Environment / Food

An oasis grows near the Bruckner

Chinwe Oniah

Artist Lynn Cazabon explains the different types of weeds
planted at Bryant Hill Garden to members of A.C.T.I.O.N.

Activists harvest weeds in Bryant Hill Garden

It can be hard to find traces of vegetation amid all the concrete in Hunts Point. But a closer look reveals miniature, hidden havens of nature among the asphalt.

Baltimore-based artist Lynn Cazabon teamed up with The Point’s after school program A.C.T.I.O.N, to start “Uncultivated,” a project that focuses on growing wild plants in urban environments, commonly known as “weeds,” and preparing them as food. Instead of uprooting them and throwing them away, they can be a tasty source of nutrition, according to the artist.

For Cazabon and the young activists, Bryant Hill community garden on Bryant Avenue near the corner of Garrison Avenue is a weed Mecca. They joined forces at Bryant Hill Garden on July 16 as they do every Wednesday morning, to tend to the garden and pay heed to the weeds.

After uprooting them, they brought them back to The Point, where they will eventually prepare the plants in various recipes.

“Weeds are one of the fallouts from human progress,” said Cazabon. As humans have evolved, she added, weeds have been unwisely left in the dust.

Cazabon launched the project in 2010, by photographing the traces of greenery around her, in Baltimore and in Hunts Point. As she did so, she began to wonder where the weeds came from. She then started to explore their origins and their value to people.The damage global warming may cause to the ecosystem, she learned, will make neglected wild plants an increasingly vital food source.

Cabazon’s work is part of inClimate: Climate Change Solutions, Awareness and Action, a citywide project that uses art to address the issue of climate change.

The activists said they now see weeds in a totally different light.

“A lot of these plants that you think are just weeds actually are edible,” said A.C.T.I.O.N. member Carlos Leon. “You can actually eat these things. Actual plants can grow in the city. I didn’t know that.”

Chinwe Oniah

Trees in the garden offer shade from the summer sun.

The teens and their artist mentor have been relying on the bounty of Bryant Hill community garden, in large part thanks to the efforts and foresight of Lucia Hernandez. Since moving to Hunts Point nine years ago, Hernandez, 59, has cultivated the not quite half-acre garden into an oasis on Bryant Avenue between Garrison and Seneca, just yards away from the Bruckner Expressway.

Now a picturesque mix of trees, plants and rock paths, the sloped garden was first planted in 1978, but the city later closed it down because residents were dumping their trash on it and failing to participate in its upkeep. After Hernandez revived it, she says, she became entangled in a tug-of-war with the city over maintaining it, but four years ago the parks department finally granted her that authority.

Now that Hernandez has gotten some help from her neighbors as well as from other groups outside the neighborhood, she says, the garden has enjoyed a resurgence—including the young weed gatherers.

Near the back, tomatoes, squash, peas, and other fruits and vegetables grow. Hernandez, who is also a certified beekeeper, sat alone in the garden on a recent weekday, enjoying the silence. The plants help drown out the loud music that blares from nearby apartments.

“When you’re here, it’s a different world because you’re at peace,” she said.

Although Hernandez suffers from a nerve disorder that has sapped some of her energy for maintaining the garden, she continues to devote as much time to it as she can. She wishes her neighbors would get more involved, but says some stay away because they object to the garden’s rules: no booze, no drugs and no loud music.

“I open it, but they aren’t willing to come in,” she said.

A cooking demo has been scheduled at The Point Campus for the Arts & Environment, 1391 Lafayette Ave (at the corner of Edgewater Rd) on August 13 from 2-4 p.m. where Cazabon and “Wildman” Steve Brill will demonstrate ways that weeds can be made into delicious meals.

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