Do-Gooder Gardens Crop Up in Central Brooklyn

By Sonja Sharp on May 9, 2012 1:49pm 

One of the community gardens run by the Bed-Stuy Campaign Against Hunger. Tucked away in back yards and behind churches throughout the neighborhood, these gardens have produced thousands of pounds of  food for needy families.
One of the community gardens run by the Bed-Stuy Campaign Against Hunger. Tucked away in back yards and behind churches throughout the neighborhood, these gardens have produced thousands of pounds of food for needy families.
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DNAinfo/Sonja Sharp

BEDFORD-STUYVESANT — Swaddled in her beekeeper's suit on a church roof above Fulton Street, 17-year-old Tiffany Bobbsemple of East New York would fit right in among Bed-Stuy's swarms of new residents, many of whom tend urban apiaries like hers across the city.

But unlike her neighbors, Bobbsemple won't see her organic honey at the greenmarket or drizzled over an artisanal dessert on Franklin Avenue. In fact, the only place to find her honey is the Bedford-Stuyvesant Campaign Against Hunger, one of New York City's largest food pantries.

"There were times when we used to get food that was rescued food — you’d get it today, and tomorrow it’s fit for the compost bin," said Director Dr. Melony Samuels, of the organization's decision to start growing its own produce, more than 2,500 pounds of which was distributed last year.

"Now we’ll get an influx of people who say, 'I heard you have fresh corn, you have kale, can I get some?'"

New York's urban gardeners have long sought out unusual corners of the city to put down roots. But across central Brooklyn, a crop of urban gardens have started sowing charity with their callaloo — a relative of kale popular among Caribbean immigrants — using the fruits of their labor to help less-fortunate neighbors, and bringing disparate members of this rapidly changing community together in the process.

"It's a good model for people to replicate," said David Watts, who runs a rooftop garden atop CCM Georgia's Place, a residential facility for formerly homeless adults in Crown Heights. The plot has bloomed with help from the Crown Heights CSA, a farm-share that distributes out of the ground floor and invites residents to take what's left over by its members. 

"Our residents are interacting with the hipsters and the kids who are coming through — it’s a sense of community," Watts said. "Sometimes people think this building is an island in Crown Heights, but they’re really a part of the community."

For CSA manager Fran Miller, that's the whole point.

The rooftop garden, a partnership between Georgia's Place and the Crown Heights CSA  (and funded by United Way) helps feed formerly homeless residents while creating a connection to the wider community.
The rooftop garden, a partnership between Georgia's Place and the Crown Heights CSA (and funded by United Way) helps feed formerly homeless residents while creating a connection to the wider community.
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DNAinfo/Sonja Sharp

"This CSA is very invested in building community," Miller said. "We've also committed to making sure we have a robust subsidized share program, so our lower-income neighbors can participate."

At Georgia's Place, the CSA gets a distribution point, its members get volunteer hours for helping in the garden, the formerly homeless residents get access to the same organic goodies as their new neighbors, and everybody comes away a little closer to the community, organizers explained.

"Crown Heights has a long history of tension between different groups," Miller said. "We try to create an environment where everyone feels included."

Just down the block and around the corner, another do-gooder garden is hoping to replicate that sense of community on Rogers Avenue. 

"In most community gardens, every gardener gets their own separate plot. It really isolates people," said longtime gardener Emily-Bell Dinan."They're claiming they’re community space, but actually the gate’s always locked." 

Dinan hopes her new venture, Roger That! at the corner of Park Place and Rogers Avenue, can buck the trend, though it's still seeking donations through Kickstarter to help members buy tools and transport fresh soil to the site. 

"Here, if you want to come in and garden, we’re all going to garden together," she said of the small but bursting plot, which will contain half native plants, half edibles and be 100-percent accessible.

"Did you see some tomatoes?" Dinan added. "Take the tomatoes!" 

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