NYC Community Gardens Turned Over to Local Land Trusts

After saving scores of community gardens from the auction block, The Trust for Public Land (TPL) has signed over the deeds to 32 of the 69 properties to the Bronx Land Trust and Manhattan Land Trust, the organizations announced today. This fall TPL expects to transfer the remaining gardens to the Brooklyn-Queens Land Trust. To date, TPL has invested more than $4 million in improvements to the 69 gardens, which cover nearly eight acres and are worth more than $7 million.

In a 1999 agreement with Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s administration, The Trust for Public Land, a national conservation organization, saved 62 community gardens from a city auction and eventual destruction, purchasing them for $3 million. The city subsequently donated an additional five gardens to TPL for preservation. TPL also purchased two additional gardens, for a total of 69.

The 69 gardens total nearly eight acres with 40 of the gardens situated in districts where most live farther than 10 minutes from a public green space, according to New Yorkers For Parks. A 2009 GrowNYC survey details that 80 percent of New York City community gardens grow food, and the most popular are tomatoes, sweet peppers, beans, eggplants, and cucumbers.

TPL has worked with local gardeners to establish the three new nonprofit organizations to ultimately own and manage the gardens, The Bronx and Manhattan Land Trusts and the Brooklyn-Queens Land Trust. Collectively, the three land trusts will protect more community gardens than any private, non-profit in the nation.

“We didn’t just buy the gardens, we embarked on a process with neighborhoods to help ensure the gardens’ permanence, long-term stewardship, and importance in a network of New York City public open space,” said Andy Stone, director of The Trust for Public Land’s Parks for People-New York City program. “We are thrilled to take the long-anticipated step of putting the garden lands in to the hands of the people they serve.”

“For many neighborhoods, these compact spaces splash color and breathe fresh air into crowded neighborhoods throughout the city, and give hundreds of families places to play, dig in the dirt, and grow fresh food,” added Stone. “We are grateful to the community gardeners, the volunteer land trust board members, and our generous funders for their enduring commitments to preserving these gardens forever.”

“The Bronx and Manhattan Land Trusts are entering a new chapter—garden ownership,” said Erica Packard, executive director of the Bronx and Manhattan Land Trusts. “We are not typical land trusts. Rather, we are a coalition of committed volunteer gardeners who came together with a vision of community-controlled land. Given the long standing grassroots activism that gave rise to NYC’s gardens this community-driven approach of gardener-led land trusts seemed the most appropriate for their ownership and stewardship. Today, gardeners who removed debris from trash-strewn lots creating gardens and then worked so passionately to save them will now own them. We are achieving a level of self-determination all too rare in low-income neighborhoods across the country. This is a very exciting time for us.”

“For most residents of garden neighborhoods that are underserved by the existing park system, community gardens are their only accessible green space, and particularly so the young children and seniors,” added Packard.

Community gardens are also important for bringing community organizations together with the people they serve. For example, the East Harlem’s Carver Community Garden has connections with groups as diverse as Pathways to Housing, Odyssey House, Synergia, Harlem Hard Hats, Sí Sí Puede, in addition to individual gardeners, some who have been tending their respective beds for nearly 30 years.

The Trust for Public Land is a national nonprofit land conservation organization that conserves land for people to enjoy as parks, gardens, and natural areas, ensuring livable communities for generations to come. Since 1972, TPL has helped protect 3 million acres nationwide. TPL depends on the support of individuals, corporations, and foundations.