From the April 27 NYC CGC (Community Garden Coalition) Annual “Stand for our Land” event

NYC CGC MISSION: LONGTERM LIFE and PRESERVATION OF COMMUNITY GARDENS is the mission of NYC CGC.

NYC CGC grew out of the 1990s when community volunteers had to learn, practically overnight, on how organize, lobby, and defend their gardens from real estate developers. What began as a collection of community members of two decades ago has grown to become a collection of community gardens, well organized, strong, and representative of the five boroughs. They also made reference to Pete Seeger and Bette Midler who have supported the gardens and organizations that support the gardens.

The event included a mayoral forum where each of the 2014 Mayoral candidates spoke for 3 minutes on their position regarding land use, community garden preservation, and real estate development. The opinions ranged from the Marxists left to the conservative right. Of course everyone pledged being in favor of the gardens but varied on how to preserve and protect.

As residents of NYC, we all know that there is a balance between the need for housing and further real estate development and the preservation of green space. Many speakers recognized that the Giuliani administration represented the darkest period in our city’s history toward the gardens with many examples of overnight destruction and broken promises by developers. These broken promises are prevalent today with the new Yankee stadium, the Brooklyn Nets/Ratner Project, and others that were cited as deals with government for parks and green space that remain unfilled as the expense of city tax payers. Mayor Bloomberg’s 2030 initiative is to have sufficient green space throughout the city within a ten-minute walk from one’s home. There are many areas like the upper east side or midtown where this is virtually impossible without taking buildings down.

Empty land is controlled by HPD (Housing Preservation Department). They oversee many empty lots that are then converted to green space or sold off to real estate development. There are cases on both sides where land was turned into green space without owner or HPD approval and green space taken over by new owners and developers. One speaker recalled a number of examples where gardens were uprooted over night to make way for construction. The community was never notified, discussed, etc.

All mayoral speakers described the need to find the magic balance. In reality, once a land is developed there is no turning back to green space, so once the land is converted to housing, it is gone. At the same time there are many parts of the city where there is zero green space. Such cases have strong links to child obesity, respiratory diseases, and a failure for people to connect with the land and community. Children fail to appreciate where food comes from, how food and sustenance is intertwined, and parental control is lost. These conditions reverberate through mainstream media and at everyone’s dinner table.

Are we losing control of our destiny? Can the environment, planet, and our bodies sustain the current pace of food production, food choices, and general eating habits? Are we too trusting and over reliant on government and industry to make our food decisions? Why are we outsourcing such a personal and important decision on the food we eat?

Here is a summary of the speaker’s list:

NYCCGC President Raymon Figueroa-Rayes and Exec Director Aziz Dehkan made introductions.

Scott String, Manhattan Borough President spoke about the agenda for 2014.

Next year we will have a new Mayor, a new Public Advocate, a new Controller, and new Council Members. We will have an entirely new administration on how the city is run and we need to stay active and hold our reps accountable.

Edie Stone of GreenThumb: Edie has been at Greenthumb for 15 years and the role of Greenthumb in the community gardens.

Karen Washington was described as a “Living Legend” and is one of those community members who fought Giuliani during th e1990s. She speaks around the country. She is a founding member of NYC CGC who’s mission is to protect, organize, and advocate for gardens all across the US.

There were 12 speakers on the program but only 7 appeared.

 Democratic Candidates:

  • Sal Albanese: Does not take money from developers
  • Randy Credico: Talked about growing weed and is a part time comedian
  • Christine Quinn spoke of building a land trust as a means to legally protect all urban gardens as a permanent entity. She would move to have HPD designate what is housing and what is green space rather than wait for interest and patchwork planning. The land trust issue raised concerns of the cost and viability as well as what these means is possibly every garden on its own as they would no longer be collective.
  • John Liu: Appeared the most engaging and prepared and mapped out a plan on how to find the right balance as well as shift more funds toward Gardens. Only .5% of city budget is devoted to green space while in other cities it is 4 to 5%

Republican Candidates:

  • George McDonald: Founder of the Doe Fund – “Ready, Willing, and Able” group.

Green Party:

  • Tony Gronowicz: radical left

Independent Party:
Adolfo Carrion, Jr: Make community gardens and open space part of the parks department.

For the workshops, I attended the  Finding Resources for your Community Garden. The workshop was led by Howard Hemmings from the Bronx NYCHA Program.

Here is a summary:

  • If you want daffodils, there is a Daffodil Project with Partnership with the Parks
  • Citizens of the Community Garden gives away community grants. (We just won a $2k grant this past week from them)
  • NYS Green Gems Program offers $2k to $10k grants and we will need to partner for the 501 c3.
  • Use your garden as a resource magnet: partner with a nearby school or youth program, a senior citizen home, etc. think along those lines as means to generate funds (this is where sourcing food for nearby restaurants may make sense).
  • If you want seedlings for new trees you can go to treesny.org
  • Take the citizens tree pruning course at the NYC Bronx Botanical Garden for certification and get lots of free supplies, expertise, and resources from the Botanical gardens.
  • Tree tips for kinds : 212-227-1887
  • The 5 Boro Farm is comprised of DesignTrust.org and Added-Value.org
  • There are also Communtiy Dev Block Grants by HUD
  • Portal.hud.gov/hudportal/communitydevelopment/programs
  • Cornell Coop Exchange: www.cce.cornell.edu/pages/default.aspx
  • Farming Concrete.org
  • Grownyc.org
  • Council.nyc.gov/html/action_center/food.shtml
  • Grow more vegetables – at the Bronx Botanical Garden
  • Green Gorillas – building green for lumber has a raised beds grant program.

We had guest musicians include Pete Seeger who is 94 and singer of Turn, Turn, Turn, and If I had a hammer… He was fantastic.

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