Brooklyn might have Prospect Park, but aside from that oasis, there aren’t a whole lot of green spaces in the borough. But one green-thumbed Crown Heights resident wanted to change all that in her neighborhood, so she spearheaded the revamp of an overgrown community garden, transforming it into a vibrant space filled with plants, flowers, fruits and vegetables.
Emily Bell Dinan grew up in Queens, where backyard gardens weren’t exactly plentiful.
“I’ve never had a backyard or anything but we had a community garden,” she told us. “I grew up in an apartment that faced an alleyway, and we would peek all the way down to see the neighbors’ greenspace, and imagine what it was like.”
She moved to Crown Heights four years ago, and not long after, a friend of hers spotted a small garden lot on Rogers Avenue located next door to the Crown Heights Youth Collective, and decided to make it into a community project, named the Roger That Garden Project. They didn’t make much progress on it after the first year, so in 2012 Dinan started a successful Kickstarter to raise funds. “We raised a healthy amount of money,” Dinan, who netted over $3,000 through the crowdfunding campaign, told us. They also had help from local ecological groups like Build It Green NYC, who donated supplies, compost and other goods to help them get off the ground.
Now, the garden is a vibrant community space, boasting a colorful collection of flowers, fruits and vegetables.
“The entire point of Roger That is to make plants and nature available and acceptable,” she told us. “75 to 80 percent of the plants are native to North America, and as many as possible are native to the East Coast.”
Dinan’s enlisted a number of volunteers to help work the land, weeding, gardening, planting and watering.
“Because we don’t have a waiting list, we have all these opportunities for people to come and do what needs to be done,” said Dinan, who noted that many city community gardens tend to be exclusive. “We’ve got a Google group, an online calendar with workdays, and an ongoing list of things that people can just jump right in to do.”
Right now, the Roger That team — which was awarded the Love Your Block grant for Crown Heights this year — is primarily concerned with maintaining the garden and turning the compost, but they’re also working with local groups to help get the space protected.
“We just went to a meeting with 596 Acres, a non-profit mapping and legal team,” Dinan said. “They’re trying to connect us to pro-bono lawyer [to help with legal protection], and we’re trying to get my roommate who is a non-practicing attorney, to do that as well.”
Dinan noted that there are numerous community gardens in Brooklyn looking for volunteers, so people with gardening experience and/or the inclination to help out should find out what kind of resources are available in their neighborhoods.
“They need maintenance,” she said. “They’re begging for help.” She also gave tips for those who are interested in getting their own garden plots off the ground. “Identify a parcel [of land] and start taking steps to get into that parcel,” Dinan said. “Find out if it belongs to the city or is privately owned. Gather resources from places like Build it Green, or the Department of Sanitation may be able to donate compost if you plan on beautifying the adjacent streets. And make sure there’s community interest, because [a garden] is a lot of work. It’s really important to create a team and get a lot of people who live on that block to be involved.”