Last week we got the amazing privilege to make a field trip to a community garden in the Lower East Side called La Plaza Cultural. It was a very eye opening experience where it was the first time where a community garden actually served as the core for the people of the surrounding area. It also led us to discover the importance of these community gardens in New York City and especially in the Lower East Side. La Plaza Cultural was founded in 1976 by local residents and greening activists who took over what were then a series of vacant city lots piled high with rubble and trash. Determined to reclaim the neighborhood from a downward spiral of arson, drugs and abandonment, members of the Latino group CHARAS cleared out truckloads of refuse.
La Plaza Cultural really showed us how a place for coming together in community, no matter how small, can mean so much to people and can impact generations and their ways of life. What was also very interesting is that they showed us the neighborhood museum as well and gave us a history lesson about the 1970s’ economic crisis which is what led to the birth of all the community gardens around the city. It really showed the us the roots of these community gardens such as La Plaza Cultural and what actual importance it means to the surrounding area.
Once we arrived there, they gave us a full tour of the place (chickens included) which consisted of several community beds, composting section, murals, the center amphitheater, their water system, and their solar panels. They also included telling us about the relatively recent hurricanes and how it deeply affected the garden. Out of Irene and Sandy, Sandy was by far the worst out of the two due to the extreme damage it caused to the garden. The problems were from the soil being filled with radiation to huge trees that had been there since the beginning of the garden falling down. It was a really hard and emotional time for them which also did reflect the state of the community as well, but the experience just brought the garden and community closer just like family.
Question: Do you think if there were community gardens in every neighborhood that the communities would be stronger?