A Garden Without Community

Community gardens and urban farms are essential to a community’s health in underserved New York City neighborhoods. Especially in food deserts like Far Rockaway, where there is very little access to fresh, organic produce, community gardens and urban farms play a pivotal role in providing families with healthy, home-grown food that wouldn’t be available otherwise.  Having convenient and affordable fresh food works to counter the negative health effects, like widespread diabetes, heart disease, and obesity that plague such neighborhoods.

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But this type of land isn’t always easy to get. Most community gardens and urban farms exist on land that isn’t theirs. For example, in New York City, many of the city’s community gardens are located on land that belongs to the NYC Parks Department. The Parks Department can lease city-owned land to organizations or individuals with the express intent to create a community garden. In order to use this land, the individual or organization must prove that there is substantial community interest. This relationship between the government and the community is symbiotic. The government is able to lease out its land while ensuring that it is being properly taken care of and community members get access to viable land to grow food, build community with their neighbors, and beautify their neighborhoods. The Parks Department also works to ensure the success of community gardens by providing resources, supplies, and support to these spaces, free of charge.

Given the value and rarity of fertile communal growing space in a city like New York, it is a tragedy when these dedicated spaces are not being taken care of. Especially on the Rockaway Peninsula, it is disheartening to see community garden space that is overgrown with weeds. Culinary Kids, a local nonprofit whose mission is to empower youth about healthy eating and farming, has a piece of land on Seagirt Boulevard & Beach 31st Street and it is unfortunately one of the many underutilized community garden spaces in our community. The land is not very well kept as evidenced by the extreme overgrowth.  It’s raised gardening beds are barren and much of the space is covered by black tarps. They claim that this is a community garden, but the community can hardly even enter the space without running into decrepit lawn furniture, let alone grow healthy produce. Given how difficult it is to navigate the bureaucracy to even get a community garden started, it’s hard to understand how an organization could let their space get to such a state of disarray.

Culinary Kids’ space on Seagirt and Beach 31st St. is only one example of the misuse of growing space in the Rockaways. As you travel along our peninsula, many of the growing spaces have not reached their potential and we should be angry about it. We’ve earned the opportunity to grow our own food and develop a sense of independence and we cannot squander it. As a community, we need to demand that our government recognize the injustice and work with our community to ensure that our garden space is productive. Our health depends on it.