Joel and I came across three community gardens in Tompkins Park North on Sunday. Two of them were the size of one or two empty lots.
The other, however, amazed us. Hattie Carthan Community Garden is its name, and it takes up about a quarter of a full block along Marcy Avenue.
We stumbled upon it accidentally. Our itinerary (and stomachs) called for us to head to Tiny Cup from Herbert Von King Park, one block away via Lafayette Avenue. A strange noise – but one I had heard in Bed-Stuy before – made us stop for a bit.
Chickens! Probably around 25 of them, too. This was no private garden for sure, like I had seen two weeks prior. A few signs advertised Fresh Eggs.
So what could this place possibly be? We didn’t see anyone to ask, but a nearby sign said it was part of the “GreenThumb” program, which claims to be the largest community-gardening program in the nation. “Founded in 1978, GreenThumb helps local residents transform vacant properties into attractive green spaces,” the sign read. We decided to have lunch before investigating further.
Walking east on Clifton Place after eating, we found a more informative sign,
and got a good view of the garden. We could see people now!
The gate was open, so we went in. Some fruit was ripening.
In the center of the garden, a couple of women were weeding, and were nice enough to talk to us for a few minutes. In that particular patch, they were growing eggplant, zucchini, and peppers. Nothing edible was showing yet, but the women were excited about the season.
So who was Hattie Carthan? Only a Bed-Stuy icon and a visionary in the field of urban ecology. Before she died at age 84 in 1984, she founded multiple associations to beautify the neighborhood, and was ultimately responsible for over 1,500 new trees. She was also interested in putting idle teens to work, keeping them off the streets and giving them a hand in the improvement of Bed-Stuy.
Ms. Carthan’s mission began when housing developments threatened the rare magnolia tree on her block. She successfully fought to get the tree landmarked. The rest is history, as this awesome video from several decades ago attests.
This sign in the garden amused me: “HOUSE FOR RENT”. It might be bigger than some Manhattan studios.
We had to pay a visit to the chickens, of course. They are kept in two coops; one contains mostly reds, while the other houses a variety. The hens were drawn to us.
We spied some eggs.
Around the corner is a children’s garden, complete with an old water-pump.
Programming note: the garden’s regular greenmarket begins this coming Saturday, July 14. It runs through November and features only items grown on the garden’s grounds. Eggs are sure to be there.
So, really: how sweet is Bed-Stuy? Once you strip away the dangerous veneer given to it by many rap songs over the years, you find a neighborhood deeply invested in its own self-worth and improvement. This was something I had read (and written) much about, but seeing this garden in action was icing on the cake.
Oh, yeah: they’re always looking for volunteers, if getting your hands dirty interests you.