Flushing garden a haven for Korean senior society

By Cynthia Koons

Choi drives an old junky car to get to the communal garden, where he grows flowers and Korean vegetables with the help of neighboring farmers.

Most of the growers do not speak English. Choi was able to communicate through his wife, who translated for him via cell phone.

“Usually he goes there at 8 o'clock until 5 or 6 in the afternoon,” his wife, Kew Soo Choi, said. “I never go there, but my husband is always there.”

After Heung Soo Choi survived a debilitating car accident that left his leg fractured in several places, he was unable to work extensively.

Through the senior center he found the communal garden in Flushing just off Colden Street between Kalmia and Juniper avenues, which became his refuge.

In a time when downtown Flushing is developing at breakneck speed and communal gardens all over the city are falling victim to builders, the parcel of land off Colden is increasingly rare and especially beautiful.

“I clean everything and we eat the (Korean vegetables),” Choi's wife said. “It's very fresh and delicious.”

All of the farmers provide the mulch, seeds and dirt for themselves and others. There is a sense of community in the small field as elderly men wheeling garden ingredients stop at several plots to assist the farmers.

Han Yong Cho said he works at the garden during the day and works in a restaurant at night. He does not have the time to tend to his own plot so he helps various growers with myriad tasks.

“I help everybody,” he said as he pushed a wheelbarrow full of mulch between two beds.

He pointed out kale, lettuce and flowers, pointing out that gardeners could grow just about anything.

Choi grows lettuce, green onions, Korean parsley and flowers between the months of March and November.

Just months earlier, when the ground was frozen, the park was strewn with litter and looked like another urban blight in Flushing.

The city Parks Department assumes responsibility for the communal garden, according to signs posted around the park.

A spokeswoman for the agency said that the four-acre parcel has been a community garden for 15 years. The Parks Department does not clean or maintain the grounds, she said.

“They are sustained through community support,” the spokeswoman said. “That's the arrangement in terms of community gardens across the city.”

And so it falls to a dedicated group of Korean men and women – and a few gardeners of other ethnicities – to ensure the more than 150 garden plots are cultivated.

On signs posted in various languages the gardeners promote their own mission with a few simple words: “Let's love the flowers.”

Reach reporter Cynthia Koons by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 141.

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