What’s growing in Harlem?

Dozens of community gardens have taken root in Harlem. Do they address a need or do they just take up space — space that could be used for affordable housing?

In Central Harlem, politics and food are intertwined. To some activists, the neighborhood is a “food desert” — an area with limited access to affordable, healthy food. But others in the community aren’t so sure. They say Harlem has changed, and that development has brought better food options to the neighborhood. Nowhere is this divide seemingly more apparent than in Central Harlem’s dozens of community gardens.

We spoke to garderners in the neighborhood to hear their views about what role, if any, community gardens play in Harlem.

Harlem is a food desert, Tony Hillery of Harlem Grown says, and the solution isn’t more supermarkets.


Hillery believes the influx of wealthier residents into the neighborhood has done little to improve food access for most of the people who live here.

“I’m able to participate in growing vegetables,” Dejonte Jerrick says. “I never thought I would be able to do that.”

But some don’t see Harlem in the same light. For YoWon Kim of the Garden of Love, the neighborhood might have been a food desert in the past, but not anymore.


Kim, whose community garden is nestled between two buildings on 116th St., says Harlem residents have now access to a variety of food options.

Harlem is home to a large number of community gardens, Kim says, because more empty lots means more community gardens.
Ten years ago, Kim says, Harlem was considered a “food desert.”

For Mayor de Blasio, however, empty lots could be used to build more affordable housing. Can a city have both community gardens and cheap homes?

Green Thumb — the largest community gardening program in the nation — can protect community gardens for limited periods of time. But when leases expire, gardeners have no guarantee of renewal.

For now, they provide a peaceful haven away from the stresses of the city.

Behind the scenes!

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