This article is about a free public tour of 5 diverse community gardens. Each one thrives with activity and showcases traditional and non-traditional techniques and plants!
Date/Time: Saturday, June 28, 2014 from 10 a.m. – Noon.
Location: Tour will assemble inside UCC Youth Farm (600 Schenck Avenue, 11207) between Livonia and New Lots Avenues.
Tour leader: Morgan Powell – firstname.lastname@example.org
Visitors congregate within UCC Youth Farm (established in 1998) located at Schenck Avenue between Livonia & New Lots avenues by the tracks of the no.3 train line.
Hello Neighbors and Friends:
My name is Morgan Powell. Local gardeners and I will be your host for the next two magical hours as we survey five community gardens here in East New York. I came to know this urban village as a journalist with Our Time Press newspaper covering African Burial Ground Square across the street last fall. Perhaps you read that story in the Amsterdam News? First time visitors to East New York may have recently seen or read about the street dance film Flex is Kings. East New York is making the news: today we will hear much more good news.
You’re about to tour a united nations of food production for every taste and style. This is a diverse community consisting of African-Americans, Puerto Ricans, Caribbean-Americans (Aruba, St. Vincent, Jamaica, Trinidad, etc.), Dominicans, Mexicans, Central and South Americans (Guatemala, Peru, etc.), people from the Indian Subcontinent of Asia (Bangladesh, etc.), and beyond. We’ll visit 5 to celebrate traditions from the past and ones emerging now. Honey, fruit, chickens, vegetables, and more await!
We are overjoyed to have you on this Jane Jacobs Walk!
Jane Jacobs Walks are a program of the Center for the Living City, a nonprofit organization created by people who knew the urban planning reformer Jane Jacobs. They celebrate her life and legacy by helping people organize walks in their communities like this one. These walks honor Jacobs by helping people find community in shared experience on foot. Their mission is to help people walk, observe, and connect with their community and environment. Jacobs Walks inspire people to make a difference because these public programs help community members discover and respond to the complexities of their city and environment through personal and shared observation.
Has everyone had a chance to walk around and look at the marvels surrounding us here at UCC Youth Farm? It’s the perfect place to meditate on the infrastructure of plant cultivation and consumption! Check out the greenhouse, storm water harvesting system, rich soil, tool storage facility, beehive, and planting beds. This is a complete urban farming environment! There’s even on-site carpentry; behold the colorful arbor in the middle of the farm supporting two walls of vines!
Those key capacities make the farm run. Have you seen the beehive?
Where does your mind go as you look around? As I look at the composting operation, I imagine four centuries of Brooklyn farming. Growing food is nothing new in this land. The Lenape Indians were masters of sustainable agriculture for more than 1,500 years prior to the first European visit. Tribes with names like Rockaway and Canarsie brilliantly inter-planted beans, squash, and corn in harmony with the soil and nourishing to their bodies. You can get a glimpse at their sacred lives at the Eastern Woodland Indians exhibit of the American Museum of Natural History just a subway ride away!
Let’s look across the street. Consider this old fashioned church building (now New Lots Community Church) on New Lots Avenue off Schenck Avenue covered in wooden boards painted white. The Dutch Reformed Church was the state religion of colonial Holland. Their descendents built this building in 1824. Its cemetery contains clearly visible monuments from Dutch and Anglo farming families–dependent on African labor and crafts–whose names grace many local streets like: Van Siclen (Avenue), Barbey (St.), Hegeman (Avenue), Blake (Avenue), and Snediker (Avenue). The Schenck family–one of the largest slave holders of old Brooklyn from the 1600s to the 1800s– is dually preserved in time. Aside from their commemorative street name, two of their family’s homes stand within the Brooklyn Museum complete with furniture, textiles and cooking implements to be visited by you year round. Historic local African families’ identities are not as well known. Their remains lie beneath Schenck Park and library across the street. See an 1890 photo of an African-American farm worker in Brooklyn below. Signage is just beginning to emerge as plans advance for a completely renovated commemorative park there led by City Councilwoman Inez Barron. Learn more about Brooklyn street names in the pages of Brooklyn by Name!
The book Cabbages and Kings also helps us see that Brooklyn was a major farming society as late as 1890. See the diagram below. It shows a 19th century East New York farm when the land was still called the Town of New Lots and not yet incorporated into New York City. It’s declared on page two that, “In 1880, Brooklyn was the second largest producer of vegetables, after Queens county.” If you ask why most people living today would not image Brooklyn that way, the same page reads, “By 1939, Brooklyn was America’s fifth largest manufacturing center.” The borough we see today was so completely transformed by industrialization and all that followed that its easy not to see what preceded that revolution.
Before we visit our next site, let’s contemplate similarities between this urban farm beneath our feet and a local nineteenth century one depicted to the right (from Cabbages and Kings). Notice New Lots Road (now New Lots Avenue) in the bottom of the page. Many families built their homes on this main street and had their farms extend behind. On close inspection, we see a variety of farm structures but the plants listed offer a surprise. It’s either an arboretum or an ornamental tree nursery growing apples, pears, cherries, mulberries, black walnuts, maples, spruces, tulip trees, locusts and what became a notorious weed–ailanthus! The white-flowered tree, a native cherry, pictured below is among the thousands of local food sources for the birds of East New York along America’s Atlantic migration route. East New York is feeding more than humans. We will see many ornamental and fruit trees along this walk. Some are street trees, others are in gardens!
Walking instructions: cross Livonia Avenue and stop at gate to New Vision Garden, also on Schenck Avenue.
Stop 2: New Vision Garden (Schenck Avenue and Livonia Avenue)
This place is the showcase of garden coordinators Eliza Butler and Natasha Hescott! It was founded in 1992. Like many gardens, this is a civic commons—see the stage! The birdhouse and semi-mature trees make this as a welcome local nature habitat for birds and pollinators. New Vision is emblematic of many NYC community gardens in that it was established during the early 1990s when many similar urban communities across America rebuilt themselves after decades of building social capital and political strength.
Walking instructions: Continue along Schenck Avenue one block to Dumont Avenue, then turn right. Note the unsigned community garden of Barbey Street Block Association where gardener Don likes to say they grow “southern vegetables: cucumbers, tomatoes, and collard greens.” Continue two more blocks along Dumont Avenue, then make a left onto Warwick Street. The walk to Pitkin Avenue will pass Warwick Green Glow garden which is in need of new gardeners. There are demographic shifts happening in our city– a few other once vital garden spaces need new energy too. We’ll soon pass Gregory’s Garden (off Belmont Avenue) where many bird feeders abound. Make a right on Pitkin Avenue. Halfway down the block stands the tour’s newest garden (founded in 2012):
Stop 3: El Jardin del Pueblo/The People’s Garden (2358-2362 Pitkin Avenue just between Warwick and Ashford streets)
This is the newest site we’re touring together. It was founded in 2012. The power of teenagers is on display here. They are the primary chicken coup minders. Adult garden members feed chickens and supply them fresh water on weekends making a complete system. The People’s Garden is following a centuries-old local tradition of keeping livestock. The book A History of New Lots Brooklyn by Landesman tells us local farms included dairy cows, chickens, horses, swine, and oxen. We also learn they grew corn, wheat, potatoes, and a wide range of market vegetables aside from hay for on-site use.
One can see the advantages of strong institutional support. Like UCC Youth Farm, there is running water and an exceptional level of maintenance and capital investment. Both sites have greenhouses and substantial storm water collection and distribution systems. Climate, soil, water, and sunlight determine garden character. This one can be very windy.
Large colorful murals are a big part of the community garden tradition (as at Triple R depicted below near our route). Here, you’ll find a big and beautiful one. This is a great space to acknowledge an important partner to local gardens. They’re ARTs East New York.
Walking instructions: cross to the other side of Pitkin Avenue at the next light walking in the same direction as before. Beyond Ashford Street and at the corner of Cleveland Street stands Floral Vineyard Garden.
Stop 4: Floral Vineyard Community Garden (2381 Pitkin Avenue @ Cleveland Street)
You’ve arrived at the newest showcase of Isabahlia Ladies of Elegance Foundation who are the main care-takers here beginning 2013. Previously, neighbors knew this garden as the beauty patch of Mother Oliver who worships at the Baptist church next door. Other gardeners worked with her to green this multi-generational space on a busy commercial street. This garden’s struggles and triumphs exemplify many of the same maturity. Ms. Oliver began gardening here in 1992 as “something to do after work.” Shade trees, benches, a sun shelter, a shed, built-in oven and pergola for vines reflect the many ways this garden is enjoyed! What is the traditional harvest here? She loves growing flowers and edibles like cucumbers, bitter melons, lima beans, black-eyed peas, and much more. She grew up with horticulture in her native Georgia where she grew cotton, corn, peanuts, tomatoes, peas, beans, and turnips until her early twenties.
Walking instructions: Our final destination shares Cleveland Street just yards away one-third into Cleveland on the opposite side of the street and away from busy Pitkin Avenue.
Conclude: Cleveland Vegetable Garden (433 Cleveland Street off Pitkin Avenue)
Cleveland Vegetable Garden is the domain of Ms. Sampson and friends! Garden fresh cooking follows the relaxed activity of this bountiful lot. Gardening is all about collaboration.
This and many sites, benefit from periodic support from Brooklyn GreenBridge, the NYC Compost Project, the Citizen’s Committee for New York City, Grow NYC, and Build it Green (has become a reliable source of wood to neighboring gardens in recent years too). The NYC Community Garden Coalition is an advocacy group gardeners can join and leverage political power through as well.
B15 bus @ intersection of New Lots Ave. and Schenck Avenue
No.3 train to Van Siclen to arrive/ C train at Shepherd Avenue to get home after tour
Cabs Services of East New York: 810 (718-235-5000) and New Lots (718-272-2222)
There are many more community gardens within East New York. We encourage you to explore! Morgan Powell dedicates this tour to Wangari Maathai!