Almost three years after a group of enterprising teenagers in Brooklyn came up with an idea to turn a city-owned junkyard into a youth-run community garden, the plan has yet to come to fruition.
Despite initial support from nonprofits and local elected officials, the sprawling 6,800-square-foot municipal land at 45 Somers St. in Brownsville remains littered with needles, junk and other trash, revealed a recent visit to THE CITY.
“The kids really wanted a space for them,” said Aaron Hinton, executive director of DUECES, a community youth advocacy organization that championed the garden. “We wanted a place we could be proud of, a place where we could say, We did this, we started that, we built that. “
At the root of the delay is an urban bureaucratic hot potato game on the agency overseeing the long vacant property.
Until last month, the lot was jointly controlled by the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) and the Children’s Services Administration (ACS). The site was to be turned over to the parks department before it became a community garden.
But the land and adjoining daycare were transferred to the Department of Education (DOE) effective July 1, as part of a city-wide overhaul to shift child care programs from managing the ACS to the DOE, according to an ACS spokesperson.
Hinton discovered the deal following LA VILLE’s inquiries with various agencies. “This is news for me,” he said.
It is not known if the Department of Education has plans to develop the vacant lot, which adjoins the Shirley Chisholm daycare. DOE and ACS spokespersons referred the questions to City Hall.
“At the moment, we are determining the next steps for the lot,” said Jane Meyer, spokesperson for the mayor’s office.
Plan develops in Brownsville
The garden was originally designed by Cyanne Edwards, a teenage girl and urban farmer who connected DEUCES and 596 Acres, a now defunct nonprofit that identified vacant land for community reuse.
The plan was to turn the property into a community garden run by young people, who wanted a space where children could learn how to harvest food, eat healthy and go out after school. They also hoped to set up a food business so that they could sell their harvest.
They chose the name EDEN – “Empowered, developed and enlightened district” – Garden.
“It was just like it was just growing things that we need in our lives because all we eat is junk food – my school taught me that,” said Zyshonne Smith, 19. years old, who was one of the teenage girls involved in plan three. years ago. “That’s why we need our own food.
Brownsville is what public health experts call “food swamp”, An area where unhealthy meals, like high-calorie fast food, are more readily available than well-balanced meals.
Studies have shown that diabetes is more widespread in food swamps than in areas with access to healthy food. According to the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Brownsville had the sixth highest rate of diabetes in the city in 2015, to 15% of the population. It has dropped slightly since, to reach 13%.
“We must support healthy communities”
The problem of access to food is addressed by many grassroots organizations, such as Teens for Food Justice, which runs hydroponics in Brownsville Collaborative Middle School.
The EDEN garden was unanimously approved by Community Council 16 at the end of 2016. Support from local citizens, such as Assembly member Latrice Walker and then candidate Alicka Ampry-Samuel, who now represents the neighborhood to city council, quickly followed.
When Hinton hit a wall while trying to initiate the transfer of ownership, he turned to Ampry-Samuel for help. According to Hinton, Ampry-Samuel insisted her hands were tied and allegedly suggested at one point that the group should stage a protest outside her office.
Ampry-Samuel did not respond to repeated requests for comment from THE CITY.
By now, many of the teens who worked on the site’s first concept have either gone to college or left the neighborhood.
Mark Leger, who sits on the board of the Phoenix Community Garden, just across from 45 Somers, isn’t surprised by the delays. The Phoenix Garden, he said, had been in the works for seven years.
“We need to support healthy communities, and children’s participation is a big part of that,” he said.
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