Saturday was a warm and sunny 84 degrees, a perfect day for community gardening — and for receiving a big check.
On the morning of July 16, City Councilmember Rafael Salamanca presented a $415,000 check to the Rainbow Garden of Life and Health on Melrose Avenue for a new irrigation system and new gardening tools. Salamanca represents New York City’s 17th Council District, which includes the Melrose neighborhood.
The 11,000-square-foot Rainbow Garden of Life and Health has served the Melrose area since 2018 and inherited tools and equipment from other gardens. In addition to the hand-me-downs, the membership-based garden never had an irrigation system.
In 2020, the garden, which provides produce to the community, served as a hub for anyone looking to fight pandemic induced cabin-fever and gained a following of all ages. With their newfound popularity, garden board members, Angel Garcia, Javier Francisco Merchand and Thomas Reyes formed a proposal committee to request the funding necessary for improvements.
“We needed to get a water irrigation system because for the past five years we have been using the pump that was right outside of the garden, but it’s about 125 feet away from the main garden beds,” said Lorean Valentin, the garden’s secretary. “So eventually, what we always did was hook up one garden hose, and then we had to figure out how to connect about ten other garden hose.”
Salamanca addressed the crowd: “I was able to ensure that we deliver for my community, and so I heard you loud and clear. I sat down with GreenThumb, I asked what was the cost – and they said, ‘Salamanca, it’s about $400,000.’”
The council member, who represents the city’s 17th Council District, which includes the Melrose neighborhood, then presented the nearly half-a-million dollar check to gasps of “oohs” and “aahs.” People were shocked and overjoyed to see the exorbitant amount.
“It was beautiful,” said the garden’s coordinator Maximino Rivera who has been an advocate for the neighborhood for more than 30 years.
“We only had asked for $10,000,” said Valentin, who admits crying after trying to fight back tears.
Building the irrigation system will not begin until November as GreenThumb does not want to interrupt the garden’s summer season.
GreenThumb, under the auspices of New York City Parks, is the nation’s largest urban gardening initiative providing programming and material support to more than 550 community gardens in the city.
“We’re growing corn. We’re growing peppermint, spearmint. We’re growing tomatoes, cabbage, eggplant. We have cauliflower, potatoes. We’re growing collard greens,” said Valentin listing a few of the various produce being grown at the garden.
Membership to the Rainbow Garden of Life and Health is $40 for the season and includes one’s own gardening bed, gardening tools, priority on taking home produce, use of the facilities, drinking water provided by the garden, as well as responsibility and authority over the grounds.
“The importance of the Rainbow Garden is how we help the community, especially during Covid,” says six-year member Maria Chompre. “We all are grateful to Councilman Salamanca for the generous donation.”
Rivera, the garden’s coordinator, added, “It’s more than a community garden – like I always say, it takes a village to raise a child and build a better community and this is the starting point.”
Reach ET Rodriguez at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes