For the youth groups and neighbors who utilize the plots, the space has become a horticulture sanctuary over the last 20 years in the vast overlay of city and development.
El Puente, a community group dedicated to providing green space and youth education initiatives throughout North Brooklyn, teamed up with a handful of AmeriCorps volunteers in the early 1990s to clear the rubble after the original tenement buildings that once stood on the land were torn down.
Anusha Venkataraman, Green Light District director at El Puente, explained that while the space is great for the community to use and grow, it also stands for something more than just a green space in Brooklyn.
“I feel like this garden is a microcosm in the community,” Venkataraman said. “We have all sorts of gardeners here from young people to elderly folks, Latino and people who are newer to the community. It’s really diverse and reflects what the community is now.”
Today, El Puente is currently developing a fundraiser through the website, Ioby (www.ioby.org), to secure a 49-square-foot rain barrel capable of holding over 1000 gallons of water that would attach to the downspout of the adjoining Christian Pentecostal Church.
The garden currently uses a fire hydrant across the street that leaks into the basement of an adjacent condo building.
“This would be big enough to water the whole garden on a regular basis,” she said.
With the new, constant water supply, Venkataraman said the group would construct a rain garden alongside the church, located in the trench at the garden’s western wall.
“Rain gardens have plants and shrubs that can withstand heavy rains and droughts,” she explained. “It really keeps a lot of water from getting into the sewage system, which contributes to combined sewer overflow.”
The fundraising site goes live this week on the El Puente website.
While it is free to obtain a plot in the garden, members are asked to attend two meetings a month and complete weekly chores like gardening and maintenance.
Susan Golub has lived on the block for the last 13 years and joined the garden back in 2005.
“We all know each other,” Golub said. “ I pass them on the street once in a while and we all say, ‘hi.’”
While green space is limited to residents of the city, Golub says she makes attempts to maximize her plot with vegetables, strawberries, herbs and wildflowers that now grow throughout the common areas of the green space.
“This is also my backyard because we don’t have any access to outdoor space at my apartment,” she said. “When I see spaces like this elsewhere with grass, I am always like, 'What are you doing, do you realize the amount of food you could have?’”
Gabrielle Alvarez, health and wellness coordinator with Green Light District, organizes the group’s summer Community Thursday events, including game night, fitness activities, walks across the bridge, nutrition workshops, Zumba and even belly dancing.
“On game night we play bingo, dominos and cards,” Alvarez said.
There are some plans for weekly yoga classes in the works and the possibility of a children’s garden in the near future.
“We have adults that bring their children or grandchildren with them, so at this point it is really an intergenerational program,” she said. “It is really a good mix.”
By just looking at the intricate designs along the walls of the garden and the range of crops throughout the year, from peanuts to spinach leaves and peppers, one thing is certain: the garden itself is as diverse as the neighborhood it caters.
“With the tradition that has really carried over from the families migrating here, this is a great space to continue things that could have been lost,” Alvarez said. “This is a really good way to pass that on, educate and teach the next generation.”