Environment / Food / News

Garden springs to life near Hunts Point park

Photo by Joe Hirsch

Volunteers start planting a new community garden near Hunts Point Riverside Park.

Food justice activists hope to feed local residents

Can a garden the size of a modest studio apartment feed a significant number of Hunts Point residents? Sure can say the urban farmers who dipped their spades into a 20 by 20 foot plot on a formerly contaminate site next door to Hunts Point Riverside Park on May 6.

Local community activists and representatives of Detroit-based non-profit Urban Farming inaugurated the new garden on land owned by The Point CDC that also houses Rocking the Boat’s new boathouse. While cranes from the Sims Metal Management scrap yard plant noisily hauled debris beyond the wall that separates the two urban realities, dozens of gardeners dipped their spades and trowels into the four-foot-deep soil in raised beds.

They planted tomatoes, basil, collard greens, broccoli and kale to celebrate the new venture. The harvest will be donated to Hunts Point residents in an effort to raise nutritional awareness in the community while supplying free fresh veggies.

The idea to create the garden stemmed from a collaboration between teacher Stephen Ritz of the Bronx Discovery High School and Urban Farming, whose celebrity founder, recording star Taja Sevelle, attended the ceremony. Ritz last month won a national Environmental Protection Agency award for his work teaching gardening and growing techniques to his students in the Bedford Park section.

Sevelle launched Urban Farming in 2005 while recording a CD, by starting three small gardens in Detroit to help feed the hungry.

“We’re encouraging people to plant at home, even if they’re in an apartment,” Sevelle said of her five-year effort. “They can even plant on a windowsill.”

Her organization says it has helped grow 1,000 small gardens around the world.

“We’re putting a garden in a food desert,” Sevelle said, emphasizing her enthusiasm about the new site.

Ritz thinks urban farming is an idea whose time has come, and the younger the student the more promising the outcome.

“You can’t go wrong nurturing a plant,” said Ritz of the way students in his classes have taken to growing food. He said gardening should be added to school curricula as a “physical education activity.”

The garden by the park has been in the works since December when a board member of the Point CDC joined Point staffer Adam Liebowitz to construct the wooden frame that holds the dirt and the plants, using power tools borrowed from Rocking the Boat.

“Those were the coldest days of the year,” recalled Liebowitz fondly.

The Point owns the property on which the garden is located, a small lot and a squat building alongside the garden which the organization’s officials say will eventually be renovated and put to use.
“This is an example of what a former brownfield can become,” said Maria Torres, The Point’s president and chief operating officer, using a term that describe contaminated land that can be rescued for new uses.

The Point also plans to grow vegetables outside its building on Garrison Avenue and Manida Street, and will eventually give some of that food away to residents while selling some at below market prices.

“The government subsidizes all the wrong calories,” said Liebowitz. “We think, what if we subsidize the good stuff?”

“If we sell produce at a dollar, can we compete with the dollar menu at McDonald’s?” he mused.

Meanwhile, says Liebowitz, momentum continues to grow. A member of a church across the Bronx River from the new garden in Soundview has offered to let members of the community use 3/4 acre of vacant land there to grow an even bigger garden to produce more fresh, free or low-cost vegetables.

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