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Community Garden Program Helps 'Underserved' Residents in Bed-Stuy

By Paul DeBenedetto | September 30, 2013 9:49am
 Services for the Underserved brought an urban gardening program to Bed-Stuy.
Services for the Underserved Urban Garden Program
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BEDFORD-STUYVESANT — A community gardening program has underserved Bed-Stuy residents enjoying the fruits — and vegetables — of their labor. 

The urban farming program, run by Services for the Underserved, helps train veterans, developmentally disabled, mentally ill, HIV-positive and AIDS-affected residents to be urban gardeners, which organizers said provides both physical and non-physical benefits.

"Working in gardens not only gives [health] benefits of coming outside," said Program Director Mike Hollis. "It's helping a lot of folks get a baseline to bring themselves back into the workforce."

The program began in 2010, after organizers saw residents of one of their 70 facilities across the city start their own garden, Hollis said.

Recognizing both the mental and physical health benefits of gardening, the group has since reached out to residents of 12 SUS locations in Brooklyn, Queens and The Bronx to set up gardens of their own.

"There definitely was a pre-existing interest," Hollis said. "We just kind of formalized it."

At Friday's "harvest luncheon," marking the end of the growing season, gardeners showcased their work at 620 Marcy Ave. while discussing the benefits of the program.

Resident Phil Cayenne, 28, said the program helped keep him busy and feel relaxed, while Noel Cortes, 29, called the positive effects "psychological."

"It helps the way you think," Cortes said. "It's peaceful."

The program also helps employ people the organization said are "marginalized" by society into part-time positions, as trainers in the garden.

One part-time employee, Valerie Stanback, 48, said the hard work has been therapeutic for her.

"I like it because it soothes you," Stanback said. "My mind is on this, not anywhere else wandering."