In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, we’ve all been forced to think carefully about the vulnerabilities of our infrastructure—and the reality of more extreme weather events. But these questions of vulnerability (and resiliency) extend beyond buildings, roads, and underground structures: we must also consider how our green spaces (and our thriving urban gardens) will also be impacted.
With more than 600 community gardens in New York City, and urban farms in all five boroughs, it’s no surprise that some of these plots were damaged by Sandy’s wrath. Here are five that are on the road to recovery.
Padre Plaza Success Garden (Mott Haven, The Bronx)
Brought back from the brink once before, Padre Plaza Success Garden is a three-quarter acre patch of green on the corner of St. Annes Avenue and E. 139th Street in the South Bronx. Revitalized by a local family in the early 2000s, Padre Plaza truly brings the community together around food—before Sandy hit, the garden was home to a weekly farmers market, regular community events, raised beds, fruit trees, and a beautiful pond.
Sandy uprooted trees, knocked down a greenhouse, and destroyed the pond and raised flower beds. In the grand scheme of things, this damage was minor, but for a community already shaken by a natural disaster, the restoration of this haven became a priority.
After the storm, volunteer groups from around the Bronx came together to restore the greenhouse, clean the pond, repair the damaged beds, and repair a shed. And finally, this past June, the garden reopened amidst the sounds of samba drums.
Piermont Community Organic Garden (Piermont, NY)
Located just steps from the Hudson River in Rockland County, Piermont Community Garden has experienced storm-related damage before. But the storm surge created by Sandy completely devastated the beloved 18-year-old garden, washing away some 72 raised beds and leaving boats, telephone poles, driftwood, and debris in its path.
Since 1995, Piermont Community Garden has served as a peaceful sanctuary for local residents to grow food and friendship. Members also donate produce grown in the garden to food pantries through the Plant a Row for the Hungry program.
And it was these dedicated community members that came together after the storm to rebuild. With a fundraising campaign and a lot of sweat equity, Piermont Community Garden is now thriving — with design elements that will help it weather future storms. See a photo of the destruction here, and a great before and after here.
Seagirt Boulevard Community Garden (The Rockaways, Queens)
A 21-year old fixture of the Rockaway neighborhood in Queens, Seagirt Boulevard Community Garden is a well-used, well-loved, productive garden. Each year, local families, many elderly or relying on government assistance, plant and harvest tomatoes, peanuts, collard greens, pepper and corn–providing healthy meals and food supplies.
After Sandy rolled through though, this garden plot was hardly recognizable. As this astonishing before and after photo shows, nearly everything was washed away or destroyed; the storm surge reached four feet high in some places.
Sadly, this inundation of flood water also meant that saltwater that had saturated the soil. The first step in restoration was to construct raised boxes and haul in fresh soil, something that was accomplished with financial assistance local businesses. Garden members also reconstructed a garden path, repaired fencing, and replaced patio furniture. Even in its darkest moment, the garden continued to bring people together—a trend the community hopes will continue well into the future.
Red Hook Community Farm (Red Hook, Brooklyn)
One of New York City’s most well-known urban farms, the Red Hook Community Farm is a nearly three-acre farm located in one of Brooklyn’s most underserved neighborhoods. Non-profit organization Added Value transformed a run-down playing field into an organic urban farm, which operates year-round and employs teenagers from the Red Hook neighborhood. Produce is both donated and sold locally.
When Hurricane Sandy slammed ashore in 2012, two and a half feet of water rushed over the farm, pushing coolers across the fields and slamming pumpkins against fences. This inundation and risk of contamination by bacteria and other toxins meant that all the produce in the field had to be discarded, and that Red Hook Community Farm faced an extra hurdle on their path to recovery: soil testing.
Incredibly (have you ever smelled the Gowanus Canal?) the tests came back showing no evidence of toxins. Today, thanks to the help of many volunteers, the farm is back in action (and Added Value has broken ground on another urban farm just blocks away).
Battery Farm (Battery Park City, Manhattan)
Tucked beneath the shadows of lower Manhattan’s skyscrapers lies The Battery Urban Farm, a turkey-shaped, one-acre plot that provides education and recreation for students, tourists, and Wall Street workers alike. The urban farm got its start in 2011 and since that time has grown rapidly; last year, more than 1,800 students visited the farm and the group has developed curriculum, classes, and camps for their visitors.
Sadly, Battery Urban Farm took a direct hit from Sandy. The Battery Conservancy offices, which sit waterfront, were subjected to floor-to-ceiling flooding and were a complete loss. The farm was also soaked in salty floodwater.
Luckily, quick thinking staff contacted horticulturists in New Orleans to find out what they had learned during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Their advice: SOAK! And so they did, even calling plumbers in to turn the sprinkler system back on. While many plants were damaged, and new topsoil needed, tests indicated that no contaminants were found so today, the farm is back in action and thriving (along with Zelda, the wild turkey who has lived there since 2003).
top image via The Battery Urban Farm’s Facebook page.