Have you ever wanted to grow your own vegetables, have a vegetable garden perhaps? Well this dream has become a reality for members of a community in Jamaica, Queens. 20 years ago Gertrude Duncan thought what was one of the biggest dump sites in her neighborhood was a terrible eye sore and called on the community board to get the lot cleaned. It took two years and once it was cleared she decided that it could be utilized in a way that would realize her dream of a vegetable garden. She got Green Thumb to take an interest and they supported her efforts with donations of materials (seeds, bins etc.) She was also able to get “man power” from CASES (Center for Alternative Sentences and Employment Services) people who had committed minor crimes and were required to do community service. They helped to fence in the lot and continued to the clear overgrowth. With the acquired bins and seeds they planted vegetables which included tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant, corn, zucchini, peppers, onions among others. Fruits such as peaches, pears and cherries are also planted. Members of the community were encouraged to participate, many of whom brought their own plants and/or seeds.
Hope Dorsey, a teacher at Edward Kennedy Ellington School, PS 140, is in charge of the Down and Dirty Horticultural Society, a garden club at the school consisting of 4th and 5th graders. Her garden club has been planting flowers on the school grounds for the past five to six years. After noticing, the community garden in passing, she decided take a closer look and met Gertrude Duncan. With Duncan’s permission she decided to bring the students from her garden club to participate in planting vegetables. “Upon hearing the news, the students were very excited, initially, because it was a field trip of sorts, but soon they became very interested in the process of how the plants grow, from soil preparation, planting the seeds, weeding and watering the plants to harvesting. They exhibit a sense of pride when the vegetables are harvested and they are able to literally see and eat the fruits (and vegetables) of their labor,” said Dorsey. The students have also been very helpful in assisting some of the other gardeners with their gardening chores, particularly the older people.
Community member Yvonne Green introduced a vegetable indigenous to the Caribbean, and unfamiliar to many in her community,called callaloo. It is a dark green leafy vegetable and can be equated to spinach or collard greens in appearance, when cooked. Yvonne plants her own vegetables, specifically, okra, squash, basil, rosemary, thyme and the newly introduced callaloo. She shares the produce with her neighbors. She enjoys and often gardens with 3rd and 5th graders from her neighborhood (which she does twice per week) teaching them everything she knows from preparing the soil to harvesting. She gets a “kick” from how fascinated they are by the worms they encounter in the process. “ I have a passion for gardening and I have always dreamed of having a garden, regardless of how small. This is an activity from which I gain knowledge and I would encourage everyone who can, to get involved in a gardening project, it is not a lot of work. The benefits for me include the ability to have fresh organic vegetables with my meals, the knowledge I gain about plants and the opportunity it gives me to have a great bonding experience with other members of the community who are doing the same thing, said Green. Currently her tomato blossoms are out and she is already harvesting lettuce.
The first least for this property, where the garden now sits (located at 117-15 – 117-09 165th Street / Foch Boulevard) was with the city in 1992, with Green Thumb having control of the lease. In 1999 Beth Midler bought the lot and gave it back to the community when the city wanted to use it for housing. Now the property is protected under her organization. Singer “50 cent” donated $350,000.00 to renovate the garden to the beautiful design they now have, with raised beds, which is particularly helpful to the senior citizens who no longer have to bend to do their gardening.
The garden is open to the community and there are benches where many people sit and read, socialize or just simply enjoy the beauty of nature.