Community Gardens are Feeding the Hungry and Bestowing their Bounty on Nurses
By Benjamin Raab
As the 553 community gardens listed in New York City’s “Green Thumb” program begin ramping up activities after COVID-19 slowed so many things down, the Atlantic Beach Village Garden is preparing for its garlic and shallot festival and other upcoming community events that are designed to feed people and build camaraderie.
“We don’t have a community center here in Atlantic Beach, and the garden has been a really lovely way to engage with other people and build community,” said Suzy Schneider, organizer of that garden in southern Queens.
She and others in her crew of community gardeners don’t consider themselves experts in farming. But what they do grow on the tennis court-sized lot, which also has a butterfly garden, includes zucchini, kale, other kinds of greens and assorted flowers.
Jordan Rechtschaffen, who lives in the neighborhood, said the garden’s presence in the village is important, especially in these times. “After spending so many months in isolation, it’s beautiful to see people working together in the garden when I walk by. It makes me feel like I’m part of a community again.”
In a different Queens neighborhood, people are digging in the dirt at the Ridgewood Community Garden. “We’ve noticed that more people are eager to get into gardening as a result of the pandemic. [Some] people have been having trouble with food sources and want to learn how to garden. I think a lot of people have gotten a sense of joy and solace from our garden,” said L.J., a longtime member and gardener.
City Harvest, a nonprofit which donates food to those who need it, has estimated that 1.5 million New Yorkers don’t have enough food, which was a 38% increase above pre-pandemic levels of food insecurity.
The Ridgewood gardeners have given some of this year’s harvest to hospital workers who were doing what many consider to be the hardest work of all during a pandemic that infected more than two million New Yorkers.
“There were a few nurses in our neighborhood who I knew were out there working during the worst of the pandemic, and we would stop by to drop off some packages of greens for them,” TK said.
During the worst months of the pandemic, the Village of Atlantic Beach Community Garden partnered with the nearby Long Beach Soup Kitchen.
“We weren’t able to get our usual crop this year due to the pandemic,” said Robert Blau, a volunteer at the soup kitchen. “What Atlantic Beach has been delivering has been incredibly helpful to us in serving our guests on Mondays and Thursdays. Anything that we get from a garden that’s fresh and sustainable has been a real blessing.”
He added: “I never expected such a great yield from such a small garden, I garden myself and I was amazed at the size of zucchinis and kales they brought.”
At both the Atlantic Beach and Ridgewood gardens, everybody works throughout that plot of land. No one has an individual space for sowing, weeding, watering, fertilizing and reaping what’s grown.
“We are a learning garden, it doesn’t matter how much experience or knowledge you have,” Schneider said.
“We have a pretty loose structure,” TK added. “If someone wants to get involved, all they have to do is show up and volunteer.”