Residents start a farm in corner of run-down lot
By Maria Clark
Video by Megan Sperry
In its 20-year history the playground on Fox Street between 156th street and Leggett Avenue has stood mostly empty, overgrown and underused, a sliver of green space used mainly as a dog run.
For the past eight years, local activist Tanya Fields looked out on the lot from her apartment across the street and saw possibilities.
“The grass would grow to be two feet tall at times. It was a mess,” Fields said. “But this is an oasis in the middle of our community.”
In the past month, Fields, with the help of Dwaine Lee from Sustainable South Bronx and intern Adriana Rivera, has devised a plan to convert this vacant lot into a small farm. It will both offer fresh produce and help beautify the block. (See the accompanying video.)
“I just kept thinking ‘when is someone going to fix it up?’ We had to take this in our own hands,” said Rivera, 16.
Rivera has been making the rounds, publicizing the idea and gathering support for it from local residents. Fields, Lee and Rivera have planned a 6-hour block party on September 26 to raise funds for and educate the community about the place they call Libertad Urban Farm.
So far the farm is comprised of a small bush to attract butterflies, a handful of Echinacea plants, geraniums, and one very sturdy sunflower. Fields hopes that once she has established enough community interest, the farm might include some “Mommy and Me Plots” cared for exclusively by mothers and their children.
Some flowers planted in early July have gone missing, while others are vulnerable to dog urine, since there is no divider between the planting grounds and the dog run.
Fields’ team keeps on, despite the difficulties.
Fields’ neighbors stood by the gate his fingers hoisted onto the chain link fence watching Dwaine Lee try his best to revive some of the damaged flowers. One of them, Anthony Cousar, 40, and his grandsons Montez Moses, 5, and PJ, 3, decided to help. While Lee clipped the dead blossoms from the stems, Cousar nailed wood planks together to build a raised planting bed.
“Just seemed like a good idea, I thought I could help out,” Cousar said.
Fields walked over to each bystander, explaining her grand plan, and her reasoning.
“It’s a slow process, but I have to inform them one by one,” she said.
Convincing residents isn’t the only hurdle Libertad Urban Farm faces. Fields has yet to obtain official consent from the Department of Parks and Recreation to plant a garden on the lot. Park workers pushed the raised flower beds aside in early August, so they could cut the grass.
The Bronx Borough President’s office and Councilwoman Maria Carmen Del Arroyo donated $1.5 million to have the playground redesigned, but so far the renovation does not include Field’s plan for the farm, despite her effort to gain recognition and support.
Getting the farm included in planning the redesign of the playground is “what I’m hustling for now,” she said.
A version of this story appeared in the September edition of the Hunts Point Express.