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.
1697: The 47-acre farm, now called Queens County Farm Museum, is New York City’s largest remaining tract of undisturbed farmland and the longest continuously farmed site in New York State.
1800s – Urbanization and decline of farmland in NYC.
1902 – 1st Farm Garden created by a Mrs. Henry G. Parsons when she “commandeered 3/4 of an acre of De Witt Clinton Park for 360 plots that functioned as miniature gardens” used as an educational tool for school children.
1908 – The Board of Education took up the Farm Garden idea for its curriculum, and farm gardens run by schools had spread to 80 locations across the city.
1940s: 400,000 ‘Victory Gardens’ occupying 600 acres of private land throughout the five boroughs yielded 200 million pounds of produce during wartime.
1950 – there were nine farm gardens in city parks. These lasted in parks until at least the 1960s, when there were 894 plots in six parks. Children’s Farm Gardens lasted into the 1960s, the idea fell out of fashion in the 1970s and 1980s. John Bowne High School , est. 1964, is a noteable exceptions as it continues this tradition of farm garden based curriculum albiet for older students. More documentation of farm gardens here.
1962 – New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) initiated a Citywide Resident Garden Competition from which NYCHA’s Garden and Greening program was born.
In the early 1960’s Mrs. Hattie Carthan organized her block on Vernon Avenue in Brooklyn to create a block association to “preserve and plant trees”. Her neighborhood was deteriorating. “In a few years, she was chairman of the Bedford-Stuyvesant Beautification Committee, presiding over 100 block associations.” The Hattie Carthan Community Garden Farm is still one of the most active, respected and (in my opinion) historically important community gardens in the City. Mrs. Carthan is remembered as an urban conservationist. Yes, she inspired a community garden, but first, she helped preserve an entire neighborhood. This says a lot about where the roots of this movement lie.
In the early 1970’s Liz Christy and her “Green Guerillas” combated urban decay in the Bowery with seedballs (AKA “green-aides”) in vacant lots, sunflowers in traffic medians and window boxes on abandoned buildings. Eventually taking over a large trash-strewn lot on the corner of Bowery and Houston Streets. They created the Bowery Houston Farm and Garden – the community gardening bug hatched in NYC.
“The green guerillas began rallying other people to use community gardening as tool to reclaim urban land, stabilize city blocks, and get people working together to solve problems. Soon, dozens of community gardens bloomed throughout New York City, and neighbors formed vital grassroots groups.” (http://www.greenguerillas.org/history)
1976 – Greenmarket was founded with a two-fold mission: to promote regional agriculture by providing small family farms the opportunity to sell their locally grown products directly to consumers, and to ensure that all New Yorkers have access to the freshest, most nutritious locally grown food the region has to offer.
1978 – “Operation GreenThumb” is formed to manage and control a growing number of community gardens on City Land. “Operation” GreenThumb encouraged the creation of new community gardens on city-owned lots while giving leases with easily terminating licenses.
1980s – Hundreds more community gardens sprout all over the city and are given leases by GreenThumb. Some don’t get leases
1981 – Brooklyn Botanic garden hosts it first “Making Brooklyn Bloom” community gardening conference.
1982, May: Wheatfield – A Confrontation: Battery Park Landfill, Downtown Manhattan. Planted by artist Agnes Denes as a symbol, a universal concept; it represented food, energy, commerce, world trade, and economics, planted on land worth $4.5 billion.
1983- The Koch Administration began issuing some five and ten-year leases to Community Gardens. But property interests remained primary; any community gardens occupying highly valued land might not receive a long-term lease.
Real estate recognizes the value brought to our neighborhoods.
1986 January 8: Adam Purple”s Garden of Eden BULLDOZED – Lower East Side Ecology Center Community Compost Project starts operating in their community garden on East 7th Street, between Avenues B and C.
1992 – Taqwa Community Farm is a half-acre park operated as a community garden in the Highbridge neighborhood in Bronx, New York.
1993 – The New York City Department of Sanitation’s (DSNY) Bureau of Waste Prevention, Reuse, and Recycling (BWPRR) created the NYC Compost Project. Focused on compost outreach, education, and technical assistance.
1994 January 1: Mayor Rudolph Giuliani is sworn into office.
1994: Mayor Rudolph Giuliani directs Housing and Preservation Department (HPD) to identify “abandoned lots” (community gardens) that should be sold at auction to help the City pay its “bills”
1994 May: With police patrolling the streets and aiming from rooftops, the DOME Garden (W84th Street b/t Columbus & Amsterdam) BULLDOZED
1994 November: Community gardeners in the LES form the “Garden Preservation Coalition which later becomes the New York City Community Garden Coalition (NYCCGC) 995 – Green Thumb, along with 36 gardens, are transferred to the Department of Parks and Recreation.
1996 – An in-vessel pilot facility for composting food residuals opened on Rikers Island prison complex.
1996 – The HORT launches its GreenHouse program, an urban farm offering horticultural therapy to inmates on Rikers Island.
1996 – HPD announced that it will take back half of the Green Thumb community gardens citywide for development.1996 October: Community Gardens receive Imminent Development Letters 1997 February: Save Our Community Gardens Rally at City Hall. According to the Administration’s own records, there are more than 11,000 vacant city lots that could be both truly affordable housing with more community gardens. Hundreds of community gardeners and allies marched with signs, puppets, flowers, vegetables, petitions and letters of support to the offices of elected officials and city agencies.
1997 December 30: Four community gardens demolished…
Mendez Mural Garden (11th Street Bet. Aves A & B) BULLDOZED
Angels Garden (11th Street Bet. Aves. B & C) BULLDOZED
Marias Garden (11th Street Bet. Aves. B & C BULLDOZED
10th BC -Little Puerto Rico Garden (10th Street Bet. Ave. B & C) BULLDOZED
The first shots in this war on community gardens where fired. Community gardens begin to organize…..
1998 January 1: Giuliani’s re-inauguration ceremony is disrupted by protesters who drop banner “SAVE THE GARDENS”
1998 March: Umbrella Garden Holy Mary Mother of God Garden Seventh Street Garden AUCTIONED OFF despite protests.
1998 April 24: Giuliani Administration transfers 741 Green Thumb community gardens to HPD, which will record them as “vacant lots” and plans to auction them off to pay for “affordable housing.”
1998 July 20: Four more community gardens and two community centers are AUCTIONED OFF, despite lengthy delays caused by protesters, who release ten thousand crickets.
1998 September: More Gardens! Coalition starts in the South Bronx as an offshoot of the Garden Preservation Coalition and other community garden preservation groups. The More Gardens! Coalition is a group of community people, gardeners, and environmental and social justice activists who promote the development and preservation of community gardens as well as the cultivation of fallow land in New York City.
1998 – Non-profits, gardeners, activists, coalitions and other groups work to get the word out about the endangered community gardens. Postcards are sent far and wide by the Neighborhood Open Space Coalition calling for legislation to protect gardens. Everyone now has a “Bulldozer Hot-Line Telephone Number” magnet on their refrigerator.
1998 November: The Children’s School Garden of Love, P.S. 76, W121st Street, Harlem BULLDOZED
“Save the Gardens” stickers can be found everywhere.
1998 – United Community Centers starts the East New York Farms! project
1998-99 – Several Harlem Gardens BULLDOZED
1999 January-April: Protests, media and political rhetoric and organizing escalate through Winter and Spring as the auction of over 100 gardens, scheduled for May draws near.
1999 April 10: Standing our Ground Rally in Bryant Park. “Hundreds Gather to Protest City’s Auction of Garden Lots” By Anne Raver, New York Times April 11, 1999 “About 500 community gardeners, many from other states, rallied in Bryant Park yesterday, chanting ”Stop the Auction! Stop the Auction!” singing along with Pete Seeger and vowing to preserve the 700 community gardens that have been grown on trash-strewn vacant lots. The administration of Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani has put 114 of the city-owned lots on the auction block for May 13….
1999 May 1: (Arbor Day) More Gardens! Activist Matt Power climbs a tree to protest the auctioning of community gardens.
1999 May 11: On the eve before 114 gardens are to be sold off, two organizations — the Trust for Public Land (TPL) and New York Restoration Project (NYRP) –make a deal with Giuliani to buy them for $4 million. NYRP purchased 52 community gardens. The TPL purchased 64 community gardens from NYC for $3 million as part of an agreement to save the gardens from the auction block. Everyone is elated that some community gardens are saved, but the struggle continues…
1999 June: More Gardens! Gardener climbs a tree to attempt to stop bulldozing of Project Harmony Garden, W122nd street, Harlem. Instead of auctions, Giuliani now uses ULURP to funnel community gardens to developers in an alternative way to destroy them.
1999 November: Multiple simultaneous lawsuits against the city, are filed by over two dozen organizations representing the community gardeners. Mobilizing to save the community gardens continues.
1999 September: >Esperanza Community Gardeners, More Gardens!, and allies stand for all endangered community gardens citywide, camping inside the giant Puerto Rican coqui/frog in the Lower East Side.
2000 February 15: After a 6-month encampment, El Jardin de Esperanza (East 7th Street) BULLDOZED
2000 February 15: Meanwhile, On the same day… A federal judge, responding to then-Attorney General Eliot Spitzer’s lawsuit charging that the City had skirted environmental impact review laws, ordered a “cease and desist” order to halt development on or sale of garden land. The mayor’s lawyers delayed entering into the judge’s chambers until bulldozers had razed the garden to make way for a new condominium project. The judge’s restraining order lasted for over two years. Legal and legislative actions to save the gardens continued…
2000 – GrowNYC’s FARMroots’ Beginning Farmer Program (FBFP) identifies, educates, and supports aspiring farmers with agricultural experience to establish their own economically and environmentally sustainable farm businesses in the NYC region.
2000 June: Concert to Save the Gardens with Pete Seeger, Project Harmony, Harlem.
2001 January, South Bronx Gardens threatened Morissainia- Bronx United Garden (BUG) is formed. Melrose South Bronx United Gardens (SBUG) is formed.
2001 – July: Petition of over 25,000 signatures lead by More Gardens! and supported by NYCCGC, demanding a ballot referendum to protect gardens is delivered to City Hall as a result of a coalition formed by More Gardens! of all activists protecting gardens. Ultimately the referendum did not get on the November 2001 ballot due to technicalities.
2002 January 1: Michael Bloomberg sworn-in as Mayor of NYC.2002 November: Cabo Rojo Garden April 25, (South Bronx) BULLDOZEDCabo Rojo had been previously protected by a 6-month More Gardens! encampment.
More Gardens! Gardeners Demand: “Mayor Bloomberg make All Community Gardens Permanent”. The demonstration also included a lockdown in front of HPD, 100 Gold Street Manhattan.
2002 September: The Community Gardens Agreement is signed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg & Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, it stipulated the permanent preservation of 198 community gardens, 110 community gardens as “subject to development” (as housing or community gardens). 38 community gardens were scheduled for immediate development for housing or other projects. The agreement expired on September 17, 2010.
2003 May: East New York Community Gardens BULLDOZED
More Gardens! Members encamped at Fantasy Garden which was next to be bulldozed. Thanks to community perseverance and the leadership of Councilmember Charles Barron it was preserved.
NYCCGC continued to and hold yearly forums to ask about the present and future of community gardens.
2006-2008 – The Science Barge is a floating urban farm and environmental education center which docked at six stops along Manhattan’s waterfront with the goal of educating the public on urban sustainable agriculture.
2006 – NYCCGC Community Gardener’s Forum – featured speaker: NY State Attorney and candidate for Governor General Eliot Spitzer “While we recognize there is a housing shortage, we can balance worthwhile objectives and preserve open spaces as well’ – Elliot Spitzer, NYCCGC newsletter. We were able to play this role only because of what you had done. As is so often the case on issues of this nature, it is really the public that leads the government and not the other way around. -Elliot Spitzer NYCCG 2006 Gardeners Forum
2007 – Farm School NYC trains local residents in urban agriculture in order to build self-reliant communities and inspire positive local action around food access and social, economic, and racial justice issues.
2007 – Earth Day PlaNYC 2030 is announced by the Bloomberg Administration. Community Gardens or Urban Farms do not appear on any of the 132 pages.
2007 April: Nueva Esperanza Garden’s (E110th St & Fifth Avenue) 9 months encampment supported by More Gardens! BULLDOZED
2007 June: NYCCGC Community Gardener’s Forum – “How Safe is Your Garden, Really?”
2007 – New York State Office for Community Gardens revived. “Our mission is to help develop and sustain community gardens in New York by leveraging resources across state agencies. This mission is based on Article 2-C of the Agriculture and Markets Law – Community Gardens… mandating the Department of Agriculture & Markets:
Assist in the identification of vacant public land for community gardening purposes
Coordinate on behalf of interested community groups and state or local agencies to facilitate the use of vacant public lands for community gardens
Support and encourage networking among community garden programs around the state.
Through this program, we also promote community gardening and urban agriculture, connect gardeners to resources in their communities, and help to identify supportive community and school gardening policies. – from their website
2008 – Increased interest in living green, growing food, gardening and organic food. Many are interested in joining existing community gardens and growing new gardens and urban farms.
2009 – La Finca del Sur, a farming cooperative and nonprofit organization in the South Bronx founded by community members with a mission is to empower minority women through economic and food sustainability. Located on a two-acre lot administered by DOT and MTA, the South Bronx Farmers grow food at this GreenThumb urban farm.
2009 – The Master Composter Certificate Course is offered in Spring and Fall in each of the five boroughs.
2009 – Michelle Obama digs up theWhite House lawn to grow an organic garden. Urban agriculture and local food is in!
2009 – Earth Matter, seek to reduce the organic waste misdirected into the garbage stream by encouraging neighbor participation and leadership in composting. (That’s right, composting is an essential part of urban agriculture)
2009–2012: FIVE BOROUGH FARM: PHASE I – Strengthening and expanding urban agriculture in NYC by; Established a framework to understand how the broad range of activities happening at the city’s farms and gardens contribute to social, health, economic and ecological outcomes. Introduced a set of indicators that can be used to measure the multiple benefits of urban agriculture.
2010 – Grow to Learn NYC, the Citywide School Gardens Initiative, was established. Info about schoolyard gardens between 2000-2010 can be found here.
2010 – Randalls Island Urban Farm created. One acre education-based farm organized by GrowNYC and the Randall’s Island Park Alliance.
2010 – Eagle Street Rooftop Farm 6,000-SqFt organic vegetable garden operates its own seasonal farmers market and provides produce to local restaurants.
2010 – Hell’s Kitchen Farm Project, is a volunteer-run, urban rooftop farm in Hell’s Kitchen. Community response to nutritional security issues.
2010 February: NYCCGC Forum “Standing Our Ground To Save All Gardens” Speakers include several elected representatives.
2010, May: Construction of the Brooklyn Grange, the largest soil-based rooftop farm in the world, LIC Queens.
2010 July: NYCCGC July Meeting in Harlem drew a big crowd to discuss the proposed Parks Rules for community gardens.
2010 – August NYCCGC hosts a ‘Pep Rally’ outside City Hall while over 300 testify (many more online) against the Proposed Community Garden Rules
2010, Summer: Farming Concrete tool promoted amongst community gardeners. 32 community gardens recorded that they grew 220 pounds of hot peppers which have a value of $990.00
2010 September 13: Final Parks & HPD Rules for Community Gardens published in City Record
2010 – P.S. 333’s rooftop Greenhouse Project Initiative in partnership with NY Sun Works using use hydroponic farming technology to educate students and teachers about the science of sustainability.
2010 October 2: Community Gardeners Town Hall.
2011 -596 Acres started putting signs on city-owned lots that could become gardens
2011 – Bushwick Campus Farm and Greenhouse, outdoor classroom & ag. center for the four high schools located on the Bushwick Campus in Brooklyn. It was founded by a partnership among the Campus, Boswyck Farms(now defunct) and EcoStation:NY.
2011 March 4th: 1/2 acre community farm, Smiling Hogshead Ranch established by guerrilla gardeners (the contemporary definition of) on abandoned MTA/LIRR property in Long Island City, Queens.
2011 – Battery Urban Farm, a project of the Battery Conservancy, is the largest educational farm in Manhattan.
2011 – Hellgate Farm Collective, first residential farm based in NYC, established in W. Queens. Operated on a decentralized model farming neighbors yards, selling to local restaurants and offering CSA shares.
2011 April 5: Support GreenThumb Funding Rally at City Hall
2011 December: 50 apple trees planted on Randalls Island to create the largest apple orchard in NYC.
2012 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 – Brooklyn Grange opens 2nd location at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
2012–2014:FIVE BOROUGH FARM: PHASE II- Scaling the benefits of urban agriculture in NYC. (1) Building a coalition of urban agriculture stakeholders to coordinate activity and inform citywide policy. (2) Promoting innovative land-use solutions to support urban agricultural activity citywide. (3) Measuring the impacts of urban agriculture in New York City by developing user-friendly data collection tools that will enable farmers and gardeners to quantitatively demonstrate their outcomes and output to the city.
2012 May: NYCCGC steps in to resolve conflicts between GreenThumb Moma & Popa Jones Community Garden, East New York, Brooklyn
2012 – Elected representatives regularly attend NYCCGC Garden Meetings
2012 – Riverpark Farm, restaurant farm made with milkcrates takes advantage of temporary “stalled site” construction status to grow food for the chefs.
2013 – BK ROT, community supported year-round composting service employing local, young adults at living wages to collect organic waste from businesses, organizations and households by bike. Operating in Bushwick, BK.
2013 April 27: NYCCGC hosts a Mayoral Forum and grassroots organizing teach-in. During the forum Mayoral Candidate Bill de Blasio states that “One of my core principles is inclusion.” and that he would work with community gardeners to not only preserve the existing gardens but to expand the number of community gardens in the City
2013 May: Curbside compost collection pilot launched in Staten Island and Manhattan neighborhoods as part of PlaNYC.
2013 – The HORT hosts its first annual urban agriculture conference.
2013, June 18: Red Hook Farm opened, first-ever large-scale urban farm on NYCHA property
2013 December: After recovering from Hurricane Sandy devastation in 2012, on a Winter morning between Christmas and New Years, the Boardwalk Community Garden in Coney Island was BULLDOZED
2014–2015: FIVE BOROUGH FARM: PHASE III – Measuring the impact of urban agriculture in NYC with the goals of: (1) Increasing the quantity of data on urban agriculture in NYC. (2) Identifying sustainable funding models for urban agriculture
2015 May: HPD includes 18 gardens in RFP for housing development, for sale for $1. The organizing to preserve those led to 36 of the 39 transfers to Nyc parks in 596 Acres’ 2016 report
2016 – Swale is launched, a floating food forest built atop a barge that travels to piers in New York City, offering educational programming and welcoming visitors to harvest herbs, fruits and vegetables for free. Swale strives to strengthen stewardship of public waterways and land, while working to shift policies that will increase the presence of edible perennial landscapes.
2016 – 596 Acres annual report details that, since 2011 their organization had:
- facilitated transformations of 37 vacant lots into community spaces
- facilitated preservations of 53 community spaces
- defended 2 community spaces from evictions
2016 – 596 Acres permanently preserved 39 community stewarded gardens, parks and farms via transfer to the Parks Department.
2016 – Urby, Staten Island’s First Commercial Farm in a residential development with it’s own live-in farm manager.
2017 Spring: Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and City Councilmember Rafael Espinal (D-Bushwick, East New York) met with urban agriculture entrepreneurs, then drafted and proposed legislation that would require the creation of a Comprehensive Urban Agriculture Plan for NYC.
2017 – After 54 years, NYCHA Garden and Greening Program ended. This was the largest running public gardening program in the nation and had supported residents in developing more than 700 community-based garden plots (larger than the NYC GreenThumb network of gardens. (I just discovered this in researching this post. Little info is available. If you have info about the end of this program, please contact me!)
2017, December: City Council passes a stripped down urban ag bill which essentially requires City Planning Department and Small Business Services to compile information and resources about existing urban ag programs onto a NYC.gov hosted website.
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.