A Primer on Community Gardens for Spring
I will tell you the first time I felt rich in New York City: it was the summer of 2017, and I was unemployed, on SNAP benefits, and facing financial desolation. But (you know, I’m all about that but), I had the keys to a community garden, and enough money for hot dogs and buns. And Lo! Thus I did I find myself surrounded by friends, gathering around a glowing grill, drinking soda pop and mildly perspiring in the swamp of a New York summer, all of us together in our community garden. Thank g-d José brought ketchup.
As the sun smeared its red rays across the sky, the gangs of mosquitoes grew emboldened (Crips and Bloods got nothing on NYC Skeeters), and we rambled our way into the cool of evening — friends: I felt rich! I mean, if a sucker like me can find peace in an enclosed outdoor public space in the middle of Gotham, then it seems that what separates me from Gramercy Park denizens is simply window dressing. So as the weather warms and our housebound thoughts turn to outdoor pursuits, we thought it wise to offer a primer on how to get your garden on.
The first task that falls to you, the would-be gardener, is to locate your friendly neighborhood community garden. Greenpoint (as defined by the 11222) has three: Java Street Community Gardens, 61 Franklin St. Garden, and the upstart Lentol Street Gardens. For those of you in other hoods, there is a convenient map, searchable by zip code, which will let you look up your closest garden.
Once you’ve located your local garden, the next trick is to get in touch with whomever is in charge. This task is harder than it may first appear. Community gardens, like World Cup administrative bodies, can be notoriously dysfunctional affairs. So, while you may score a goal by emailing the address listed on the website of your local gardens, we strongly recommend that you stop by said garden on a Saturday and meet the folks inside. Chances are, these folks will be able to steer your request for membership — and your precious annual dues — in the right direction.
You should know that all gardens are different: Some, like Java Street, contain individual plots, where you can grow whatever your legal heart desires – no cannabis…yet! Of course, these individual plots tend to have wait lists, which can stretch to years in some cases. However, even without your own plot, most gardens contain ample space for collective activity: general maintenance, communal flower beds, and compost bins. Fundraisers always tend to need help as well. In return, you’ll get your key (or code) to the garden and, with it, the chance to dig in.
Other gardens, like 61 Franklin Street, are communal gardens: there are no individual beds. Rather, there are various interest overlays on the collective space: Planting committees, event committees, and infrastructure committees all gather folks by interest area, and put them to task (Be sure to ask about Franklin St.’s esoteric “Shingling Committee.”).
Either way, upon signup, you should be granted access to your garden, and to its bylaws (all gardens are required by the city to maintain bylaws). Read these bylaws carefully, as disobeying any of the tenets of the bylaws is grounds for dismissal from the warm breast of your garden community.
THE DIRT OF THE MATTER
If you’ve joined your local garden, it is presumably because you are interested in gardening. Whether you’re a beginner, or a seasoned urban farmer, you can always improve your horticultural skills. Beyond simply digging in the dirt, there are many opportunities and resources to do so.
First and foremost, you should acquaint yourself with the good folks at GreenThumb NYC, New York’s primary community garden resource, and the largest organization of its kind in the nation (their map is linked above). Offering workshops, garden amendments such as soil and lumber, and a toothsome events calendar, Green Thumb is a fabulous partner for any local garden. K.C. Alvey, Green Thumb’s indefatigable envoy for North Brooklyn, is happy to help guide you through their myriad offerings: Simply email her.
In addition to Green Thumb, there are several other organizations useful for the urban gardener: GrowNYC doubles down on some of the offerings of GreenThumb, and hosts informative manuals on green infrastructure. Brooklyn Grange hosts a great handful of workshops on everything from beekeeping to dumpling-making. The NYC Department of Health is also a good resource, especially if you want to test your garden soils or learn about pest control (trust us, you’ll want to do both!).
Lastly, there is a simple way to jump right into the deep end of the urban gardening pool: attend GreenThumb’s annual GrowTogether Conference this Saturday! Featuring speakers, workshops, and panel discussions, GrowTogether crams more information into a single day than is seemly. At only $5 a head, it’s worth the price of admission for the food alone (breakfast and lunch…courtesy of Whole Foods!).
Summer in the garden: what riches there shall be!
(and until then, we leave you with an image from our local garden on Franklin Street: was that last week? Holy Global Warming!)