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 ūüíÄ 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.


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‚Äôs…


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 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‚ÄĒcomposed of City agencies, support organizations, and gardeners and farmers representing a variety of types‚ÄĒfor 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 GreenThumb, NYCHA’s Garden and Greening Program, 596 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 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,¬†‚Äúcommercial urban agriculture‚ÄĚ 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,¬†‚Äúcommunity urban agriculture‚ÄĚ 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



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 Boston, Chicago, 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‚Äôs 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 ‚Äúconduct annual surveys of all city-owned properties to identify vacant buildings or lots that may be suitable for affordable housing.‚ÄĚ 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 ‚Äúcommercial urban agriculture‚ÄĚ 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 ‚Äúcommunity urban agriculture‚ÄĚ.

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.

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, ‚ÄúYou have this new yuppie group coming in that is gung ho about urban agriculture ‚Ķ but the movement wasn‚Äôt about urban agriculture, it was about survival, taking back our communities,‚ÄĚ she says. ‚ÄúNow 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‚Äôre gonna talk about urban agriculture? You cannot leave out ‚Ķ the history and the legacy of the elders who were there long before so you can do whatever you wanna do.‚ÄĚ

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,


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.

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 Guerrillas,¬†596 Acres,¬†New 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¬†requests,¬†demands¬†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) ‚ÄúWe‚Äôre not talking about our mom and dad growing tomatoes in the backyard,‚ÄĚ Mr. Adams said. ‚ÄúWe‚Äôre talking about the potential of having major farming on rooftops to deal with food deserts.‚ĶThis is the wave of the future.‚ÄĚ 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,

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 ‚ÄėVictory Gardens‚Äô 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 РNew 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 ‚Äď 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.” (

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.¬†‚ÄúOperation‚ÄĚ 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 РA 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‚Äôs (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‚Äôs 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¬†‚ÄúBulldozer¬†Hot-Line¬†Telephone Number‚Ä̬†magnet¬†on their¬†refrigerator.
1998 November: The Children’s School Garden of Love, P.S. 76,¬†W121st Street, Harlem¬†BULLDOZED
‚ÄúSave the Gardens‚Ä̬†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‚Ķ.
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‚Ķ
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‚Ķ¬†¬†A federal judge, responding to then-Attorney General Eliot¬†Spitzer’s lawsuit charging that the City had skirted¬†environmental impact review laws, ordered a ‚Äúcease and¬†desist‚Ä̬†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‚Ķ
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 РJuly: 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:¬†‚ÄúMayor Bloomberg make All Community Gardens Permanent‚ÄĚ. 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‚Äôs 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‚Äô¬†– 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 РEarth 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¬†‚Äď Community Gardens‚Ķ 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.
ÓÄĬ†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 РLa 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‚Äď2012:¬†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 РEagle 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‚Äôs Kitchen.¬†Community response to nutritional security issues.
2010¬†February: NYCCGC Forum¬†‚ÄúStanding Our Ground¬†To Save All¬†Gardens‚Ä̬†¬†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 РBattery 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 РResurgence in community garden creation spurred on by Occupy Wall Street in tandem with new online vacant land mapping and organizing tools made available by

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

2012‚Äď2014: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 РElected 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 РBK 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‚Äď2015: 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

2016 РSwale 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‚Äôs 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 hosted website.


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.


“He will not divide us”?!

For all my friends who post this on their FB wall, carry signs & wear clothing stating that “He will not divide us.” I have a couple questions… do you not remember November 8, 2016, and the lead up to the vote? Do you understand what you are implying with your slogan?

I ask because I feel like you are not recognizing the fact that a whole lot of people voted for Trump. So either you forgot that he is supported by a lot of Americans, or your “us” doesn’t include all of them.  Is your “us” the demographic who voted for Hillary? If so, I’d like to point out that the Democrats had a major split, and you are correct “he” did not create that divide. But your slogan is in the future tense. 

There was also the feminist divide, with white feminists pouring over Hillary and both radical and black feminists calling them, and her, out. “He” also did not create that divide. Although many white women, feminists or not, voted for Trump in the end. 

So I guess my simpls analysis actually confirms that he did not divide us because we were already divided. 

Oddly enough, he might actually bring back together some of us, sadly this coming together is mostly out of fear of him and his policies.  While I wish for a coming together out of unprovoked compassion, I guess a win is a win. I just worry about the strength and duration of the ties that currently bind us in struggle. No doubt we are stronger bundled together, (oddly enough, this is the idea behind fascism, look up fasci) but if the bonds that hold us together are based on fear, then they dissipate once or common fears are vanquished.  So we risk the folly of losing the power we find in unity after the fear and need to organize against is defeated. This is why I organize for love and always try to find the proactive solution and positive voice. It has been hard for me to find that posistivity lately. And like my mamma taught me, if I don’t have anything nice to say, I (try to) keep my mouth shut. 

There is a second conversation I’d like to start here. It may be a little hard to take for a lot of people, but here it is… Is the denial of division also a future refusal to accept a division of our United States of America? Is there something inherent about the 50 United States that you/we will fight for in order to preserve? It may be a bit alarmist but I’ve heard people pondering aloud what it means for the federal government to stop funding some states and the potential repercussions. I will make a jump and hypothesize that Trump is hoping to create an authoritarian US, but I’m not sure I would be okay if some states or regions decided to leave the rest behind to suffer through that. I do however think that this would give cause for some serious reworking of our founding documents. Im taking que’s from abolitionists here. In the 1800’s where some abolitionists were convinced that the American Constitution was so flawed that it could not be amended into working order and must be tossed out and completely redone. 

The Abitionist where quite a radical group. John Brown, in particular. Frustrated with pacifist attempts to end the institution of slavery in the US, he lead volunteers in insurectionary skirmishes that some believe led southern slave owners to worry about a massive uprising of slaves, that it brought about the ideas for civil war. 

Is this not similar to what is happening today? The main differences being that it was not a white man leading the cause for Black lives, it is an entire movement. Events where the effected and oppressed are speaking up for and defending themselves. From Ferguson to the Dakota Access Pipeline Resistance, people are rising up against the various amendments to our lives that place profit over us. To understand that last comment, watch “13th” on Netflix and look into the exact legal loopholes the Army Corp of Engineeres are allowing Energy Transfer Partners to (re)steal Native American lands for extraction of resources and further endangering their livelihoods in order to simply turn a profit (there is NO plan for domestic energy dependence or significant job creation, it really is just about profit for the DAPL investors). 

In my mind, Trump voters could be equivocated to “the South will rise again” proponents. That is a phrase that I’ve heard and lived with all my life. I’m actually glad to see that the confederate resurgance has been duped by what I will categorize as a con man from Queens, NY. Either that, or they realized that they have no hope and that the best bet is not to die fighting for bigotry, but to get rich trying to exploit anything and everything they can while the getting is good under a “pro business” Trump.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, he did not divide us. We have lived in a divided house for quite some time. With that, I leave you with questions I am still pondering. What is it that actually divides us? Can we heal those wounds outside of immediate times of threat and fear? If so what is that path forward? If not, will you stand in the way of a United States of America coming apart at it’s seams? And finally, is the idea of sanctuary city/states succeeding a success story for progressive America, or a win for the Confederacy that lost the Civil War in 1865? When you say “he will not divide us” who is the “us” you speak of?

MLK Day thoughts from Mississippi (2017)

Today we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day. MLK Jr was born on Jan. 15, 1929 and we celebrate his birthday on the third Monday in January each year.

Stevie Wonder wrote and performed this song in advocacy for establishing MLK Day as a nationally recognized holiday.

Over the past couple years, I have been on an inwardly spiritual and outwardly vocal campaign to oppose oppression. I’ve recently come to realize that these two are one in the same and fall under the idea of decolonize my own mind. Sometimes this has looked and sounded vindictive, accusatory and spiteful, outright ugly at times. I hope to move past the negative and aggressive communication style, it’s not going to be easy for me to get over my violent socialization, but I shall try. That said the historical injustice itself is harsh, writing or even thinking about it without internalizing or externalizing the inherent violence is difficult, relating to it is not easy, and the offensive past puts white people in a defensive position (defensiveness is actually a general aspect of suffering that nearly all “white people” experience¬†through colonization, but that will have to wait for another post).

I make this personal shift in my life for myself, it is a reflection of love in my heart and mind. Beyond this personal approach, I hope that this kinder gentler approach will lend itself to a more receptive audience. I have come to understand that, while most of the people who have been oppressed by Western civilization are aware of this oppression, some are angry, most are disillusioned, some are organized, most are not, some follow King’s lead in non-violent resistance, others are ready to ensure their freedom, justice and equality “by any means¬†necessary.”

It actually¬†took 15yrs after MLK’s assassination before activists succeeded in commemorating him in a national day or remembrance.¬†The only way I can begin to understand why this took so long is to do some research and to understand that MLK’s entire career was met with a public and aggressive smear campaign by the FBI to discredit everything¬†he ever did or participated in. In addition, Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina campaigned against the holiday, arguing that King was a communist sympathizer and an unfaithful husband. The sad reality is, most of America absolutely loathed this man while he was alive. It is a wonder (and hard won activist battles) that so many of us look back at him in reverence today.

That said, many American still look back in anger and veiled contempt. Sometimes this contempt is not so veiled. I was born and raised in the South, spending childhood and early adult years in Hattiesburg, MS. I am back in these parts as I write this and I’m actively researching the roots of my southern enculturation, once again, this is my personal exercise of decolonizing my mind, I practice vulnerability in making this exploration public. I hope to share some of my findings of how the Civil Rights movement shaped my hometown soon.

Many states dragged their feet in adopting this National holiday, enacted in 1983, New Hampshire didn’t do so until 1999. Here in Mississippi (and in Arkansas and Alabama) the legislature (maybe I should just say “we” since they represent me) decided that, in addition¬†to MLK Day, we would combine it with a holiday we already celebrated‚ÄĒthe anniversary of Robert E. Lee‚Äôs birthday.

Despite the fact that these two men stood for two very different ideologies, sheisty dissidents use the civil rights language that defeated their racist ideologies and employ an ironic turn of words claiming that¬†‚Äúseparate is not equal.‚ÄĚ

So, now I am in the awkward position of being from, and currently living in, a state whose legislative charter celebrates “Great Americans Day“. I think this is¬†detestable, but I’m gonna run with it anyway. Here we go…

I think that it is important to not only celebrate the people who made such great strides towards a spirit of oneness and civil society as Martin Luther King Junior. But it is also important to not forget the unconscionable acts of violence, hate, and bigotry that necessitated the existence of both King’s non-violent resistance as well as Malcolm X’s Black Liberation Movement, and the current Black Lives Matter movement (to name jsut a few). While some spiritual traditions would have us believe that this duality balances each other. I tend to err on the side of¬†Assata Shakur’s statement that, “Black revolutionaries do not drop from the moon. We are created by our conditions. Shaped by our oppression.”

So if folks in Mississippi, Alabama, and Arkansas must remember both General Lee and Reverand King on the same day, let’s remember what both of them stood for.¬†General Robert Edward Lee, the commander of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia¬†was a Civil War general for the Confederacy, a group of states that seceded from the United States to form a government in which, as Article IV (3) of its constitution stated, ‚Äúthe institution of negro slavery, as it now exists in the Confederate States, shall be recognized and protected.‚ÄĚ As we celebrate this man (in MS, AL & AR), let’s talk about how as a General he led Confederate troops onto the extremely bloody American Civil War, was willing to tear apart our country in order to defend the racial hierarchy that sustained an indiscriminate economy which relied on slave labor to exist. Let us remember that, Lee was a man who lived to the age of 63 and died peacefully at his home in Lexington, Virginia. This is how America lets treasonous (white) men live in society. Let’s remember that only three states honor this man in this way.

Reverand Martin Luther King did may just and righteous deeds in his life. Among these he named the Triple Evils of poverty, racism, and warfare that lead to his (and others) necessary existence, public resistance and civil disobedience. He left us the Kingian six principles of non-violence which paved a path for Civil Rights activism in America. King managed to carve a niche where he kept the powers that be at bay, although they definitely did not leave him alone to do his work. King was respected by many in his own time despite the public media smear campaign the FBI waged against him. When King began to shift his focus towards ending the war, he quickly met the end of his life. His life was snubbed short. Shot in the face, he died violently at the age of 39. Assassinated for being black and powerful in America.

Let us not forget how the existence and resistance of one actually necessitated the existence and resistance of the other. When my good ole’¬†boy neighbors beam with pride over their stars and bars, (AKA the rebel flag) and note that it isn’t about being racist, it’s about being proud of their heritage, let us always remember that that heritage was predicated on slave labor and stolen native American land. Without these slave owning traditions, there would be no need for an outspoken civil rights leader. We may have never had a Martin Luther King Jr. if it wasn’t for the oppressive roots leading to his noteworthy life and death. Southern pride is one of many faces of the colonized mind as it reinforces itself and refuses to amend the cognitive dissonance that comes up when analytical thought or critical analysis is employed.

In all respect to Martin Luther King, his dream has not yet come to pass. Although he brought us a great many strides forward. We have managed lose a few yards. And now it seems we have fumbled the ball altogether. Yes, we still have work to do. Despite a Black President, we do not live in a post-racial society… Despite the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery, we still have modern day slavery and new Jim Crow in the form of criminalization and imprisonment of black and brown people… Despite the integration of the south we still have the undercurrent of hate and bigotry that put a false sense of pride above the basic human dignity of black people, as well as systemic and institutional racism that has created intergenerational trauma for African Americans… Despite a robust #BlackLivesMatter (#BLM) movement, we still have people more concerned with the means¬†of Black liberation than¬†the actual goals. In the face of all this, I will continue to educate myself and decolonize my own mind in the hopes that individual action can also be a powerful form of love, leadership, and civil empathy.

Rest In Power Reverand King. Glory to your name, your life and your spiritual, civic and political leadership.

One Love

Erased By False Victory: Obama Hasn’t Stopped DAPL

Transformative Spaces

14067704_1246845795349461_128050987172044891_n #NoDAPL protesters gather for a boat action in Standing Rock on August 20. (Photo: Kelly Hayes)

All Native struggles in the United States are a struggle against erasure. The poisoning of our land, the theft of our children, the state violence committed against us ‚ÄĒ we are forced to not only live in opposition to these ills, but also to live in opposition to the fact that they are often erased from public view and public discourse, outside of Indian Country. The truth of our history and¬†our struggle does not match the myth of American exceptionalism, and thus, we are frequently boxed out of the narrative.

The struggle at Standing Rock, North Dakota, has been no exception, with Water Protectors fighting tooth and nail for visibility, ever since the Sacred Stone prayer encampment began on April 1.

For months, major news outlets have ignored what’s become the largest convergence of Native…

View original post 1,138 more words

The Black Snake

Last week I embarked on the second, of what I hope to become an annual, pilgrimage to the Grafton Peace Pagoda, which is managed by Jun -san, a Buddhist nun who traveled from Japan in 1978 (the year I was born) to support the American Indian Movement. Her spiritual teacher told her before leaving Japan that in order for world peace to exist, the most militaristic, vicious and offensive country (yup, that’s US, America) must come to understand it’s indigenous ways and spiritual connections to our Earth. In bringin this light to our masses she has walked in solidarity with various tribes and Chiefs, including across the entire country on multiple occasions. Jun -san and other devoted Peace Walkers join the cause whenever the call for support and solidarity is made from the indigenous community.

I left NYC expecting to do carpentry and grounds maintenance around Jun -san’s stunning property upstate in Grafton, NY. ¬† I didn’t even get all the way to the Peace Pagoda before the plans shifted under me. Happy to be spontaneous, and excited about the prospect of my first demonstration in our nations capital, I gleefully agreed to the changed agenda. Plus, I was assured that Jun -san was thrilled in knowing what we would be doing instead.

Early Wednesday morning I joined a carpool full of Peace Walkers and headed down to Washington DC for a rally called by the Standing Rock Sioux. By noon I was standing in solidarity with indigenous people from across the US who gathered to speak their powerful truth to the media and a federal circuit court judge who is hearing arguments over the Dakota Access Pipe Line (DAPL). Hundreds of people held signs, drummed, chanted, danced, spoke out and connected with their brothers and sisters.

This well attended demonstration of solidarity was among the most pure and beautiful demonstrations of civil unrest I have ever witnessed. There where young children playing and holding signs. Elders where held in reverence. Attention was respectfully given to the speakers throughout the entire demo. While there where some elders, Chiefs, young organizers and celebrities on the roster,  there was plenty of time for anyone to approach the mic and speak their truth and wisdom to the crowd through the PA. The police kept a respectful distance. There where some really beautiful signs, flags and lots of full indiginous regalia.

I will not place importance or give energy to the company trying to build this pipe line (I will simply refer to them as “the company” in this post), I will not discuss here the proposed length of the pipe line, nor the anticipated flow, or the price tag for the DAPL. If you need that info it is available elsewhere. None of that matters to me. Here are the things that do matter (note: many of these things I learned at the rally during the speak outs and/or in dialogue with Peace Walkers during the road trip).

– the Sioux tribe has filed a federal court case against the Army Corp of Engineers for granting permissions to the company to build a pipeline near their territory and under the Missouri River.

-The four states involved and the company made decisions about the route of the pipe line without speaking to the native people who’s sovereign land these lines would cross.

– oil infrastructure is well documented to be highly unstable and extremely damaging to the local ecosystems, ground and surface waters, people, air and soil in the event of leaks, explosions or other “accidents”, which are really just eventual collateral damage for the fossil fuel industry profiteers.

– Forty-seven indigenous nations where present and represented at Standing Rock and in Washington DC (at the time of this posting there are now over 60! tribes/nations working in solidarity to stop the DAPL). They are banding together not to protest, but to protect what is rightfully theirs. Their shared land, their human rights and our water.

– As I understand it, most of these tribes Ave never buried the hatchet from disputes and skirmishes long ago. This is the first time in history that this many First Nations of Turtle Island are successfully forming an alliance. We are witnessing an historic moment.

– A native woman spoke about Homeland Security. She made the point that this is a exactly what the indigenous protectors are providing for all of us as they stand up for the shared commons. The Peace Camps in North Dakota represent nothing less than a peaceful homeland security detail.

– There is a Lakota prophesy that states that a black snake will pass across the nation and this will mark the end the world as we know it.

РA speaker drew a parallel to the black snake and the Dakota Access Pipe Line (DAPL). The World (being a man made term) is upon its completion or end cycle. The world we live in does not respect the Earth or the vital resources she gives us. So, the protectors are allowing this world to pass in order to exalt, protect and praise Mother Earth in our new shared earthy experience.

– A relay race took place during the week before the rally. Young indigenous people ran over two thousand miles from the Standing Rock reservation in North Dakota to Washington DC. They delivered a petition which had over 200,000 signatures when they arrived in DC. Denied a meeting with President Obama, they delivered the petition to the Army Corps office on Capital Hil. They have a goal of one million signatures, add yours here:

Environmental racism has placed unwanted, dirty industries and infrastructure in places where people of color and/or poor people live. They do not have the political power to reject these intrusions.

– Native American reservations, sacred grounds and territories are often unhappy recipients of pipelines, landfills, fracking, nuclear waste, oil pumps, etc. This is true for other indigenous lands around the globe.

– due to these unwanted and uninvited developments nearby or on their lands, Native American homes are often compromised by toxic chemicals and their water is poisoned and rendered unfit to drink. Health issues and death are unproportionaly high in many Indian communities due, in part, to nearby dirty industry.

– because of this pollution, children are often taken from their parents and placed into foster care after pollution and toxins create an environment that is “unfit to raise children in”.

– foster care programs, the war on drugs, the school to prison pipeline, state imposed violence (like accessible force from police) and other well studied and documented socio-political issues impact Native American communities at an extremely disproportionate rate.

– in the past, construction for various projects have disturbed sacred Indian sites. This has been permitted by the Army Corps, then justified by companies claiming that no artifacts where found during construction. These companies are not funding archealogical digs, so it is it not surprising that they are not finding indigenous artefacts as they dig, drill, pave, and dump. It would be very surprising if the companies are not actively covering up any discoveries of artifacts they may have inadvertently made, in order continue extracting resources and wealth from these lands.

– the DAPL’s originally planned path would have passed by (about 100 miles from) a community where primarily non-indigenous people live, but that community raised a stink about it and, without fanfare or a federal court case, convinced the company to rerouted the pipeline. It is now designed to pass by (within 10 miles of) Indian territory.

– our Constitution includes a Treaty Clause which priorities treaties. Even still, we (the Us Government) are in violation of many, probably most, of the treaties made with the First Nation peoples.

– Native Americans have tribal sovereignty in the US. They make their own laws and govern themselves.

Native Americans once occupied and dwelled upon all of the habitable lands in the Americas, from Canada to Tierra del Fuego, California to Maine.

– Pilgrims lived peacefully with natives for about 55 years. Indians showed the first white settlers how to live on the land. The second generation of white colonizer a forgot about this and started disrespecting the natives. Since then, colonizer a have essentially attempted genocide on these peoples. In some cases it has come to pass, who remembers the last of the Mohicans?

– Today, Native Americans make up one of the smallest percentages of ethnicities and are primarily confined to Indian reservations, which are located in some of the most inhospitable portions of land within the United States.

– Native Americans “own” the land, mineral rights and river beds located on their territories. (I used quotations around own because Native Peoples believe in collective ownership and reject private ownership.)

– the indigenous protectors at Standing Rock are a peaceful, praying people. There has been no violence reported in these prayer camps.

– Native Americans smoke pipes they do this for peace and prayer, for ceremony and ritual. They speak about these pipes regularly.

-a police officer who overheard discussion of pipes told news outlets that there are pipe bombs. This is slanderous and repeating it in the news is libel.

– While neither the people in these camps nor the company’s private security around the camps carry guns, there are checkpoints to enter the camps where there are lots of what seem to be armed militia. It is unclear why they are there or who placed them there.

– As I understand it, this is the first time in history that this many (at least 47) First Nations of Turtle Island are forming a successful alliance. They are banding together not to protest, but to protect the commons which we all share, including land, their human rights and our water.

Рthe company responsible for constructing the DAPL, has yet to receive a permit to cross the Missouri  River, yet construction continues elsewhere.

– there is a prayer camp (actually two camps now) that have successfully stopped DAPL construction near the Indian territory. These camps have about 2,000 people at this point.

– North Dakota officials have declared a state of emergency. They have come down on the camps and arrested at least a dozen peaceful protectors.

РThe company  filed a restraining order against some protectors including the Sioux Chief.

– State officials recently cut off water supplies to the camps.

– the natives have been denied the right to defend their own territory and resources. [UPDATE: Judge rejects motion to restrict pipeline protestors]

– the police, who are supposed to serve and protect the people, are essentially acting as a security force for the company.

– An indigenous woman speaking out at the rally stated that the use of the word Dakota in the DAPL title is particularly offensive as it is a Lakota word that means friend.

– A Peace Walker friend pointed out that the DAPL name is actually quite fitting. The Dakota Access Pipe Line seems to be bringing together all First Nation tribes as friends (AKA Dakota), encouraging them to access and share a peace pipe as they form a line of solidarity to protect their land and water.

– Very few mainstream media sources are giving this uprising fair coverage. As mentioned, some are repeating lies and starting unnecessary controversy. Despite this, here is one account that I have found poignant from MSNBC.

Outside of the mainstream media, indipendant media groups (like Unicorn Riot) are documenting the Peace Camps and sending the message out to the world. Here are some of my favorites…