Gardens emergency rally nixed after hopeful delay

Photos by Tequila Minsky

BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | Local community gardeners breathed a sigh of relief Saturday afternoon after learning a looming deadline for a relicensing agreement for the city’s GreenThumb gardens had been extended.

Gardeners had been set to rally on City Hall’s steps Monday at 10 a.m. But in an e-mail on Friday, Bill LoSasso, the director of the city’s GreenThumb program, notified garden leaders that the signing deadline had been pushed back a month.

The relicensing involves GreenThumb gardens operating on New York City Parks Department property.

Bill Di Paola and Laurie Mittelmann, the co-founders of the Museum of Reclaimed Urban Space, gardening in La Plaza Cultural, at Ninth St. and Avenue C. Community gardens — a very visible form of reclaimed urban space — are an integral part of the museum’s mission. (File photo by JK Canepa)

Gardeners had been alarmed at new regulations proposed by GreenThumb, fearing it could mean the green oases would, at a minimum, lose their community spirit or, in a worst-case scenario, potentially be lost to development. The fear was that GreenThumb would be moving from basically a support system for the gardens into more of an oversight role.

Bees may be embattled elsewhere, but they’re thriving at the LaGuardia Corner Gardens in Greenwich Village. (Photo by Tequila Minsky)

One proposed update to the Gardeners’ Handbook, for example, on “garden abandonment,” notes that a garden’s licensing agreement could be revoked if the space is not maintained, if correspondence is not answered, or if required public hours are not kept and required events held. Another proposed new rule would require that GreenThumb be notified in advance of any large event that a garden plans to hold.

On Saturday afternoon, Charles Krezell, the founder and president of Loisaida United Neighborhood Gardens a.k.a. LUNGS, announced the rally’s cancellation on the LUNGS Facebook page.

“We are very happy that GreenThumb has extended the license agreement deadline to Sept. 20,” Krezell wrote. “We hope to continue negotiating in good faith. We all love our gardens and want to continue to have a good relationship with GreenThumb and the Parks Department. …

“We are very grateful for the vigorous support [by] our community gardeners. We continue to recognize that our strength is in unity; and our goal is to continue to help New York grow.”

Earth Celebrations’ “Procession to Save Our Gardens” was held annually from 1991 to 2005 on the Lower East Side. The eight-hour event wended its way to 47 gardens, with performances and ceremonies telling the history and struggle to save the community gardens from development plans. (File photo by Vince Eng)

Elizabeth Ruf Maldonado, a member of LUNGS and of the East Vilage’s De Colores Garden, said there has been a tangible fear among the gardening community about the proposed changes.

Barbara Cahn showing off the compost pile for the LaGuardia Corner Gardens’ clippings and other organic matter. (File photo by Tequila Minsky)

“I feel like the new restrictions would have limited gardens’ ability to be autonomous and keep their community character and identity,” she said. “The restrictions would have been prohibitive and would not have been in the original spirit of the gardens. It sounded like it was a slippery slope toward [losing] control” of the green spaces, she said.

Pamela Pier is the owner of Dinosaur Hill toy store in the East Village and a member of Green Oasis/Gilbert’s Garden.

Speaking Friday, a day before Krezell’s announcement that Monday’s rally had been nixed, she expressed anxiety over the rule changes.

“I think,” she said, “this will have a significant effect on the communities — in every borough — where hundreds of acres of New York City land have been voluntarily run and cared for by thousands of good citizens over the past 30 years, adding more green space and ‘village commons,’ where universal rites of passage and celebrations have taken place. What will happen now?”

In an e-mail after getting word of the relicensing agreement’s postponement, Pier said,“What a relief that Green Thumb is — hopefully — going to work with the gardens on this.”

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