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Community Garden Offers Up Blues Music and Healthy Food

 The Whole Neighborhood Garden on Bedford Avenue also houses jamming blues musicians.
Whole Neighborhood Garden
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BEDFORD-STUYVESANT — Caretakers for a new Bed-Stuy garden that was formerly home to a group of local blues musicians hope they can cater to old and new residents in the reclaimed open space.

The Whole Neighborhood Garden, a formerly-dilapidated playground at 1001 Bedford Ave., was replaced earlier this year through the city's Greenthumb program.

But the land was also used by neighbors as an impromptu studio space on the weekends, with older musicians sometimes coming out for hours to play in a rotating jam session.

"There are guys who come from other neighborhoods just to hang out and listen to this music," said Katy McNulty, 28, one of the garden's organizers. "You have some guys who are quite talented who play music seriously."

The music started about six years ago, in an impromptu session where a group of neighbors decided to come out and play. Since that time, the sessions have grown to as many as 50 people playing or enjoying the sounds of the "Midnight Fires" throughout the day, said drummer Ray Gordon, 67.

"Different people want to sit in and play, they play," Gordon said. "We have a singer, we have a bass, we have a keyboard — we're jamming, man."

When organizers took over the space, one crucial aspect was keeping that tradition going, said organizer Scott Calgaro, 41.

"We're trying to create an infrastructure to allow that to still happen but in a way that benefits the whole neighborhood," Calgaro said.

The space was transformed into a playground in the 1990s, when GrowNYC and IBM combined to donate $100,000 to the National Association of Black Social Workers, who operated a daycare next door.

When the daycare closed, the space was neglected. That's when the musicians decided to make use of it, Gordon said.

Earlier this year, the city offered the space as part of its Gardens for Healthier Communities initiative, where the city donated land to willing groups in an effort to create more community gardens and improve access to healthier foods.

Organizers jumped at the change to transform it into a lush garden.

"I walked by that lot all the time, along with everyone else who lived in that community," McNulty said. "I just kind of knew it as an unusal, interesting space."

Over the last few weeks workers have cleared the property, laid down mulch and got the space ready for new members.

Now organizers want the space to keep its status as a local gathering spot for musicians, while also becoming a place where people can learn to farm and cook healthy meals.

"How can we revitalize the green space thats already so beloved?" McNulty said. "From seed all the way to barbecue, the whole thing happens right there in that corner of Brooklyn, and that's a wonderful experience."

For now, the band still has access to play every other weekend, and Gordon said he's already looking forward to the new experience of becoming an urban farmer.

"I have my own plot, too, learning to grow vegetables," Gordon said. "It's beautiful."