SOUTH WILLIAMSBURG — A city-owned vacant lot long plagued with garbage, cars and rats officially kicked off its transformation into a community garden Wednesday — with a helping hand from Grammy Award-winning singer Jason Mraz.
La Casita Verde, a collaboration between the New York City Parks Department’s GreenThumb program and community gardeners, is located at 451 Bedford Ave., at the corner of Division Avenue.
On Wednesday morning, locals dug the soil and built storage bins with the help of Mraz, an avid gardener who wanted to kick off his New York boroughs tour with community service.
"If I hadn't been a singer-songwriter, I would have been a landscaper," Mraz said at the event, noting that he leaves a "wake of green in the air" where he tours.
The lot, owned by the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development, has been vacant since the ‘80s and has been plagued with garbage, rats and parked cars, according to neighbors and officials.
Longtime residents Marta Segara, 70, and Carlos Soto, 60, said they were glad to see the improvements.
“Before, it was a pile of garbage,” Soto said. “Rats used to come. When they started doing this, I haven’t seen a rat yet.”
La Casita Verde has a one-year license agreement with the city to be on the property, according to GreenThumb director Nancy Kohn
GreenThumb provided the initial materials and supplies, and the Department of Sanitation's New York Compost Project helped with some of the other startup costs, which begin at $5,000, Kohn said.
Getting the garden up to snuff required “inspiring manpower in the community” to help remove rubble from the lot, where remnants of the building still protrude from the soil, she explained.
A year from now, the lot will look “completely different,” Kohn noted. “It was just not tended to."
The garden is open on Fridays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., or whenever the gate is open.
Local officials and neighbors predicted that the lot will now be a more attractive place for people to hang out.
“I think you will start to see people coming,” Segara said.