Elmhurst residents rally against sale of community garden site

THE COURIER/ Photos by Angy Altamirano

Residents and volunteers are asking the city not to squash their community garden.

Until last year, the vacant lot at Kneeland Avenue and Manilla Street in Elmhurst was growing weeds as tall as the average resident, attracting illegal dumping and unwanted vermin. After taking a look at the site, Young Governors, a teen community organizing program, got together and turned the lot into a community garden that is verdant with fruits and vegetables today.

But the garden the teens created side-by-side with residents is at risk of becoming a multi-family house since the property’s owner put it up for sale.

“This lot made our neighborhood look bad, and after all these years we finally took charge and took our neighborhood back,” said Jennifer Chu, president of the Elmhurst Community Garden. “It has been two years in the making, but now we have a community garden.”

On July 26, Chu, along with other residents, members of Young Governors and local officials gathered at the garden to call on authorities to delay the private property’s sale.

“What we need here in Elmhurst is a garden, not another high rise development,” said Senator Toby Ann Stavisky. “We need a place for children to play. We need gardens where people can till and nourish and eventually eat the produce.”

The community hopes to get the opportunity to save the garden — or relocate it another area — with the help of the city.

“These volunteers literally have turned what has been an eyesore in Elmhurst into a project that is productive, into an area that is not only beautiful and prevents it from being a blight on our society, but has literally turned into a productive project that feeds people,” said Councilmember Grace Meng.

Volunteers go week after week to care for the crops. They have donated fruits and vegetables from the garden to the New Life Community Development Corporation, a local organization that helps people in need in the community.

“At this garden, I see people get together while watering their vegetables and then they end up sitting on the benches to chat,” said Chu. “Queens, as the largest borough, could use a few more community gardens.”

Stavisky said the next step they will take is to speak with city officials and the property’s owner to see what can be done for the garden.

The Courier was unable to reach the owner as of press time.

“We don’t have a lot of green space here, so it would be nice to have a garden,” said Barbara Ang, vice-president of the Elmhurst Community Garden. “I love having green space here and having somewhere to relax and enjoy.”