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Community Group Transforms Neglected Neighborhood Garden in Mount Hope

By Jeanmarie Evelly | October 24, 2012 5:12pm

MOUNT HOPE — For years, Joseph Ferdinand would walk by the fenced-in lot at 176th Street and Walton Avenue and wonder what was happening in the overgrown area just a few blocks from where he lives.

The site was strewn with litter and so tangled with weeds and shrubbery that passersby could hardly see in. 

"It was a miniature forest, really," said Ferdinand, 60. "It was all hidden."

Ferdinand, a self-described community activist who volunteers with the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition (NWBCCC), a longtime neighborhood advocacy group, started asking questions. He discovered that the lot had once been home to a flourishing community garden that had fallen into disrepair over the last few years without enough volunteers to tend to it.

"It's a big, empty space that could be put to good use," Ferdinand recalled thinking at the time.

So he got to work.

This summer, he and other members of the NWBCCC starting organizing neighbors and local organizations to give the 176th Street Community Garden a makeover, weeding the overgrown site, planting herb and vegetable beds, even bringing in a live beehive and a chicken coop.

The group celebrated on Tuesday with a barbecue, and got a much-needed gift from Assemblyman Nelson Castro, who presented the gardeners with a $50,000 grant to continue their work. Organizers hope the plot will eventually include a greenhouse, rain water collection and irrigation system, solar panels, a composting site  — maybe even a fish pond.

"I want to see this come to fruition as soon as possible," Castro said. "Maybe we'll be pioneers, not just for the Bronx, but for the city of New York."

Taleigh Smith, an outreach coordinator for the NWBCCC, said they plan to eventually host community and school groups and green-jobs training programs.

"The whole garden is intended to be educational, for kids and adults," she said.

Patricia Spivey, 60, who lives in a building behind the garden, said she's been thrilled by the transformation, excitedly pointing out the now-flourishing array of plants and vegetables. Tomatoes, hot peppers, cucumbers, beets, collard greens and herbs abound.

She and other neighbors had struggled unsuccessfully to maintain the space in recent years.

"I'm a garden person. I was born in New York City, but I have a garden heart," she said. "The garden tried to strive and grow."

Glen Hardwick, 53, has lived next door to the garden for 33 years, and says it's been there for as long as he can remember, tended by an informal group of neighborhood volunteers.

"The garden's always been there," he said. "It's been passed on to people in the neighborhood."

Hardwick took over as the primary garden-keeper four years ago, he said, when the man who had been in charge of it died.

"I've been doing it by myself," he said. "The help is always appreciated. Many hands [are] better than one."

Smith, of the NWBCCC, said they're continuing to recruit volunteers from the neighborhood and other community groups. The garden's chickens have been moved for the winter, but volunteers plan to build a new coop by next summer. They also hope to have the greenhouse up by then, too.

In the meantime, Ferdinand says they're hoping to give the place a new name to go with its new look. They're taking suggestions, he said, looking for something more telling than its current moniker, which hangs on a sign on the chain-link fence outside — the 176th Street Community Garden.

"It's not really a name, it's more like an address," he laughed.