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LIC Garden Group Vying for Grant to Expand Composting Program

 Smiling Hogshead Ranch is an urban farm in Long Island City, built on a plot of unused land owned by the MTA.
Smiling Hogshead Ranch is an urban farm in Long Island City, built on a plot of unused land owned by the MTA.
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Courtesy Gil Lopez

ASTORIA —  A community garden in Long Island City is looking to score some funding to help its programs grow.

Smiling Hogshead Ranch, a nonprofit urban farm planted on a plot of MTA-owned land on Skillman Avenue, near Pearson Place, is currently competing for funding from Seeds of Change, an organic company that supports community gardens and farms through an annual grant program.

Finalists are selected via a public voting process, with the 50 organizations receiving the most votes moving onto a second judging phase to compete for either a $20,000 or $10,000 grant — money the ranch would use to continue and expand its compost collection programs.

"These compost collections have been really popular," said urban farmer Gil Lopez, who helps run the garden and works with the Greening Queens Library initiative.

Smiling Hogshead Ranch partners with the library initiative to host weekly composting collection sites at three branches in western Queens, where residents are able to drop off their food scraps for composting.

Lopez said the Seeds of Change grant would go towards continuing those collection sites as well as expand the program to the Court Square library branch in Long Island City.

Voting for the grant program began last week and will continue until April 21. People can vote daily for Smiling Hogshead Ranch here.

Lopez said the garden is embarking on its fourth growing season this spring, planting about 25 rows of vegetables and herbs including tomatoes, eggplant, Swiss chard, spinach, kale, as well as a variety of fruit trees.

The garden was founded in 2011, and originally planted without explicit permission from the MTA, which owns the section of formerly underutilized land, which includes now-defunct railroad tracks.

"There was no plan that we could discern to develop the property in the near or mid-future, and there was no fence and no posted 'keep out' sign, and it was large," Lopez said. "We took soil tests and we settled on that lot."

The MTA became wise to the flourishing garden on its land about a year and a half later, but was supportive of the project, according to Lopez. They're currently in the process of working with the agency to finalize a garden license agreement that would legitimize their use of the space.

The garden will be hosting three-day clean up events April 18 through April 20, where they will be clearing and readying a new section of land to expand the current garden space. The activities, funded by a grant from the Citizens Committee for New York City, are open to the public.

For more information visit the Smiling Hogshead Ranch Facebook page.