The Changing Face of Unused Space: NYC's GreenThumb Initiative

By:Dylan Rodgers

A good space for a garden is hard to come by in NYC. Even if you were able to commandeer a small patch of land to grow a few essential foods, you may not have the time or the tools to keep your 'Little Eden' up and running. If only there were a team of people all working in the garden toward the same goal. And if only there was an organization dedicated to helping people get gardening space, tools, and know-how, it would just be too good to be true.

Well grab a pair of old jeans and some sun glasses because the organization that can make all of your gardening dreams come true does exist, and it's better that you thought it could be. It's called GreenThumb.

The GreenThumb program started in 1978 as a response to the numerous vacant lots throughout Manhattan. Since its beginning, GreenThumb has helped to establish 572 gardens throughout NYC with 303 in park jurisdiction making it the largest community garden program in the nation.

Amazingly, most any group that asks for a garden gets one, as long as the space is available and no major opposition occurs. As extra incentive, GreenThumb also provides many of the tools and has various gardening workshops where gardening novices can gain professional insight and tips entirely free of charge. Gardeners also have the opportunity to meet volunteers from the other gardens and expand their gardening inventory during their "seed swapping" events.

The style of garden is entirely up to its volunteers. Aside from a few regulations, mainly as to the conduct of people on the premises, the garden is a blank canvas of growing potential. The best part about GreenThumb isn't that they work tirelessly to help community members realize their gardening dreams, or that it is entirely free; the best part is their devotion to their mission. GreenThumb promotes a healthy lifestyle of outdoor activity and the consumption of home-grown organic fruits and vegetables. They help fight obesity by giving people healthier, far more affordable alternatives to less-fresh, market produce. Some volunteers work with children's groups where they teach the values of a healthy diet and show them how to cook great tasting meals from scratch. They also have taken action to clean up New York City's air by planting more trees and other vegetation.

The GreenThumb program helps the community on so many different levels that it is hard to see how its ripples will help shape the future. One thing is certain: self-sustaining gardening is far more than some growing trend; it's a necessary movement towards practicality. And as gardening becomes more popular, GreenThumb will be there every step of the way.

Photos: Cyndi Amaya

Do you have a community garden in your neighborhood?

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