New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan today inaugurated the “New Roots Community Farm,” a new 6,500 sq. ft. temporary garden, planting the first of many herbs and vegetables that will be cultivated by refugees and local community members. In conjunction with GreenThumb, the New York City Parks & Recreation’s community gardening program, DOT prepared the site for a temporary, year-round garden at Grand Concourse and 153rd Street and is partnering with the International Rescue Committee (IRC), which will manage the space. The Commissioner joined the IRC’s Ellee Igoe, advisor for U.S. food and agriculture programs; 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 Bronx 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,” said Commissioner Sadik-Khan. “By next year, this 6,500 sq. ft. lot will be a thriving community garden that ties together the neighborhood and people who came here from around the world.”
“This new community garden represents not only a great way for local residents to grow their own healthy food options, but also shows us how underutilized space can be put to good use, even in a temporary fashion,” said Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. “I commend Commissioner Sadik-Khan and the Department of Transportation for bringing this innovative new program here to the Bronx.”
From San Diego, Calif., to the DOT-owned Drew Gardens in the West Farms section of the Bronx, the IRC’s New Roots program, creates opportunities for refugees, many with agricultural backgrounds, to grow fresh, affordable and nutritious food in neighborhood gardens. At the same time, this work allows the refugees to connect with their new communities and share their skills with others.
“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,” says the IRC’s Ellee 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.”
Much like DOT’s other successful community garden project at Drew Gardens, the New Roots Community Farm at Grand Concourse will be available for IRC-assisted refugees and community members to grow their own produce. The garden’s design is being finalized and 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 functional vegetation such as 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 educational workshops and activities open to the public and will develop a curriculum for local students to learn about and engage in growing healthy foods. An area known as KIPP’s Corner will be created and will feature five additional planting beds dedicated to teaching students. The design, labor and gardening supplies, including the raised plant beds, top soil and tools 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. Requests are granted on a first come, first served basis.
DOT acquired the site in 2006 in anticipation of a future project to rebuild the E. 153rd Street bridge over the Metro North Rail Road. The new span would replace one closed in 1988 and later demolished in 1992. Once constructed, the community-supported bridge will re-connect the commercial hub of Third Avenue to the Grand Concourse; help ease congestion along the current east-west streets in the South Bronx, along 149th and 161st streets and other local roads; and enhance connectivity for local and regional economic activity.
In preparation for the construction of the future bridge, two buildings at the site were demolished this year. Rather than leave a vacant lot until construction moves ahead, DOT coordinated with GreenThumb and the IRC to prime the site for the temporary garden. The contractor demolished the buildings and removed all of the substructures and utilities. The entire site was then backfilled and brought to grade. A concrete pad and oversized gate were constructed to accommodate garden deliveries and a new fresh water service connection was installed. New sidewalks and fencing also were installed around the garden’s perimeter.
For more information about DOT, visit www.nyc.gov. For details on the International Rescue Committee’s New Roots Program, go to www.rescue.org.