The very first community garden in New York City was a farm garden started in 1902 in De Witt Clinton Park on 12th Avenue in the West 50s by Mrs. Fannie Parsons. By 1908, farm gardening was part of the NYC school curriculum, spreading to 80 locations citywide. Children’s Farm Gardens continued to flourish into the 1950s when Parks Commissioner Robert Moses championed further expansion as a means for teaching children to grow plants of “economic interest” such as cotton, wheat, flax and corn. The Parks Department recently published a document for school and youth garden resources, which contains a long list of websites and journal articles related to school and youth gardens. Additional City programs include the NYC Housing Authority’s Garden and Greening Program, launched in 1962.
Farm Gardens fell out of fashion in the 1970s and 1980s but have recently been revived in Red Hook by Added Value, a food rights organization that also has a garden on Governor’s Island. More recently, Farming Concrete has begun a program to help community gardens in the city measure their produce output to see how many of our gardens might actually be considered farms in the national agricultural census. Such farms would conceivably be entitled to take advantage of U.S. federal agriculture assistance.
Looking ahead, PlaNYC, Mayor Bloomberg’s proposal to increase the city’s green space sustainability by setting specific standards to be reached by 2030. Standards include “ensuring that every New Yorker lives within a 10 minute walk of a park or green space,” “achieving the cleanest air of any big city in America,” and “reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 30%.”
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