NEW YORK—The keys to Carver Garden on Second Avenue and 124th Street were passed on from the Trust for Public Land (TPL) back to the community in Harlem on Tuesday.
TPL officials donated the deeds on Monday, giving ownership of 32 community gardens in the Bronx and Manhattan to the Bronx and Manhattan Land Trusts.
Children at the garden helped with the ceremonial planting of a Butterfly Weed.
“It’s pink and it’ll attract butterflies, which are very important for the garden. We’re going to plant this in this garden, and then we’re going to plan this in every garden,” said Erica Packard, executive director of the Bronx Land Trust. “It takes a long time to establish, but [once] it gets established it’s very hard to remove; it has a very long taproot. It isn’t going anywhere.”
The Carver Garden, which started in the 1980s, is one of the 62 gardens that were to be auctioned by the city in 1999. The TPL purchased the gardens for $3 million, five more gardens were donated, and later on the TPL bought two more gardens to preserve for the community.
“We acquired gardens that all had strong community support and leadership, and were actively used. The garden leaders expressed a desire to eventually own them themselves. They asked us to work with them to set up borough land trusts,” said Andy Stone, New York City TPL director.
The TPL works with community organizers and to date has spent over $4 million on improvements like fences, gazebos, and sidewalk repair to the eight acres of gardens. Unlike other public gardens throughout the city, the ownership protects them from being removed if the city decides to use the space for other developments.
“It’s really up to the community volunteers to take care of the gardens,” Stone said.
The Carver Garden is currently used by a wide range of people on a regular basis.
“Many families and organizations use this garden to grow food, to have an outdoor space where they can entertain, [and] celebrate,” said Catherine Wint, community organizer for the Bronx and Manhattan Land Trusts.
Many education programs, special needs organizations, and recovery programs have a plot in the garden, as well as homeowners and apartment dwellers from nearby.
“We have a whole mixture, culturally and racially, of people who are all really committed in growing food,” Wint said. Sometimes produce is harvested for individual consumption, and often the fruits and vegetables harvested are shared.
Gina Keatley, director of Nutrition for Nourishing NYC, says they’ve really used their space in the garden as a headquarters to feed, educate, and advocate for greener lifestyles.
“Our plot here has solar panels,” Keatley said. “They’re little, but the idea is that they’re here. It’s to show people that they can be done, even on a really, really tight budget. We’re a community group and really low on funding, but it’s not an excuse not to be healthy, and not to be environmentally friendly.”
During the summer, they staff more junior volunteers and regularly teach low-income children how to grow and cook food.
The Nourishing NYC volunteers gathered produce from their plot and handed them out on the street on Tuesday, following the ceremony.
“It’s very fast, it goes in just a few minutes,” Keatley said with a laugh. “But we’re not about giving people food, we’re about giving people inspiration.”
Keatley said that even as a New Yorker, she’s surprised by how many people have never grown or even seen a lot of their foods in their natural state.
“Some people have never seen a carrot! They don’t know what it looks like in the ground,” Keatley said.
Though the garden is green and flowering now, Wint says three years ago, when she first got involved, the building directly across the street was about to undergo demolition. There was a rat infestation, many of the seniors who had frequently used the garden were deceased or moved away, and the garden was largely inactive.
“We were able to get these organizations to partake in planting here; we got like five or six organizations last year, and they were really doing all of the planning,” Wint said. “This year we have more support.”
One of the plots at the front of the garden is as big as any of the organizations’ spaces, but belongs to one individual. James Smith says he has been using the Carver Garden for about 35 years, and tends to his plot along with cleaning up the garden and taking care of the snow in the wintertime.“I enjoy it very much,” Smith said. “I’m in here everyday, everyday.”
Stone says they plan to donate the rest of the gardens to the Brooklyn-Queens Land Trust by the end of the year.