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Rogue Farmer Tends Secret Plot in Washington Heights Park

By Carla Zanoni | June 17, 2011 7:11am | Updated on June 17, 2011 2:26pm

By Carla Zanoni

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

WASHINGTON HEIGHTS — Deep inside High Bridge Park's rugged and uncultivated landscape lies a plot cultivating tidy rows of string beans, blossoming tomato plants and ripening ears of corn.

The agrictulural scene has been furrowed by a rogue farmer who's taken over public land to sow his seeds — land which could be so poisoned that the vegetables may be dangerous to eat.

The pop-up farm is about to be uprooted by the Parks Department which fears the food could be contaminated, officials said.

"The soil is liable to be contaminated from illegal dumping, which could be hazardous for any growing food," said Parks spokesman Phil Abramson, who said the department would remove the farm soon.

Abramson said the department knows the identity of the green-thumbed park-goer responsible for the plots, but would not identify him or her.

He said the department warned the uptown farmer to stop planting last summer when they discovered the first crop.  An alternative site in "a secured community garden" was also offered through Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez’s office, said Abramson.

Rodriguez’s office said this was the first they had heard of the situation.

Most residents in the area said they didn’t know such a vegetable bounty was growing just yards from their homes, and wondered if the person had plans to sell the food or just eat it.

Regardless of the intention, residents said they were excited that someone had taken such pains to create the plot, which is so well hidden DNAinfo had to be given GPS coordinates to find it.

"Living in the city, we all forget how real food is grown until someone reminds you like this," said Claudia Kramer, 38, who regularly rides her bike through the park.

She said she had seen the rows of plants poking out of the dark tilled soil a few weeks back.

Others had a more practical reason for welcoming the farmer.

"The park is underutilized and really desolate," said Lina Morales, 36, who lives in Washington Heights. "The more people in the park, the better."

But for many, excitement about the farming does not translate into excitement at the prospect of eating the harvest.

"I’d never eat anything from that park," said area resident Michael Fuentes, 27. "Who knows what’s in that dirt?"