‘New Roots’ garden opens

Refugees and local community members are putting down new roots in the south Bronx – green ones.

The New Roots Community Farm on the Grand Concourse and 153rd Street will allow residents to grow their own food, and also help refugees from foreign lands to manage the space year round.

The garden is a collaboration of the City Department of Transportation, with GreenThumb, the City Parks & Recreation’s community gardening program, and the International Rescue Committee.

DOT acquired the site in 2006 to rebuild the E. 153rd Street bridge over the Metro North Rail Road. The new span would replace one closed in 1988 and demolished in 1992.

Once built, the bridge will re-connect the commercial hub of Third Avenue to the Grand Concourse, and help ease congestion along the current east-west streets in the South Bronx, along 149th and 161st streets and other local roads.

To prepare the site, two buildings were demolished this year. But Rather than leave a vacant lot until construction moves ahead, DOT coordinated with GreenThumb and the IRC to put in the temporary garden.

DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan joined Ellee Igoe, advisor for U.S. food and agriculture programs for IRC; Angele, who fled her native Cameroon and was given sanctuary in the U.S.; Roland Chouloute, deputy director of GreenThumb; Jose Rodriguez, District Manager of Community Board 4, and students from the nearby Knowledge is Power Program schools for the garden’s first ceremonial planting.

“We’re trading in our hard hats for hoes and our construction shovels for garden trowels with the first planting in this urban farm,” Sadik-Khan said. “By next year, this 6,500 square foot lot will be a thriving community garden that ties together the neighborhood and people who came here from around the world.”

The garden will feature up to 60 plots and planting beds, an aquaponic greenhouse, composting area, storage and rainwater harvesting station.

In the coming weeks, the IRC and its partners will plant fruit trees for shade, edible shrubs and other plants such as sweet potatoes to establish a root system to secure the soil.

The IRC also will host public workshops and activities and develop a curriculum for students to learn about and grow healthy foods.

The design, labor and gardening supplies are being funded by the IRC and its local partners.

Individual plots are available to anyone in the community and the application process is expected to open in early 2013, with requests granted on a first come, first serve basis.

“Some of the future gardeners at this new community farm will hail from the Bronx and others will come from as far away as Burma, Eritrea and Afghanistan,” said IRC’s Igoe. “Wherever they are from, the act of planting here will establish new roots—roots that will anchor the newly arrived and roots that will nourish this community.”

Kirsten Sanchez can be reach via e-mail at ksanchez@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 742-3394

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