In the most urban of cities, I look out my window and see a meadow. The meadow is there because of urban blight gone good. From the empty lots sprung the meadows. We call it the garden and it is one of the many community gardens in Loisaida.
The past weekend’s snowstorm brought out the neighborhood children in droves on a sunny Saturday morning when the garden was a winter wonderland of fluffy new snow – the kind that’s perfect for snowmen, the building of forts and snowball fights. It was lovely to hear the children’s laughter all day long until the snow turned blue as dusk fell. I was reminded of my girls when they were little and played in the garden in winter.
Loisaida’s community gardens were abuzz this past weekend as the first Harvest Arts Festival kicked off. Twenty-four of the forty community gardens in Loisaida participated with music, poetry, theater, films and workshops on art, health, fun and environmental concerns.
El Sol Brillante Garden on East 12th St. Harvest Arts Festival.
Loisaida has more community gardens than anywhere else in the city. The gardens are like little kingdoms unto themselves, so different are they from one another. Some are tiny verdant jewels tucked in between narrow tenements with gravel paths and tranquil shade gardens. Others are sprawling meadows with chickens and rabbits roaming free. Some have stages for performance, outdoor film screenings, and yoga. Others have children’s play equipment, tree houses and sandboxes. There are those with individual garden plots – some sprouting flowers and others growing food. From vacant rubble-filled lots, the gardens were created by people who banded together and occupied the discarded land – seizing the opportunity that the abandonment had created. Today, they are still cared for and grown by dedicated volunteers.
The 1st Harvest Arts Festival was organized by Loisaida United Neighborhood Gardens (LUNGS). Here is an excerpt from the program notes written by organizer Charles Krezell: “If you want to study democracy in action, don’t go to Washington, join a garden in Loisaida. These gardens are the purest form of democracy we have in this city. We are groups of people who come together for mutual purpose and try to sort out our differences. Each garden a mini-experiment in government, we come up with our own rules. Some work through consensus, some compromise, some are dictatorships, some oligarchies. They are frustrating and fascinating, dysfunctional and utilitarian all at once. There is social unrest and class warfare over where to plant the dahlias…”
The festival was so rich with activity that I actually covered only a sliver of what took place. Every garden I made it to had lots of food. A celebration of the harvest in the ancient way, with food and friends and community.
Art Rumble outside of Orchard Alley Garden
I went to a workshop on the Bokashi Method of recycling food waste for fertilizer at a beautiful corner garden on 12th St. They have a slot in the fence where folks drop off their food waste and they turn it into good soil with this method. They are now recycling tons more food waste than with the basic composting method and their garden’s soil is rich, black and teeming with earth worms.