Keeping Community Gardens Strong–And Growing

By Commissioner Mitchell J. Silver, New York City Department of Parks & Recreation

As the fiscal deadline looms, Congress continues to debate the merits of President Trump’s “skinny budget.” But for food-producing, community-based programs like GreenThumb, NYC Parks’ popular urban gardening network, the budget isn’t just skinny — it’s a starvation diet.

GreenThumb is the largest program of its kind, with nearly 600 gardens across New York City and benefits shared by millions of people. These gardens started during the 1970’s as individual community efforts to bring life back to poor urban neighborhoods. Where tenements had been abandoned or lots taken over by drug dealers, gardeners got to work and made flowers bloom. With federal support the program grew to the success it is today, with more than 20,000 active volunteer gardeners. Some, like Harlem’s Electric Ladybug Garden are green spaces where residents, neighbors, and visitors can rest, relax, and enjoy some relief from a busy day. Others, like Bed Stuy’s Hattie Carthan Community Garden, are fully developed farms that offer job training, youth engagement and post-incarceration programs.

Now GreenThumb is danger. The federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program, which the Trump budget proposes to eliminate, provides nearly 50% of GreenThumb’s funding. Losing this contribution would have a devastating impact on the program and the millions who benefit from it. The funding loss would mean cancelling many of GreenThumb’s programs and workshops — some that have been in existence for decades — scaling back the provision of gardening supplies to gardeners, and the loss of more than half of GreenThumb’s staff.

Here’s what else is threatened when we take an axe to the funding that supports our gardens:

  • Precious, healthy green space: Our gardens provide an immense ecological value to what is a densely populated city here in New York. These gardens help to improve air quality, bio–diversity, and contribute to fostering a healthy and inclusive relationship among residents.
  • Community-building space: Gardens break down barriers by engaging New Yorkers in the shared stewardship of open spaces, regardless of race or class.
  • Healthy food for hungry New Yorkers: Through GreenThumb, there are more than a dozen farmers markets distributing food to people in need, and these green spaces allow thousands more to grow fresh fruits and vegetables that are beyond their financial means.
  • Crucial educational resources: GreenThumb also supports more than 600 school gardens through the citywide Grow to Learn partnership program, where students use them as living, learning laboratories and a way to produce fresh food for school cafeterias.

Our GreenThumb gardens are more than just plots of land, they’re seedbeds of strong communities. Cutting their crucial federal funding would imperil the strong networks that generations of New Yorkers have built and continue to rely on. Let’s keep our gardens strong — and keep our communities growing.