In east New York, city kids with special needs are learning how to grow their own food at an urban garden. In Washington Heights, wheelchair-bound seniors are growing perennials in accessible container gardens built just for them. All around New York, over 600 community gardens, most cared for and tended by a dedicated group of volunteers, have transformed empty lots into urban oases that give residents of all ages an opportunity to try out their green thumbs, give back to their communities and help make New York City a little bit greener.
A movement that began in the 1970s to fight against neighborhood crime and decay, today’s community gardens provide educational programming, areas for recreation and training the next generation of urban farmers with hands-on work and outdoor fun in all five boroughs.
All People’s Garden
Lower East Side, Manhattan
293-95 E. 3rd St.
New York, NY 10009
Founded in 1978, All People’s Garden was created by community advocates who turned vacant, derelict lots in the Lower East Side into a vibrant green space to fight back against neighbor drug trafficking. Now, 35 years later, All People’s Garden offers a welcoming community gathering space featuring a stage-seating area, an open plaza, patio and paved pathways winding through colorful plant beds.
PS 4K Paradise Garden
676-696 Glenmore Ave.
Brooklyn, NY 11207
Sand and water play tables, as well as a kid-friendly lawn, are central features at this special education public school garden developed by educators to help teach kids how to go green. In one corner of the garden, an arboretum provides shade while plenty of raised containers provide lots of rows for vegetables and other edible plants to grow. The garden even features its own rainwater harvesting program to help kids learn about water conservation and provide an eco-friendly way to water the plants.
Long Island City Community Garden
29-08 47th Ave.
Queens, NY 11101
Located on the former site of the Degnon Terminal Railroad, 140 cubic yards of garbage were removed when clearing the Long Island City site in 2000. Today, the garden offers a welcoming space used by community members and school groups to grow native plants and vegetables, gather rainwater in a 250-gallon raised cistern and play in paved spaces and lawns on the garden’s grounds.
Isabella Geriatric Center Garden
515 Audubon Ave.
New York, NY 10040
While small in size, the Isabella Geriatric Center Garden is a specially designed space with seniors in mind. Featuring raised gardening beds that allow access to seniors in wheelchairs and reduce the need to bend over to tend to the plants, seniors can grow vegetables, herbs and ornamentals in an accessible green space that encourages seniors to socialize and get outdoors.
Grote Street Playground and Garden
2311 Southern Blvd.
Bronx, NY 10460
In 2012, the Disney Company partnered with non-profit Kaboom! and gathered 200 volunteers to turn an unused space and former parking lot into an interactive play space and garden for neighborhood kids. Completed in just one day, the park-like setting has shady areas for quiet activities, plenty of play equipment for the kids and areas to grow organic and heirloom vegetables and other plants. Encouraging residents of all ages from the nearby affordable housing apartments to spend more time outdoors, the green space also features a recycling center to help teach and support sustainable habits.
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Tamar Auber is a freelance writer whose work can be found on Examiner.com.