A Community Garden Grows in Bushwick

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Volunteers worked to plant, build and paint the new community farm on Gates Avenue last Friday (Paul Stremple/BKLYnER)

BUSHWICK – On a sunny Friday, volunteers were hard at work on the lawn outside the RiseBoro Youth Center on Gates Avenue, putting together a community garden in the heart of Bushwick that will provide not only fresh vegetables, but also a learning experience for local youth.

The project was a collaboration between LISC, the Local Initiative and Support Coalition, and Rebuilding Together NYC, a local non-profit. Some 30 volunteers spent their Friday planting flowers, building benches and picnic tables, and creating a shaded canopy that will double as a rainwater collection system. The small farm will give locals a patch of green space to enjoy while providing lessons on healthy eating and environmental stewardship for the children at RiseBoro Youth Center.

Salvaged tires were painted and repurposed as planters for flowers (Paul Stremple/BKLYNER)
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Known as the Bushwick Grows! Community Farm, the oasis of urban agriculture covers 5,600 square feet, with an international array of vegetables and leafy greens planted in its brand-new raised beds: Genovese basil and Portuguese peppers are planted near Napa cabbage and Oregon snow peas, while collards and cherry tomatoes line up next to candy-striped beets and beefsteak tomatoes.

Food grown in the garden will go to community volunteers that come in to help maintain the garden, said Scott Short, RiseBoro’s CEO. Additionally, some will go to local farmers markets, encouraging healthy eating in the community and displaying the fruits—or at least vegetables—of local labor in the garden.

“The farm will provide access to a healthy food ecosystem offering intergenerational programming for all, and will be the catalyst to unlead the potential of a healthier community, said Short.

Garden beds grow an impressive variety of vegetables and greens (Paul Stremple/BKLYNER)

As the project scales up, Short hopes to incorporate some of the fresh produce in the meals RiseBoro serves at its youth and senior centers, or along with their Meals on Wheels program. Of course, with more than one million meals going out each year, perhaps a bit more garden space will be necessary.

The project, supported by United Way and Deutsche Bank, was implemented in part by Rebuilding Together NYC, which helps assist with both home repairs and community projects. As spring moves towards summer, the group will be helping out with more urban agriculture projects.

“Communities are becoming much more proactive in regards to health,” said Rebuilding Together executive director Kimberly George. “In food deserts without access to fresh vegetables, a lot of attention is being paid—especially involving children.”

Framing up the shade structure that will double as a rainwater catchment system (Paul Stremple/BKLYNER)

The idea, as ever, is to introduce local youth to cooking involving fresh, local vegetables with strong nutritional components in the hope that they’ll continue to seek out healthier alternatives over time. By involving kids in the stewardship of caring for the gardens, George and others hope to increase their sense of ownership and engagement with the project.

The important thing is to inform and motivate local youth, said Short, who hopes that youth involvement with urban agriculture will build healthy eating habits early that will last into adulthood.

As the volunteers on Friday assembled their projects, powered by a picnic table full of pizzas, the small sliver of lawn behind the RiseBoro building began to resemble a real, restful garden. Volunteers watered flowers planted in repurposed, salvaged tires and repainted the entry fence, readying the community farm for its debut.

Residents will be able to visit the farm in coming weeks, so long as a volunteer is around, until the shady green space opens to the public in the next few months.

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