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PHOTOS: Ridgewood residents bid farewell to community garden under tracks

RIDGEWOOD TIMES/Photos by Kelly Marie Mancuso

BY KELLY MARIE MANCUSO

After a nearly two-month-long battle with the MTA to keep the garden gates open, local supporters and volunteers paid a final farewell to the Ridgewood Community Garden on Monday night with a barbecue and garden party.

The garden was created earlier in the year as a way to breathe life into the 2,250-square-foot tract of derelict land beneath the M train line at Woodward Avenue and Woodbine Street. Supporters of the garden worked to clear and renovate the land, remediate the soil and install milk crate planters and planting beds for vegetables, herbs and flowers. The garden recently yielded small crops of cherry tomatoes, dill, peppers and zucchini sprouts.

“From the beginning, the Ridgewood Community Garden was conceived as a simple experiment in neighborhood resilience,” explained Ridgewood Community Garden representative Clark Fitzgerald. “After living through the experience of Hurricane Sandy, and seeing what New Yorkers became capable of when they got organized together, my friends and I discovered and settled in this beautiful neighborhood, whose spirit and culture exemplify resilience and autonomy. Since moving to Ridgewood, never have I felt so at home in New York — and I grew up in the city.”

The group envisioned the garden as a community hub where Ridgewood residents could gather to enjoy the much-needed green space while also experiencing urban farming firsthand. Back in June, however, the MTA issued a vacate order to the garden and its volunteers, followed by padlocking the gates surrounding the land to prohibit garden access.

In the past two months, Community Board 5 and local elected officials such as Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan and City Councilman Antonio Reynoso have tried to intervene on behalf of the garden. Despite the groundswell of community support, several attempts to reach an amicable agreement with the MTA to keep the garden have failed.

“This summer we gathered here, as farmers, families, fitness enthusiasts, mycologists, doctors, teachers, carpenters, artists, friends and neighbors, and bore witness to what we are capable of when we put our minds to it,” Fitzgerald said. “We cleaned up a toxic waste dump, built raised beds, ran a compost hub, designed a rain catchment and irrigation system, remediated literally tons of polluted soil and turned a legendary eyesore into a gathering place and community sanctuary, only to have it taken from us for no reason.”

On Aug. 3, the MTA granted supporters access to the garden for one final farewell. Neighborhood volunteers, including local children and their parents, worked to rescue the bulk of the remediated soil from large troughs and planting beds. The children, unaware of the garden’s fate, continued to water the plants and flowers as the sound of the M train shuffled by overhead. Garden volunteers and supporters were treated to a special barbecue, complete with hotdogs, grilled vegetables and refreshments from Topos Bookstore, as well as cups of locally made IPA from Finback Brewery.

As for the possibility of finding a new location for the Ridgewood Community Garden, the group and its members remain optimistic.

“We are probably not going to pursue legal action, though it is well within our rights to do so,” Fitzgerald said. “We are going to keep moving forward. Despite tonight’s eviction, this vision of a resilient Ridgewood can and must be tended to, in newer, perhaps greener pastures, and for far longer than just one summer. As we celebrate tonight, let’s start thinking about our future together.”

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