A Collaboration Thrives in the South Bronx
Ursula Chanse is the Director of Bronx Green-Up and Community Horticulture and Project Director for NYC Compost Project hosted by The New York Botanical Garden. For more information about these programs and upcoming workshops and events, please visit Bronx Green-Up.
During the dry days of May, In Good Company, a collaboration of values-driven businesses spearheaded by Clif Bar & Company, brought together individuals from across the country and Canada to be put to work in the South Bronx. Two week-long service projects in early and late May took place at Brook Park, a thriving community garden bordered by schools and an accessible resource for learning and play in the urban outdoors.
In appreciation, Harry Bubbins, Director of Friends of Brook Park, had this to say:
“Thanks to the expertise and incredible support from the staff at Bronx Green-Up of The New York Botanical Garden and GrowNYC, along with the In Good Company consortium and all their company members and employees, we have entirely transformed our almost one-acre site here in the South Bronx. We are honored to continue to receive the support of Bronx Green-Up and the partnerships and resources they are able to leverage for community gardens like ours. Without them The Bronx would be a lot less green.”
Friends of Brook Park, the non-profit that cares for this longtime community garden, is a hub of community projects, including the Alternatives to Incarceration program that works to keep youth out of the juvenile justice system and engaged in the onsite youth farm; the Farm Share program that offers fresh fruit, vegetables, and eggs at affordable rates; and environmental justice tours that engage the public in the challenges faced by the community as well as a wealth of other arts, environmental, youth and cultural programs throughout the year.
Bronx Green-Up, the Garden’s community gardening outreach program, led most of the May projects which included building a rain garden, the dismantling and installation of a 20-foot hoop house, the removal of three dumpsters’ worth of debris totaling 45 cubic yards, installing 10 tree guards around the perimeter of Brook Park, repairing the chicken coop, building bee boxes, weeding the youth farm, planting a blackberry patch and butterfly garden, painting the perimeter fence, building raised beds, and tending to the compost area.
Lenny Librizzi from GrowNYC led the installation of three rainwater harvesting systems. These systems collect rainwater off adjacent or on-site buildings into large storage containers for future garden use. This practice not only conserves water but also prevents water pollution by reducing stormwater runoff, a critical environmental problem that NYC and other cities face.
Bronx Green-Up’s Community Horticulturist, Sara Katz, led the creation of the rain garden, which will capture the overflow from the largest rainwater harvesting system. The work entailed excavating a 25’ x 5’ area by hand, in parts up to four feet deep; laying gravel; and incorporating a new soil mixture, all before planting and mulching the area. The new garden is planted with native plants, including red-twig dogwood (Cornus sericea), swamp azalea (Rhododendron viscosum), turtlehead (Chelone lyonii), palm sedge (Carex muskingumensis), tufted hairgrass (Deschampsia cespitosa), and cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis).
Throughout the weeks, community members joined in as able and students from International Community High School also pitched in on the projects. Now, after early June’s rainstorms, more than 700 gallons of rainwater have been collected, the rain garden and other plantings are thriving, and the gardeners are busy tending to the garden and preparing for summer events and activities.
Reflecting on the experience, Ray Figueroa, Director of Social-Ecological Community Development Projects at Friends of Brook Park, summed up the full extent of the collaboration:
“In addition to the very considerable in-kind contributions of equipment and supplies and the coordination of two great teams of volunteers from all across North America, the most exciting aspect of the In Good Company (IGC) collaboration is the great care IGC takes to establish a personally meaningful foundation for their volunteers’ engagement. Through a programmed series of activities that includes interactive tours, talks, and socials, IGC works intentionally to connect the volunteers to the local community’s history, its cultural resources, and, to be sure, its social issues.
“I call this multi-dimensional approach to volunteerism cultivating the consciousness for meaningful collaboration, something that has also allowed those of us from the local community the space in which to tell our story. For me, the IGC collaboration has been a meaningfully immersive experience that has enriched us all, community and volunteers alike. So, on behalf of Friends of Brook Park, I’d like to express my heartfelt thanks to Val, Brian, and all the IGC volunteers; the Point, including Kellie, Danny, Rebecca; TATS CRU—the Mural Kings; Kelston Bascom—The Chef; and to GrowNYC and the Bronx Green-Up Program of The New York Botanical Garden!”