Facing eviction, DeWitt growers and environmentalist fight to save popular garden

After a dispute over the future of Meg's Garden, located on the DeWitt Clinton Campus, the DOE is now stating that the community garden is here to stay.
Photo Robbie Sequeira

Since opening to the public in 2016, Meg’s Garden — named after late community activist Megan Charlop — which adorns the West Mosholu Parkway South and Goulden Avenue side of the DeWitt Clinton High School campus has served a variety of purposes.

In addition to being an acre of growth for diverse fruit trees and a teaching tool on sustainability for students, DeWitt Clinton sustainability coordinator, Raymond Pulinas said it has also been a place to provide the Mosholu community with fresh fruits and attracted a popular farmer’s market in the area last summer.

But Pulinas and other environmentalists and students are now fighting to protect their garden after administrators of the four schools that form the Clinton Campus Council served them an eviction notice in April and have started deconstructing the garden this past summer.

“We were on good terms with all the officials on the school and they wanted to know our plans and programs for the garden just before COVID hit,” Pulinas told the Bronx Times. “After COVID, we felt like we were  on our own, so as a community we started the market and started growing … and then April we get an eviction letter totally out of the blue.”

In the Clinton Campus Council’s notice of eviction to the James Baldwin Outdoor Learning Center  — the community group that has overseen the garden pro-bono since 2016 — administrators stipulate that organizers remove all JBOLC equipment from the DeWitt Clinton Campus including Meg’s Garden.

Of the Clinton Campus Council’s decision to evict the group from the school garden, Pultinas said it happened once the school returned to in-class learning in April 2021.

Clinton Campus Committee is a leadership body that includes the four principals of the four schools split inside the DeWitt Clinton School campus, including PS X721 Stephen McSweeney, Bronx Collaborative High School and World View High School.

“There was a tacit agreement that our plans were approved and encouraged since we were led to believe that an agreement would soon be in place,” he said. “They condoned the project for many years, so it was a shock when they came back from the COVID break, basically back to in-person instruction in the school.”

Additionally, Clinton Campus administrators called for the removal of all mentions or associations with the DeWitt Clinton campus from the JBOLC website and all published material, and the removal of the campus address from the JBOLC website as the “location” of the JBOLC Farmer’s Market by May 12.

An email notice read, “We are informing you that at no point can you, or any member of the JBOLC enter onto or invite anyone onto the grounds of DeWitt Clinton Campus.”

The May 12 deadline was extended to June 4.

Calls to protect the garden and preserve the JBOLC’s space on campus increased as Democrat City Councilman Eric Dinowitz, of the Bronx’s 11th District, called on the city Department of Education (DOE) and Schools Chancellor Miesha Porter to intervene and stop Clinton administrators from moving forward with its plans to remove the garden.

The DOE, however, alleges that JBOLC failed to maintain the garden, ignored directives to cease operations, referred to the school’s property as a “community garden,” and changed the landscaping of the campus grounds without approval.

The garden is on property owned by the Department of Education, and DOE officials said that the group was no longer “fit” to partner with the school in sole oversight of the garden.

Some of the gardenspace in front of the DeWitt Clinton Campus has been cleared out, despite city Department of Education officials stating no eviction should be taking place until all parties meet. Photos Robbie Sequeira

Paulinus said that the overgrowth of certain weeds and plants in the garden was due to the fact that members of the JBLOC were barred entry into the garden by school administrators until a few weeks ago.

“We want to utilize this formerly Lenape land to feed people and nourish a community that we literally see gather each and every Saturday at the market to exchange and share fresh food, smiles, and sustainability practices,” said Paulinas. “But we seem to be learning that sustainability projects are not sustainable within the DOE.”

However, officials from the Department of Education told the Bronx Times on Friday that the garden will remain at the school, but under a new leadership committee composed of members of the school community, a community based organization to be selected and announced at a later date, and JBOLC.

“The garden will continue to be a welcoming and collaborative space for the school community, and the leadership committee will work to determine next steps to restore the space,” said Sarah Casasnovas, deputy press secretary for the Department of Education. “The school is selecting a trusted community partner experienced in horticultural administration to oversee the garden, and JBOLC will continue to be able to use the space.”

DOE officials told The Bronx Times also said that no eviction or removal should be taking place before all parties have an official meeting to discuss the future of Meg’s Garden.

Dinowitz told the Times on Wednesday that while he’s encouraged by the DOE’s statement, that they have “yet to receive those assurances in writing.”

Since April, roughly a fraction of the garden space has been already been cleared away, and JBLOC members said that trees have also been cut down around the area. According to officials at DeWitt Clinton High School, certain plots are “being restored to their prior landscaping.”

“Our children are now being deprived of this amazing space, important internship opportunities, and sustainability learning opportunities at Meg’s Garden,” said Dinowitz, who is also a schoolteacher.

Dinowitz said his office was alerted of JBLOC’s impending eviction by Clinton administrators on April 25, and when the councilman attempted a follow-up with DeWitt Clinton principal Pierre Orbe regarding the matter, Orbe refused.

On May 27, Dinowitz met with Deputy Chancellor Adrienne Austin, members of the JBLOC, and principals from the four schools. He said that there was an agreement between all parties to have a conversation outlining “clear expectations” regarding Meg’s Garden before any eviction or removal of garden materials took place.

NYC Councilman Eric Dinowitz called on Department of Education Chancellor Meisha Ross Porter to intervene on eviction of the JBOLC from Meg’s Garden.

“Those conversations have never taken place,” said Dinowitz.

Attempts to reach the four principals for the Clinton Campus Committee including Orbe, Sara Byas-Aracena, Brian Schneider and Martin Hernandez were unsuccessful as of press time.

Pulinas told the Bronx Times that with the blessing of previous DeWitt Clinton administrators, a fenced-off section of the school’s campus was granted as an informal project with his students in 2010.

A year later, he opened the James Baldwin Outdoor Learning Center (JBOLC), a nonprofit with an address at 100 W. Mosholu Pkwy S, Bronx, NY 10468, which is the school’s campus address. The center hires student interns and, up until last month, had been teaching them how to grow fruits and vegetables at Meg’s Garden.

The garden is named in honor and memory of Megan Charlop, a longtime Bronx community activist and volunteer. Charlop had been director of the Division of Community Health at Montefiore’s School of Health, where she oversaw medical clinics at 16 Bronx schools.

She was tragically killed in a bicycle accident on March 17, 2010 at the age of 57.

Reach Robbie Sequeira at rsequeira@schnepsmedia.com or (718) 260-4599. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter @bronxtimes and Facebook @bronxtimes. 

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