the argument above concerning zoning law. Anything currently outside of legal definitions can only be confined and restricted by applying a definition.  Don’t even get me started on “green infrastructure” and how it is narrowly defined by the EPA as stormwater management [angry face emoji] with exploding head]…

Parkland Mapping Bugaboo

Some community gardeners advocate for protecting community gardens in NYC by adding them to the property logs of the Department of Parks and Recreation. While I see this as a solid way forward for preserving these spaces, my contention lies with the ability of the community to program the spaces according to its own need, will, and desire. (See my earlier reference to Efrat Eizenberg’s study outlining how both community ownership and preservation both “transform the meaning of public space in ways that undermine its opportunity to develop as an autonomous community space.”)

I will offer the example of the A.R.R.O.W. Field House in Astoria, Queens. I enjoyed using this space not long after moving to NYC in 2010. I took capoeira classes there and met some nice locals who shared the history of their neighborhood, which led me to fall in love with this corner of the City.

I have friends who fondly recall the ARROW Community Center before it was a Parks Department property. They would host all sorts of events and did not have to submit to the laborious task of getting things approved on time by the bureaucrats at the Parks Department. One example was the popular, seasonal clothing swaps.  The Parks officials have said no to hosting these important community building, consumption reducing events after they took control of the space. Another example was the Astoria CSA, which used to host its CSA share distrobutions at ARROW. Once the Parks Department took over this became an incompatible use. While there may be valid reasons for discontinuing these services, the fact is that the community, despite petitioning and lobbying local politicos, had little to no say in these things. It makes sense that it is now officially called A.R.R.O.W. Field House, no longer a “Community Center”.

I am the co-founder and now president of Smiling Hogshead Ranch. We have had extensive talks about the pros and cons of attempting to get our property listed as a Parks owned listing (highly unlikely since the land is owned by the MTA). We have come to the conclusion that we really enjoy running the show democratically as a community.

There are plenty of examples of happy community groups who have seen their locations taken over successfully by the Parks Department. My position here is not to deligitimize them. My intention is simply to reveal the other side of that coin and to acknowledge that transfer of land to Parks Dept is not a one size fits all solution. There is also the nagging problem that (as far as I can tell), edible plant species, much less community garden plots, are not endorsed in NYC Parks.

So much more to say…

I wanted to be upfront about all this, but food injustice is not the only issue at play here. There are many broader issues and conditions that necessitated the community gardening movement in NYC. If you are (still) not familiar with why I define community gardening and urban agriculture as two separate, but not mutually exclusive things, or why this is a bigger than just food issues (encompassing housing, public use of public space, commodification of land and community efforts, environmental, ecological and racial justice issues) watch this 4:30 video now for a basic primer.

https://youtu.be/awNaGirg2zg

I have a lot more to say on these topics as they relate the legislation how urban agriculture happens in NYC. I’ve made an editorial decision to save most of these for future blog post(s). There are just a few more things that I will mention before signing off.

I don’t think I could respectfully write this weries of blog post without mentioning Karen Washington. She is a hero in many ways to this movement and personally. I have found this quote from an article by a Detriot urban farmer examining his potential role in gentrification (a topic I frequently contemplate for myself).

In the article, Ms. Washington makes a distinction between the gentrification of community gardens and the “shift away from community gardens toward scaled-up, more food-focused, often for-profit urban farming.” She says, “You have this new yuppie group coming in that is gung ho about urban agriculture … but the movement wasn’t about urban agriculture, it was about survival, taking back our communities,” she says. “Now you have people coming into gardens that have established histories, that were built on the backs of people who made it safe for you to come in, and you’re gonna talk about urban agriculture? You cannot leave out … the history and the legacy of the elders who were there long before so you can do whatever you wanna do.”

Often I tell people the origin story of Smiling Hogshead Ranch as a guerrilla garden and how, when the MTA agent discovered us and we first spoke on the phone, I could not have made any headway if he had not already heard of urban agriculture and thought it was a really cool idea. My garden persists because of the original community gardeners (like Karen Washington, Hattie Carthan, and Liz Christy) who literally cleared the political field for a new wave of community gardeners to grow out of. Because of this, it is my duty to try to understand and respect my predecessors.

The City Council cannot legislate a movement. Intro 1661-A will never effectively thwart a communities need for survival, for reclaiming their community. There is a myriad of other things that need to be changed on so many levels, from the political/legislative, economic and social levels. You cannot end food apartheid by creating a website. I’ve made a long-winded argument here that throwing legislation at the problem will actually do more harm than good.

There is no getting ahead of the curve on this, but as the City Council demonstrated, it is ready to make moves towards legislating farms and gardens in the city. I write this as a call for more dialogue, more research and more investigation into the nuances within these complex issues so that New York City ends up with a truly transformative plan (and I don’t necessarily mean a map or zoning codes) for food sovereignty.

In SOILidarity,

gil

NYC Urban Ag & Community Gardens Legislation: An Advocate/Activist Perspective – Part 1

Last December, just after New York City Council unanimously passed NYC urban agriculture bill Intro #1661A, I posted an opinionated response on FB about it, promising more analysis later. While I wrote this post in January, I had to cool my head, and get an editor before I published it publicly.

You have stumbled upon more opinion, and I’m kinda pissed about this sh!t, so brace yourself. I don’t want to create more contention here, but I’m sure that it would be nearly impossible over-politicise this issue, and to be honest, the idea that this is not a political issue concerns me. I outright reject any notions that food policy (or lack thereof) is apolitical. I’m putting this out with the full knowledge that there are a lot of people thinking about this, so call me out on or check-in with me, school me, add your opinion! So let’s push this conversation forward.

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/post.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fglopezsez%2Fposts%2F10155944901419522&width=500

New York City’s history is fraught with policy missteps and outright violence against community gardens and many other community lead initiatives. This is a major reason grassroots organizations such as the NYC Community Garden Association, More Gardens!Green Guerrillas596 AcresNew York Restoration Project, the Brooklyn-Queens Land Trust exist, and to some degree why major institutions such as NY Botanic Gardens and Brooklyn Botanic Garden host community outreach programs such as Bronx Green-Up & GreenBridge respectively. Support for community garden groups also comes from GreenThumb, which was the City’s response to Green Guerrillas, and GrowNYC’s garden programs.

In full transparency, I have worked for BBG’s GreenBridge in the past and currently serve on the advisory committee for 596 Acres, and run programming at my community garden (Smiling Hogshead Ranch) in conjunction with More Gardens!, GreenThumb, GrowNYC, and many other advocacy/activist groups not listed above. I hope that this introduction may inspire someone more qualified than I to dig deeper and really create a full analysis of urban agriculture and community gardens in NYC.

NYC Urban Agriculture History

As I wrote this, I ended up creating a supplemental timeline of agriculture in NYC so I could more fully wrap my mind around the issue, and illustrate the full extent of the bullshit organizers in this movement have been subjected to over the past few decades. I posted that separately as a wiki because it got so long and I want others to be able to add to it. Here is a great summary from More Gardens! More after the jump…
 
 
In case you skipped the slideshow, let me be very clear: The community garden movement is been, and is currently, under attack. It has had to vigilantly defend itself, constantly, for the past 30+ years. We could have had an urban ag bill passed 20 years ago if two requirements where met. 1) If City Council had paid any attention over the past few decades to the multitude of requestsdemands and even protests that community gardeners and our supporters have been lobbying for and; 2) if only the garden movement knew all we were missing was a profit motive. Any notion that the government is “on our side” because an urban agriculture plan is being discussed is making a huge, and I would argue harmful, assumption. I’m writing this post to raise awareness and reduce the future harm that the commercialization of the urban agriculture movement and the commodification of the food our communities produce will inevitably cause.  Where we once met developers in the streets, steps of city hall and garden fences, we now have to suit up and meet the bastards in court on a more and more regular basis to fight the land grabs, illegal deed manipulations, and outright governmental malfeasance.
To highlight exactly who this bill is for, I’ll quote Boro Pres Adams (who is BTW doing some amazing work for the movement) in Wall Street Journal (July 20, 2017) “We’re not talking about our mom and dad growing tomatoes in the backyard,” Mr. Adams said. “We’re talking about the potential of having major farming on rooftops to deal with food deserts.…This is the wave of the future.” What we are talking about enabling urban ag entrepreneurs, not community gardeners, to do business in NYC. Later in the same article, a fellow who “supplies rare herbs to Michelin-starred restaurants in the city,” says “a better legal framework in the city would have helped [him] get insurance.”
Does the author not see the disconnect between the Boro Pres. Adams’ hype of “dealing with food deserts” then creating a bill that does nothing more than help out these commercial urban ag outfits who are selling to the most expensive restaurants in the city?! The author of the article doesn’t connect the dots, but more importantly none the Council members who voted unanimously to move the gutted version of this bill forward get it! This despite a petition which was signed by a huge portion of the real people involved with community gardening in this city. This is not representative leadership! Something is extremely amiss and I am officially calling bull!shit!
One could argue that the council members do not understand what they are doing, that this has not historically been their jurisdictional purview. But they can understand the simple fact that community gardeners have fought for decades just to have their gardens bulldozed, after rallies, protests, press releases, petitions, town hall forums, City Hall demonstrations, court hearings and the like… and they still voted to pass this gutted urban ag bill that doesn’t address the communities’ needs and moves towards commercializing a social movement. One can only assume that they are acting within the exact same interest that has ignored and actively oppressed our movement for decades, lied to us during delegations, pandered to us before elections to turn their back on us after election day, and moved in the dark halls of power on cold winter nights to bulldoze our gardens while our activists unwittingly spent holidays with friends and loved ones. In short, this Intro #1661A is more of the same, with a slightly friendlier face than the bulldozers we are used to.
After ignoring our protests and advocacy, the legislators understood from a couple of meetings with commercial growers that “Clearer regulations would also help [commercial] growers attract investors”, so they removed any idea of community benefit, then quickly voted, unanimously to enact this bill. Money over people, markets over communities.
I want to be clear that I am not against urban agriculture entrepreneurship, but we cannot let the crooks enact policies that extract the food from our communities and sell it to Michelin-starred restaurants under the banner of addressing inequalities in the food system. To hell with the idea that they can use us for labor under the guise of summer youth employment and free or underpaid “professional development” internships, while they extract all the money and claim the glory as social/eco-entrepreneurs saviors on the cover of Economist and Urban Farmer magazines! The urban ag tech bros would not even have a business model in the first place if they were not standing on the shoulders of community organizing giants mentioned in the timelines above.
Putting their problems of getting insurance and investors above the issues that their predecessors have been fighting for points out their privilege and is ignorant and blatantly disrespectful! It is time to rally, read and research the issues, come stand on the side of justice on these issues… If you came up with the business plan first and are filling your marketing chapter up with feel-good material about how you are helping the community and pictures of black and brown kids growing food, that’s nothing more than greenwashing and I’m calling bullshit on that too.
Let me reiterate. I really want to see urban ag allowed in the city and I understand some regulation would help. I do not want to be obstructionist and I don’t wanna sit here and cry about it. So I’m going to lay the case out as clearly as I can that commercial urban agriculture should be made easier, but not until community gardens are rendered safe from future development and grassroots garden and agriculture projects are insulated from the neocolonial systems that oppressed and galvanized the community around creating the garden in the first place. These projects deserve just as much, if not more respect, as those food/tech startup venture capitalists. If you are not familiar with the neocolonial system I’m referring to watch this video for a quick primer on how racist policies have affected intergenerational wealth, created class divides and oppressed communities through land use.
We must create an analysis that understands exactly how regulating urban agriculture businesses affects our gardens and community growers. We must reject any and all potentially harmful legislation. Community gardens have made it this far without legislation. Let us not sell ourselves short at the final hour. A comprehensive urban agriculture plan for NYC must benefit the people who are in most need of social, environmental and food justice, and not the food industry first with some sort assumed of trickle-down justice.
While my mind thrills at the promise and intrigue of sexy, high tech, urban ag technologies such as container farms, aeroponics, stacked hydroponics, specialized portable mushroom growing containers, micro-livestock cricket farms and the like… my heart is telling me to keep it simple, use the sun, soil and rain. These natural, free elements offer ecological services to us which can be worked with, cultivated and coaxed to produce crop yields for us to use. This blog post is my attempt to articulate something I know to be true in my heart. It has taken me a while to admit so much publicly, but here is a declaration that anyone bolstering this gutted Urban Ag Bill is an enemy of any and all community led efforts towards real food justice in this great city.
I have a lot more to say on this subject so I’ve decided to break up my meandering rant into a few pieces. I hope some of your reading this engage with the ideas and share yours. I will be backing up some of the thoughts and concepts a little later.
In peas and SOILidarity,
gil

NYC Agriculture: A Timeline

In this post, I will continually add and update specific events related to the evolution of community gardening, schoolyard gardening, urban agriculture, institutional farming, commercial farming, and composting in (and significantly nearby) NYC. This timeline started as I formulated a response to the urban ag bill signed into law in December 2017. I will reference this timeline in that post, but I’m sure I will learn more and update this will more current events.

In my initial research, I found an amazing timeline of the struggle that has pursued through time since the romanticised days of Liz Christy. Unfortunately, this NYCCGC History presentation is behind a paywall, so I’ve copied and pasted the text below. With enormous gratitude to both Aresh Javadi & Magali Regis for putting this together and decades of commitment to preserving our community gardens citywide! GreenThumb also has a useful community garden timeline and History of Farm Gardens in NYC Parks which I’ve referenced heavily.  Of course, I’ve added several items that are not mentioned in either of these histories and some more recent developments. So let’s take a look at the people’s history timeline of community urban agriculture in NYC. For a longer international view check out the UK’s Diggers movement from 1649, but I digress…

pre-1600 – Mannahatta: The Lenni Lenape name for Manhattan, meaning “land of many hills”.”The Native Americans on Long Island [Brooklyn & Queens] lived in small bands and led an agricultural way of life growing corn and squash.” With respect to the original people of this land I write these words. We occupy the space of New York City with them. I don’t believe a single historical text written about the native farming practices but I do believe they understood the earth, the air, and the water better than us, even with all of our science and technology.

1600’s Colonialization

1645-early 1800s: Upper Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx was colonized and turned into farmlands

1697: The 47-acre farm, now called Queens County Farm Museum, is New York City’s largest remaining tract of undisturbed farmland and the longest continuously farmed site in New York State.

1800s – Urbanization and decline of farmland in NYC.

1902 – 1st Farm Garden created by a Mrs. Henry G. Parsons when she “commandeered 3/4 of an acre of De Witt Clinton Park for 360 plots that functioned as miniature gardens” used as an educational tool for school children.

1908 – The Board of Education took up the Farm Garden idea for its curriculum, and farm gardens run by schools had spread to 80 locations across the city.

1940s: 400,000 ‘Victory Gardens’ occupying 600 acres of private land throughout the five boroughs yielded 200 million pounds of produce during wartime.

1950 – there were nine farm gardens in city parks. These lasted in parks until at least the 1960s, when there were 894 plots in six parks. Children’s Farm Gardens lasted into the 1960s, the idea fell out of fashion in the 1970s and 1980s. John Bowne High School , est. 1964, is a noteable exceptions as it continues this tradition of farm garden based curriculum albiet for older students. More documentation of farm gardens here.

1962 – New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) initiated a Citywide Resident Garden Competition from which NYCHA’s Garden and Greening program was born.

In the early 1960’s Mrs. Hattie Carthan organized her block on Vernon Avenue in Brooklyn to create a block association to “preserve and plant trees”. Her neighborhood was deteriorating. “In a few years, she was chairman of the Bedford-Stuyvesant Beautification Committee, presiding over 100 block associations.” The Hattie Carthan Community Garden Farm is still one of the most active, respected and (in my opinion) historically important community gardens in the City. Mrs. Carthan is remembered as an urban conservationist. Yes, she inspired a community garden, but first, she helped preserve an entire neighborhood. This says a lot about where the roots of this movement lie.

In the early 1970’s Liz Christy and her “Green Guerillas” combated urban decay in the Bowery with seedballs (AKA “green-aides”) in vacant lots, sunflowers in traffic medians and window boxes on abandoned buildings. Eventually taking over a large trash-strewn lot on the corner of Bowery and Houston Streets. They created the Bowery Houston Farm and Garden – the community gardening bug hatched in NYC.

“The green guerillas began rallying other people to use community gardening as tool to reclaim urban land, stabilize city blocks, and get people working together to solve problems. Soon, dozens of community gardens bloomed throughout New York City, and neighbors formed vital grassroots groups.” (http://www.greenguerillas.org/history)

1976- The Bronx Frontier was founded, creating a Ranch, and a massive composting operation which created and marketed “Zoo Doo” – more info at Bronx River Sankofa

1976 – Greenmarket was founded with a two-fold mission: to promote regional agriculture by providing small family farms the opportunity to sell their locally grown products directly to consumers, and to ensure that all New Yorkers have access to the freshest, most nutritious locally grown food the region has to offer.


1978 – “Operation GreenThumb” is formed to manage and control a growing number of community gardens on City Land. “Operation” GreenThumb encouraged the creation of new community gardens on city-owned lots while giving leases with easily terminating licenses.
1980s – Hundreds more community gardens sprout all over the city and are given leases by GreenThumb. Some don’t get leases
1981 – Brooklyn Botanic garden hosts it first “Making Brooklyn Bloom” community gardening conference.
1982, May: Wheatfield – A Confrontation: Battery Park Landfill, Downtown Manhattan. Planted by artist Agnes Denes as a symbol, a universal concept; it represented food, energy, commerce, world trade, and economics, planted on land worth $4.5 billion.
1983- The Koch Administration began issuing some five and ten-year leases to Community Gardens. But property interests remained primary; any community gardens occupying highly valued land might not receive a long-term lease.
Real estate recognizes the value brought to our neighborhoods.
1986 January 8: Adam Purple”s Garden of Eden BULLDOZED – Lower East Side Ecology Center Community Compost Project starts operating in their community garden on East 7th Street, between Avenues B and C.
1992 – Taqwa Community Farm is a half-acre park operated as a community garden in the Highbridge neighborhood in Bronx, New York.
1993 – The New York City Department of Sanitation’s (DSNY) Bureau of Waste Prevention, Reuse, and Recycling (BWPRR) created the NYC Compost Project. Focused on compost outreach, education, and technical assistance.
1994 January 1: Mayor Rudolph Giuliani is sworn into office.
1994: Mayor Rudolph Giuliani directs Housing and Preservation Department (HPD) to identify “abandoned lots” (community gardens) that should be sold at auction to help the City pay its “bills”
1994 May: With police patrolling the streets and aiming from rooftops, the DOME Garden (W84th Street b/t Columbus & Amsterdam) BULLDOZED
1994 November: Community gardeners in the LES form the “Garden Preservation Coalition which later becomes the New York City Community Garden Coalition (NYCCGC) 995 – Green Thumb, along with 36 gardens, are transferred to the Department of Parks and Recreation.
1996 – An in-vessel pilot facility for composting food residuals opened on Rikers Island prison complex.
1996 – The HORT launches its GreenHouse program, an urban farm offering horticultural therapy to inmates on Rikers Island.
1996 – HPD announced that it will take back half of the Green Thumb community gardens citywide for development.1996 October: Community Gardens receive Imminent Development Letters 1997 February: Save Our Community Gardens Rally at City Hall. According to the Administration’s own records, there are more than 11,000 vacant city lots that could be both truly affordable housing with more community gardens. Hundreds of community gardeners and allies marched with signs, puppets, flowers, vegetables, petitions and letters of support to the offices of elected officials and city agencies.
1997 December 30: Four community gardens demolished…
Mendez Mural Garden (11th Street Bet. Aves A & B) BULLDOZED
Angels Garden (11th Street Bet. Aves. B & C) BULLDOZED
Marias Garden (11th Street Bet. Aves. B & C BULLDOZED
10th BC -Little Puerto Rico Garden (10th Street Bet. Ave. B & C) BULLDOZED

The first shots in this war on community gardens where fired. Community gardens begin to organize…..
1998 January 1: Giuliani’s re-inauguration ceremony is disrupted by protesters who drop banner “SAVE THE GARDENS”
1998 March: Umbrella Garden Holy Mary Mother of God Garden Seventh Street Garden AUCTIONED OFF despite protests.
1998 April 24: Giuliani Administration transfers 741 Green Thumb community gardens to HPD, which will record them as “vacant lots” and plans to auction them off to pay for “affordable housing.”
1998 July 20: Four more community gardens and two community centers are AUCTIONED OFF, despite lengthy delays caused by protesters, who release ten thousand crickets.
1998 September: More Gardens! Coalition starts in the South Bronx as an offshoot of the Garden Preservation Coalition and other community garden preservation groups. The More Gardens! Coalition is a group of community people, gardeners, and environmental and social justice activists who promote the development and preservation of community gardens as well as the cultivation of fallow land in New York City.
1998 – Non-profits, gardeners, activists, coalitions and other groups work to get the word out about the endangered community gardens. Postcards are sent far and wide by the Neighborhood Open Space Coalition calling for legislation to protect gardens. Everyone now has a “Bulldozer Hot-Line Telephone Number” magnet on their refrigerator.
1998 November: The Children’s School Garden of Love, P.S. 76, W121st Street, Harlem BULLDOZED
“Save the Gardens” stickers can be found everywhere.
1998 – United Community Centers starts the East New York Farms! project
1998-99 – Several Harlem Gardens BULLDOZED
1999 January-April: Protests, media and political rhetoric and organizing escalate through Winter and Spring as the auction of over 100 gardens, scheduled for May draws near.
1999 April 10: Standing our Ground Rally in Bryant Park. “Hundreds Gather to Protest  City’s Auction of Garden Lots” By Anne Raver, New York Times April 11, 1999 “About 500 community gardeners, many from other states, rallied in Bryant Park yesterday, chanting ”Stop the Auction! Stop the Auction!” singing along with Pete Seeger and vowing to preserve the 700 community gardens that have been grown on trash-strewn vacant lots. The administration of Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani has put 114 of the city-owned lots on the auction block for May 13….
1999 May 1: (Arbor Day) More Gardens! Activist Matt Power climbs a tree to protest the auctioning of community gardens.
1999 May 11: On the eve before 114 gardens are to be sold off, two organizations — the Trust for Public Land (TPL) and New York Restoration Project (NYRP) –make a deal with Giuliani to buy them for $4 million. NYRP purchased 52 community gardens. The TPL purchased 64 community gardens from NYC for $3 million as part of an agreement to save the gardens from the auction block. Everyone is elated that some community gardens are saved, but the struggle continues…
1999 June: More Gardens! Gardener climbs a tree to attempt to stop bulldozing of Project Harmony Garden, W122nd street, Harlem. Instead of auctions, Giuliani now uses ULURP to funnel community gardens to developers in an alternative way to destroy them.
1999 November: Multiple simultaneous lawsuits against the city, are filed by over two dozen organizations representing the community gardeners. Mobilizing to save the community gardens continues.
1999 September: >Esperanza Community Gardeners, More Gardens!, and allies stand for all endangered community gardens citywide, camping inside the giant Puerto Rican coqui/frog in the Lower East Side.
2000 February 15: After a 6-month encampment, El Jardin de Esperanza (East 7th Street) BULLDOZED
2000 February 15: Meanwhile, On the same day…  A federal judge, responding to then-Attorney General Eliot Spitzer’s lawsuit charging that the City had skirted environmental impact review laws, ordered a “cease and desist” order to halt development on or sale of garden land. The mayor’s lawyers delayed entering into the judge’s chambers until bulldozers had razed the garden to make way for a new condominium project. The judge’s restraining order lasted for over two years. Legal and legislative actions to save the gardens continued…
2000 – GrowNYC’s FARMroots’ Beginning Farmer Program (FBFP) identifies, educates, and supports aspiring farmers with agricultural experience to establish their own economically and environmentally sustainable farm businesses in the NYC region.
2000 June: Concert to Save the Gardens with Pete Seeger, Project Harmony, Harlem.

2001 January, South Bronx Gardens threatened Morissainia- Bronx United Garden (BUG) is formed. Melrose South Bronx United Gardens (SBUG) is formed.

2001 – July: Petition of over 25,000 signatures lead by More Gardens! and supported by NYCCGC, demanding a ballot referendum to protect gardens is delivered to City Hall as a result of a coalition formed by More Gardens! of all activists protecting gardens. Ultimately the referendum did not get on the November 2001 ballot due to technicalities.
2002 January 1: Michael Bloomberg sworn-in as Mayor of NYC.2002 November: Cabo Rojo Garden April 25, (South Bronx) BULLDOZEDCabo Rojo had been previously protected by a 6-month More Gardens! encampment.
More Gardens! Gardeners Demand: “Mayor Bloomberg make All Community Gardens Permanent”. The demonstration also included a lockdown in front of HPD, 100 Gold Street Manhattan.
2002 September: The Community Gardens Agreement is signed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg & Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, it stipulated the permanent preservation of 198 community gardens, 110 community gardens as “subject to development” (as housing or community gardens). 38 community gardens were scheduled for immediate development for housing or other projects. The agreement expired on September 17, 2010.
2003 May: East New York Community Gardens BULLDOZED
More Gardens! Members encamped at Fantasy Garden which was next to be bulldozed. Thanks to community perseverance and the leadership of Councilmember Charles Barron it was preserved.
NYCCGC continued to and hold yearly forums to ask about the present and future of community gardens.
2006-2008 – The Science Barge is a floating urban farm and environmental education center which docked at six stops along Manhattan’s waterfront with the goal of educating the public on urban sustainable agriculture.
2006 – NYCCGC Community Gardener’s Forum – featured speaker: NY State Attorney and candidate for Governor General Eliot Spitzer “While we recognize there is a housing shortage, we can balance worthwhile objectives and preserve open spaces as well’ – Elliot Spitzer, NYCCGC newsletter. We were able to play this role only because of what you had done. As is so often the case on issues of this nature, it is really the public that leads the government and not the other way around. -Elliot Spitzer NYCCG 2006 Gardeners Forum
2007 – Farm School NYC trains local residents in urban agriculture in order to build self-reliant communities and inspire positive local action around food access and social, economic, and racial justice issues.
2007 – Earth Day PlaNYC 2030 is announced by the Bloomberg Administration. Community Gardens or Urban Farms do not appear on any of the 132 pages.
2007 April: Nueva Esperanza Garden’s (E110th St & Fifth Avenue) 9 months encampment supported by More Gardens! BULLDOZED
2007 June: NYCCGC Community Gardener’s Forum – “How Safe is Your Garden, Really?”
2007 – New York State Office for Community Gardens revived. “Our mission is to help develop and sustain community gardens in New York by leveraging resources across state agencies. This mission is based on Article 2-C of the Agriculture and Markets Law – Community Gardens… mandating the Department of Agriculture & Markets:
 Assist in the identification of vacant public land for community gardening purposes
 Coordinate on behalf of interested community groups and state or local agencies to facilitate the use of vacant public lands for community gardens
 Support and encourage networking among community garden programs around the state.
 Through this program, we also promote community gardening and urban agriculture, connect gardeners to resources in their communities, and help to identify supportive community and school gardening policies. – from their website
2008 – Increased interest in living green, growing food, gardening and organic food. Many are interested in joining existing community gardens and growing new gardens and urban farms.
2009 – La Finca del Sur, a farming cooperative and nonprofit organization in the South Bronx founded by community members with a mission is to empower minority women through economic and food sustainability. Located on a two-acre lot administered by DOT and MTA, the South Bronx Farmers grow food at this GreenThumb urban farm.
2009 – The Master Composter Certificate Course is offered in Spring and Fall in each of the five boroughs.
2009 – Michelle Obama digs up theWhite House lawn to grow an organic garden. Urban agriculture and local food is in!
2009 – Earth Matter, seek to reduce the organic waste misdirected into the garbage stream by encouraging neighbor participation and leadership in composting. (That’s right, composting is an essential part of urban agriculture)

2009–2012: FIVE BOROUGH FARM: PHASE I – Strengthening and expanding urban agriculture in NYC by; Established a framework to understand how the broad range of activities happening at the city’s farms and gardens contribute to social, health, economic and ecological outcomes. Introduced a set of indicators that can be used to measure the multiple benefits of urban agriculture.
2010 – Grow to Learn NYC, the Citywide School Gardens Initiative, was established. Info about schoolyard gardens between 2000-2010 can be found here.
2010 – Randalls Island Urban Farm created. One acre education-based farm organized by GrowNYC and the Randall’s Island Park Alliance.
2010 – Eagle Street Rooftop Farm 6,000-SqFt organic vegetable garden operates its own seasonal farmers market and provides produce to local restaurants.
2010 – Hell’s Kitchen Farm Project, is a volunteer-run, urban rooftop farm in Hell’s Kitchen. Community response to nutritional security issues.
2010 February: NYCCGC Forum “Standing Our Ground To Save All Gardens”  Speakers include several elected representatives.
2010, May: Construction of the Brooklyn Grange, the largest soil-based rooftop farm in the world, LIC Queens.

2010 July: NYCCGC July Meeting in Harlem drew a big crowd to discuss the proposed Parks Rules for community gardens.

2010 – August NYCCGC hosts a ‘Pep Rally’ outside City Hall while over 300 testify (many more online) against the Proposed Community Garden Rules
2010, Summer: Farming Concrete tool promoted amongst community gardeners. 32 community gardens recorded that they grew 220 pounds of hot peppers which have a value of $990.00
2010 September 13: Final Parks & HPD Rules for Community Gardens published in City Record
2010 – P.S. 333’s rooftop Greenhouse Project Initiative in partnership with NY Sun Works using use hydroponic farming technology to educate students and teachers about the science of sustainability.
2010 October 2: Community Gardeners Town Hall.
2011 -596 Acres started putting signs on city-owned lots that could become gardens

2011 – Bushwick Campus Farm and Greenhouse, outdoor classroom & ag. center for the four high schools located on the Bushwick Campus in Brooklyn. It was founded by a partnership among the Campus, Boswyck Farms(now defunct) and EcoStation:NY.

2011 – KCC Urban Farm was started in partnership w/ Project EATS

2011 March 4th: 1/2 acre community farm, Smiling Hogshead Ranch established by guerrilla gardeners (the contemporary definition of) on abandoned MTA/LIRR property in Long Island City, Queens.

2011 – Battery Urban Farm, a project of the Battery Conservancy, is the largest educational farm in Manhattan.

2011 – Hellgate Farm Collective, first residential farm based in NYC, established in W. Queens. Operated on a decentralized model farming neighbors yards, selling to local restaurants and offering CSA shares.

2011 April 5: Support GreenThumb Funding Rally at City Hall
2011 December: 50 apple trees planted on Randalls Island to create the largest apple orchard in NYC.

2012 January 4: Transfer of Deeds for 37 community gardens (of the 62 purchased from the city in 1999) from the Trust for Public Land (TPL) to the Brooklyn Queens Land Trust (BQTL)

2012 Spring: The Local Organics Recovery Program (LORP) launched by DSNY. Provided residents with a range of food scrap drop-off opportunities and ensure they are composted locally.

2012 – Resurgence in community garden creation spurred on by Occupy Wall Street in tandem with new online vacant land mapping and organizing tools made available by 596Acres.org

2012 – Brooklyn Grange opens 2nd location at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

2012–2014:FIVE BOROUGH FARM: PHASE II- Scaling the benefits of urban agriculture in NYC. (1) Building a coalition of urban agriculture stakeholders to coordinate activity and inform citywide policy. (2) Promoting innovative land-use solutions to support urban agricultural activity citywide. (3) Measuring the impacts of urban agriculture in New York City by developing user-friendly data collection tools that will enable farmers and gardeners to quantitatively demonstrate their outcomes and output to the city.

2012 May: NYCCGC steps in to resolve conflicts between GreenThumb Moma & Popa Jones Community Garden, East New York, Brooklyn

2012 – Elected representatives regularly attend NYCCGC Garden Meetings

2012 –  Riverpark Farm, restaurant farm made with milkcrates takes advantage of temporary “stalled site” construction status to grow food for the chefs.

2013 – BK ROT, community supported year-round composting service employing local, young adults at living wages to collect organic waste from businesses, organizations and households by bike. Operating in Bushwick, BK.

2013 April 27: NYCCGC hosts a Mayoral Forum and grassroots organizing teach-in. During the forum Mayoral Candidate Bill de Blasio states that “One of my core principles is inclusion.” and that he would work with community gardeners to not only preserve the existing gardens but to expand the number of community gardens in the City

2013 May: Curbside compost collection pilot launched in Staten Island and Manhattan neighborhoods as part of PlaNYC.

2013 – The HORT hosts its first annual urban agriculture conference.

2013, June 18: Red Hook Farm opened, first-ever large-scale urban farm on NYCHA property

2013 December: After recovering from Hurricane Sandy devastation in 2012, on a Winter morning between Christmas and New Years, the Boardwalk Community Garden in Coney Island was BULLDOZED

2014–2015: FIVE BOROUGH FARM: PHASE III – Measuring the impact of urban agriculture in NYC with the goals of: (1) Increasing the quantity of data on urban agriculture in NYC. (2) Identifying sustainable funding models for urban agriculture

2015 May: HPD includes 18 gardens in RFP for housing development, for sale for $1. The organizing to preserve those led to 36 of the 39 transfers to Nyc parks in 596 Acres’ 2016 report

http://596acres.org/gardens-on-housing-preservation-and-developments-hpd-list-of-sites-available-for-housing-development/

2016 – Swale is launched, a floating food forest built atop a barge that travels to piers in New York City, offering educational programming and welcoming visitors to harvest herbs, fruits and vegetables for free. Swale strives to strengthen stewardship of public waterways and land, while working to shift policies that will increase the presence of edible perennial landscapes.

2016 – 596 Acres annual report details that, since 2011 their organization had:

  • facilitated transformations of 37 vacant lots into community spaces
  • facilitated preservations of 53 community spaces
  • defended 2 community spaces from evictions

2016 – 596 Acres permanently preserved 39 community stewarded gardens, parks and farms via transfer to the Parks Department.
2016 – Urby, Staten Island’s First Commercial Farm in a residential development with it’s own live-in farm manager.
2017 Spring: Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and City Councilmember Rafael Espinal (D-Bushwick, East New York) met with urban agriculture entrepreneurs, then drafted and proposed legislation that would require the creation of a Comprehensive Urban Agriculture Plan for NYC.
2017 – After 54 years, NYCHA Garden and Greening Program ended. This was the largest running public gardening program in the nation and had supported residents in developing more than 700 community-based garden plots (larger than the NYC GreenThumb network of gardens. (I just discovered this in researching this post. Little info is available. If you have info about the end of this program, please contact me!)
2017, December: City Council passes a stripped down urban ag bill which essentially requires City Planning Department and Small Business Services to compile information and resources about existing urban ag programs onto a NYC.gov hosted website.

FUTURE DEVELOPMENTS:::

2018 – NYC to invest $250,000 in constructing an urban farm at one of Staten Island’s NYCHA properties, either Stapleton or Mariners Harbor.
WHEW! What a history of organizing in the face of adversity!
As mentioned at the top of this article, I will periodically update this timeline with discoveries of old farms and gardens as well as new developments as they unfold.

Hope & Fear of a Renewable Electricity Future

So wind is a funny thing, I won’t tackle it here. But I drafted this blog post shortly after watching this presentation of the TESLA PowerWall, PowerPack and GigaFactory. Really hopeful stuff. But what I fear is the imagery that you see in the promo video 6:55 into this presentation. It is a suburban design representing typical sprawling development. Now I’m really glad folks like Elon Musk are dreaming up ways to solve our energy needs. But who is solving our living needs? The places we live work and play actually define our lives, not the electricity that makes them modern.

I love the idea of leapfrogging technologies but at what point are we ready to usurp the livability of a place in exchange for the modernity of it. Apparently, that point was the height of the industrial revolution and we have never looked back. I fear that our gizmo green solutions are using the same pigheadedness that got us here. Our existing technologies in housing and transportation have created an alienating, individualistic, consumptive, sedentary lifestyle. Our little boxes and compartmentalized cars remove us from the reality of the other.

I am reminded of a book I read shortly after graduating university. Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution outlined the insanely inefficient electrical system we operate within and the proportionately irresponsible energy consumption patterns in all of our processes from food production and distribution, consumer goods manufacturing and packaging, urban, and suburban design and land use patterns. In other words, waste is designed into the very fabric of our lives. The solution may look like a distributed, renewable energy grid, but in fact, we should be examining the outdated ways that we design the world around us. As a simple example, the people who originally colonized Florida built their (pre-electricity/grid) houses with attic vents and lifted a few feet off the ground for circulation, with wrap-around porches to shade the interiors from the hot summer sun. This way they could bear living in the intolerable heat. Once the advent of central cooling and heating was invented, we started designing with irreverence for those one all-important natural climatic conditions. In fact, we should return to designing like we give a damn… and not just our houses, but our communities, our supply chains, and our foodsheds. Unfortunately, even our political systems now reflect this lack of basic understanding of the world around us. Design thinkers incorporate an inventory and analysis phase of project planning. We could learn a lot by assessing what is going on around us before designing based on our ability to pipe in hot water and electricity while relying on harmful production and supply chains to supply everything else while we travel to and fro in our single occupancy vehicles.

Yes, we should definitely address our energy needs! I’m kind of excited about these DIY PowerWalls and they reminded me to finish drafting this post. So I hate to be the naysayer, but we should not forget to also rethink our transportation, housing, food (more about this one in particular soon), healthcare and other systems. We must learn to break out of this industrial machine mindset that got us into this global ecological crisis including climate change and biodiversity collapse. We are also degrading our human psyche.