Two Kinds of Green: 🌳 & 💸

Note: Please make sure to click play to enjoy some sounds from La Perla Garden while reading.

Birds chirping, shovels digging, families playing. Community gardens, interspersed throughout the skyscrapers of the big city, are a sought-after respite in New York.

Two different gardens in the region, La Perla Garden on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and Bayview Urban Farms in Canarsie, Brooklyn, are both prime examples of this trend. They’re also included in another trend, the struggle to keep community gardens afloat.

La Perla Community Garden

Olbito Batista (right) has been a member of the garden for decades. It is also a special place for art as concerts are held every summer. Photos: Greg Gottfried

At La Perla Garden, yesterday’s trash becomes today’s compost. Along with the herbs and produce they’re growing for the neighborhood, La Perla’s composting efforts also do a lot of good for the environment. The following video offers a closer look at these efforts.

Video: Greg Gottfried

Bayview Urban Farms

The Bayview Urban Farms garden consists of Green City Force Corps members taking care of the different lots. Photos: M. Skye Holly

The residents of the Bayview Houses were not interested in having a garden. The youth in particular felt that the space could be used differently. However, over time, the community started to see the benefits of having their own garden. The following video goes more into more detail about the community’s gradual acceptance of Bayview Urban Farms.

Video: M. Skye Holly

The Challenges

A public housing project, Bayview Houses, has had difficulties this year continuing the works of the garden. Sponsored by Green City Force’s Urban Farms, in association with the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), Bayview’s garden is maintained by Green City Force corps members every year. The problem with this is that the corps members change every season. This year’s batch, according to residents, are not as consistent as those of last year. They do not appear to have set hours and leave the garden unattended for days at a time.

These are examples of the now poorly-maintained Bayview Garden. With lesser-experienced workers, the garden has lost some of its charm. Photos: M. Skye Holly

La Perla, on the other hand, has a different problem. In the 1970s, a lawyer from the neighborhood bought one of the three lots that the garden is on for a few hundred dollars. The lawyer is now planning to cash in, destroying part of the garden and effectively ruining the other two-thirds. The community is fighting back. We spoke with one of the vocal leaders of the garden, Bertha Rady, who is working with a pro bono lawyer to take back the garden.

Yeah, but why is this important?

There are over 600 community gardens in New York City. They provide a place of relaxation, tranquility and offer access to healthy foods for many neighborhoods. La Perla Garden, operated by the Manhattan Land Trust, is staffed by Upper West Side volunteers whilst Bayview Urban Farms consists of young adult corps members (aged 18–24) who live in New York City Public Housing.

Although the demographics differ, what remains the same is the importance of these gardens in their respective communities.

Organizations like GreenThumb Community Gardens and the New York City Community Garden Coalition want to preserve these spaces.

This comes with the challenge of finding committed community members who truly care about the garden and an entire area invested in the well-being of those who live there.

Robert Pollard, who manages the composting at La Perla, enjoys his community garden for reasons that others may not.

“One of the things that’s wonderful about it is that it’s very different throughout the year. Whether it’s blooming, whether it’s in the snow. Not many people come here in the snow. I love it. It’s a place to get away from all of the noise and chaos of the city.”

Story, images, video and audio by Greg Gottfried and M. Skye Holly