Petition filed to save community gardens in the Bronx and other parts of the city

President of the NYC Community Garden Coalition, Raymond Figueroa, Jr. at Brook Park.
Photo courtesy of Sorangel Liriano

As community gardens have few legal protections and many struggle to survive in the face of competing land interests, like construction and development projects, a petition was filed last month to save them.

On Nov. 18, the New York City Community Garden Coalition (NYCCGC), environmental law organization Earthjustice, and 52 allied groups submitted From the Ground Up: A Petition to Protect New York City’s Community Gardens, requesting protections for the city’s community gardens through Critical Environmental Area designation under the NY State and City Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA).

SEQRA regulations authorize agencies to designate specific areas as CEAs if they exhibit at least one of the following characteristics: a benefit to human health, a natural setting, agricultural, social, cultural, historic, recreational or educational values or ecological or hydrological values that may be negatively affected by disturbances.

Currently, there is only one CEA in New York City: Jamaica Bay in Queens.

Among the community gardens featured in the petition are Friends of Brook Park at 494 E 141st St., Garden of Happiness at 2144F Prospect Ave., Morning Glory Community Garden at 1219 Hoe Ave. and Rainbow Garden of Life and Health at 757 Melrose Ave.

“For our diverse communities throughout the city, the heart and soul of this petition is to be found in our community gardens,” said Bronx native and president of the NYC Community Garden Coalition, Raymond Figueroa, Jr.

“Our community gardens are oases for the soul as well as the body — and they are needed now in these times of crisis more than ever before. That’s what this petition is all about — the respect for our Mother Earth and the preservation of our community gardens and of all our life-affirming relationships — social, ecological, cultural, terrestrial and spiritual.”

The petition makes three legal requests:

  • City agencies with jurisdiction over 40 community gardens identified in the petition designate those city-owned gardens as CEAs under SEQRA within six months following the submission of the petition, or by May 18, 2021.
  • Within 12 months following the submission of the petition or by Nov. 18, 2021, the Department of Parks and Recreation’s GreenThumb Program conduct an assessment of all remaining community gardens on city-owned land and confirm, in consultation with community gardeners, that these gardens meet the regulatory criteria for CEA designation.
  • Within 12 months following the submission of the petition, or by Nov. 18, 2021, city agencies designate as CEAs all gardens within their respective jurisdictions that meet the regulatory criteria for CEA designation, based on GreenThumb’s assessment, in consultation and coordination with community gardeners.

Figueroa, who runs an urban youth farm at Friends of Brook Park in Mott Haven for formerly incarcerated youths, explained that community gardens help combat public health disparities by expanding access to fresh fruits and vegetables, provide educational programming and reduce crime.

While he has had this program for a decade, Figueroa knows firsthand about how community gardens are treated as he had a youth farm initiative in Harlem defunded. He hopes the city realizes they are more than just flowers and plants.

“This petition is all about how members of the community and stakeholders can have greater agency over development and number of community gardens,” he said. “It’s about residents taking responsibility for the community.”

 

 

 

 

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