New York City’s Green Thumb Program

The Lempert Report
September 18, 2017

The nation’s largest garden program

The Parks Department’s GreenThumb program has grown to 553 gardens, and most of the gardens sit on city-owned or other public property, and are maintained by community groups and a dedicated corps of 20,000 volunteer gardeners. 

Bill LoSasso, the director of GreenThumb, told the NY times that the program had increased its efforts to create more community gardens across the city, especially in largely immigrant communities where many newcomers have roots in agricultural areas. Its budget has increased to $2.9 million each year and its staff has nearly doubled to 35 people, who provide training and support and free materials like plants, shovels and wheelbarrows. 

“Sometimes when you arrive in a new place, you don’t have a network you can tap into for support,” LoSasso said. “By joining a community garden, you’re joining a network of neighbors who are coming from diverse backgrounds who can help new members of their community to get settled.” 

About 3.2 million New Yorkers, or 38 percent of the city’s population of 8.5 million, were born in other countries, about half of those immigrants came from the Caribbean, Central America and South America. 

The Times introduces us to Efrain Estrada, now 74, who grew up on a farm in Puerto Rico, and grows so many peppers, eggplants, okra and squash that he sends the extras to his relatives in Puerto Rico. 

His farm is a patch of green wedged among the bodegas and public housing projects of the South Bronx. He fills a box of soil no larger than a child’s sandbox with the things he used to grow with his father on a farm in Puerto Rico. Mr. Estrada is able to carry on his family’s agrarian tradition in the teeming metropolis of New York City where the community gardens are a refuge for immigrants and those without farms or country houses to escape as well as a homegrown source of fruits and vegetables in food deserts like the South Bronx. 

The United We Stand Community Garden where Mr. Estrada plants his crops was started in the 1990s by Bronx residents and rebuilt and expanded last year by GrowNYC, the organization that runs the city’s Greenmarkets.  

“There is nothing more beautiful, and quintessentially New York, than people from all over the world working together to build a better community,” said Marcel Van Ooyen, its president.