It’s been an upsetting few weeks for community gardeners. A January 14 list from the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development pinpointed 181 city-owned lots as potential sites for development, seventeen of which are home to functioning community gardens. But there is one small ray of sunshine in gardening news: the Brooklyn Queens Land Trust (BQLT) has added the garden on the 1100 block of Bergen Street in Crown Heights to their list of 34 lots protected in perpetuity.
The Bergen Street garden, which was founded in 1980, was purchased by the Trust for Public Land and a private entity and subsequently transferred to the 1100 Bergen Street Block Association in 1989. Since then it has functioned as its own non-profit — a sort of one-garden land trust. But the administrative demands of this setup took their toll over the years and the garden fell behind on taxes as Crown Heights underwent increasing development pressure. Members of the Bergen Street garden worked together with BQLT to transfer the deed from the neighborhood association to the land trust, ensuring that stewardship of the garden will continue without threat of foreclosure. Day-to-day garden operations will stay within the community, and members will elect a representative to attend annual BQLT meeting and vote to elect BQLT board members.
BQLT has historical roots in another turbulent time for community gardens. Meg Fellerath, the board president of BQLT, gave us a crash course in recent community garden history last week.
In the late 1990s mayor Rudy Giuliani put 115 community gardens up for auction (if you run across #dontberudy, the reference is obvious.) The Trust for Public Land was able to purchase more than 60 gardens outright with the intention of transferring them to more permanent land trusts over time. Fast forward to 2004 when BQLT was incorporated to take over the deeds for Brooklyn and Queens — sister trusts were formed in Manhattan and the Bronx. In 2011 garden ownership was officially transferred, and today the trust protects 34 gardens in perpetuity.
Thirty two of these gardens are a direct result of that first auction. The remaining two include the Bergen Street garden and another garden in Queens that resulted from a similar deed transfer from a neighborhood association to the trust. In order to add new gardens to the trust, the land will have to be donated or bought outright. Although BQLT is not in a position to swoop in and purchase the gardens under threat of development, they support the sentiment behind last week’s rally at City Hall. “The hope, honestly, is that now that the issue is kind of being raised up and there’s clear pushback, maybe [the lots] weren’t looked at very carefully, and this could an opportunity for HPD to take another look at them,” Meg told Edible.