On East 137th and 138th Streets in the South Bronx, four contiguous community gardens flourished for more than 25 years. Hundreds of Mott Haven residents tended to flowers, grew food, and met one another. Then, in 2015, a fire broke out in the neighborhood, burning infrastructure across the garden block. The City was forced to close all four gardens and the site lay dormant.
Starting in February of 2016, the NYC Parks Department’s GreenThumb program began the gargantuan task of rebuilding the entire site. With help from the Department of Sanitation and the Mayor’s Office of Environmental Remediation, the site was completely cleared, including thousands of pounds of debris and all the internal fences, and a fresh, vacant lot appeared.
GrowNYC joined the effort in May to restore the space to its previous horticultural glory, building more than 100 garden beds, a performance stage, murals, dozens of tables and benches. In September, we finished work on the new United We Stand and 138th Street Community Gardens. You can see the transformation in the before and after pictures, but let Efrain Estrada, a community garden member, tell the story:
“After the fire, the garden was closed. It was very bad: we had nowhere to garden, nowhere to hang out. It looked like a jungle, with a burned casita, and then people started throwing junk in there.
I felt bad that the garden was gone—I felt like a piece of myself was gone. The garden community is a family and the family didn’t have any place to go. I was close to crying. It was 25 years that we had made that garden and then it was gone. But then I thought, let’s go. It was spring and it was time to go again. Let’s start again. And that is where GrowNYC stepped in.
Working with the community and volunteers, we started rebuilding the entire site in the spring and we finished in fall.
People from the neighborhood say it’s beautiful now. We are proud. The people from the neighborhood see this whole new space on 137th Street and 138th Street. They see the flowers and all the vegetables and they love it.”