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Summer Success Stories: Parkside Plaza

Summer Success Stories: Parkside Plaza

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The Hort is dedicated to sustaining a robust network of neighborhood plaza managers to maintain clean, safe and vibrant public spaces across New York City while promoting the economic, social, environmental, and quality of life benefits of neighborhood plazas to New York’s civic, business, and philanthropic communities; the media; and elected officials.

Parkside Plaza, a cozy Prospect-Lefferts Garden corner on Ocean and Parkside Avenues, has drastically transformed over the past two years. The renewal is rooted in The Hort’s vision for each space: a beautiful, functional, and publicly managed green space where the community can relax and engage with one another. More broadly: a great spot to sit.

2picThis summer, the growth and transformation of the previously derelict, forgotten patch of concrete continued. The all-volunteer plaza management group, The Parkside Committee, hosted three major events or “plaza activations”: a celebration of the Plaza’s 1-year anniversary, an African Drumming & Dance festival, and a Community Resource Fair, which highlighted housing information, pre-K offerings, and voter registration. Thousands of people participated in each event, while hundreds more flocked to the newly founded Sunday farmer’s market.

At the Hort, we know that big events are only part of the equation for a successful plaza. We know that it is day-in, day-out maintenance that brings lasting change to a neighborhood and over time creates a true asset. A clean, well-maintained plaza sends an unmistakable message that investment is happening. For Parkside, that investment is the time, money, and sweat equity from the community stewards.
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To make the volunteer investment sustainable and worthwhile, the GreenTeam and the Association of Community Employment (ACE) arrive every morning to unlock and arrange tables and chairs, raise the umbrellas, and remove litter — reversing those tasks each evening. The work crews also plant season-specific flowers, bringing new, lush color to the Q-Train “greyscape”. The positive response has led the scope of the project to expand as the Parkside Committee guided the renewal of half a dozen tree pits on the nearby streets.

Parkside Plaza has been one of the many successes from New York’s Plaza Program. Our hope is that everyone is able to visit a plaza, engage in with the community, pull up a chair, and relax. Or as Ike Rosen, a Prospect-Lefferts Garden resident, stated on the Parkside Plaza Facebook page, “I’ve never been to the farmers market, but as a mobility-challenged resident of the neighborhood, I appreciate the seating area available when out shopping.”

Learn more about the Hort’s GreenTeam and Neighborhood Plaza Partnership at www.thehort.org

Also, learn more about our great partners, Parkside Plaza Committee and the Association of Community Employment (ACE).

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The Greenhouse’s Top Twelve Life Lessons

The Greenhouse’s Top Twelve Life Lessons

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“When I’m in the garden, it doesn’t even feel like I’m in jail. It’s beautiful here”.
– 18 year old GreenHouse student.

The GreenHouse program on Rikers Island is a unique, longstanding collaboration between the Horticultural Society of New York (The Hort), the New York City Department of Correction (DOC), and the New York City Department of Education (DOE). GreenHouse combines year-round horticulture education, vocational training, and hands-on experiences to encourage cognitive behavioral change and provide participants the tools they need to positively redirect their lives.

greenhouse-240_2GreenHouse serves men and women aged 19 and older sentenced a year or less, and male detainees aged 16 to 21. Trained Horticulture Therapists develop a comprehensive, horticulture therapy curriculum, which offers inmates opportunities to design, install, and maintain gardens in several facilities and sites on Rikers Island. The curriculum is adjusted to the individual based on their needs, abilities, and comfort level. Participants’ input is highly valued as facilitators look to them to specify planting groups, develop plant lists, provide design ideas, and create work plans — encouraging ownership and responsibility.

The Rikers Island gardens are lush and offer a glimpse into the passion, commitment, and love the students have for their green space. Annual and perennial flowers, a wide range of herbs, an assortment of vegetables, fruit and berry plants, ponds and seating areas, composting facilities, and rainwater sections can all be found in the gardens; you would never guess it, but working in the garden is less growing plants and more growing people. People-Plant relationships teach many important life lessons and Hilda Krus, the GreenHouse director, shares her top twelve life lessons the GreenHouse teaches:

1. Everything has it’s Time

Year-round gardening is a regenerative cycle of planting, growing, ripening and preparing anew. The same can be said about each participant – they  prepare for the next steps in life.

2. Instant Gratification and Late Gratification

At any point, you can step into the garden, work to improve it, plant more flowers, or just do the basics and you will see instant success. But, gardening also requires patience for plants to ripen, or for blooms to appear. Flowers, fruit, vegetables, and blooms make the wait worthwhile.

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3. Responsibility

By taking care of a specific section or plant, students are encouraged to take ownership and responsibility without being burdened. Students practice nurturing something that is less demanding than an animal or a person. This does not put pressure on individuals but creates an environment where a living thing responds to care and love.

4. Being a Community Caretaker

Tending the garden teaches students that they directly impact the space they’re working and living in. Understanding this concept allows them to recognize, as a group, everyone impacts each other — positive or negative.

“What really takes place is camaraderie, a feeling that this is how it is supposed to be. That if fifteen men had a patch of land and some knowledge, they could make it thrive together.” – 20 year old GreenHouse student

5. Second Chances do Exist

A garden is (mostly) forgiving. If something is wrong, participants see the plants responding and can correct the error. Even with big mistakes, it usually isn’t life-or-death, teaching the value of life without being overwhelmed

6. Gardening as a Skill

When students are attentive, they learn to have success with their plants, meaning they can take pride in a new skill. Throughout the process, they receive compliments on their work, develop self-confidence, and encourage others to seek positive feedback rather than negative attention.

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7. Cognitive Stimulation

The garden works all senses: sight, taste, smell, touch, and hearing, allowing participants to let down their defenses and simply rest and enjoy

8. Learning to Treat Themselves with Care

Participants learn to take care of themselves by eating healthier, enjoying simple herbal teas and cosmetics, experiencing working in an open space, and paying more attention to their personal needs.

 

9. Accessing a World Bigger than Us

So long as it’s given proper care, nature doesn’t care about the location or who cares for it. Inmates see this as an opportunity to connect to and thrive in a bigger world compared to their confined lives.

“No single person takes credit, we all take credit. No single person benefits, we all benefit. All of the creativity and talent we bring to the garden is allowed to blossom.” – 36 year old GreenHouse student

10. Connecting with Family and One’s Roots

Many participants have distant memories of parents, or more often, grandparents tending gardens and growing food. Interactions with the natural world reconnect them with family, reminding them of good times, and providing an increased appreciation of their heritage.

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11. Release Stress and Tension

A non-threatening environment does the world of good for each inmate. Along with the cognitive stimulation, they are physically relaxed and mentally engaged. It’s well known that fresh air and open spaces help everyone’s minds grow.

12. Positive Memories

When students are released or move on, they need to reconsider previous choices and come to terms with their lives. The memory of the GreenHouse brings participants a feeling of comfort and peace which can aid their decisions and change the course of their lives.

Upon release, former GreenHouse students are eligible to join the Hort’s GreenTeam, a transitional workforce development team. GreenTeam instructors collaborate with service providers such as substance abuse programs, mental health providers, and job-readiness organizations to support interns as they step back into productive lives. Interns without a high school diploma or GED are encouraged to pursue their diplomas while working with the Hort.

“Though many of us will move on quickly from the garden, we will never forget the experience. For while we were touching nature, nature was touching us.” – 23 year old GreenHouse student

GreenHouse serves as an internship opportunity for future horticultural therapists and individuals from other fields of study. GreenHouse has trained numerous horticultural therapy students from NYU, Columbia, Farm School New York, John Jay College, Union Theological Seminary, The New School, Temple University, and Penn State. The Hort collaborates with the New York Re-Entry Network, Sustainability in Prisons Network, American Horticultural Therapy Association, NY State Association of Incarcerated Education Programs, and have presented on the GreenHouse in Austria and Indonesia.

To learn more about the Hort’s GreenHouse Program visit www.thehort.org

Q&A with the Hort’s GreenTeam – Surviving the Summer Heat!

Q&A with the Hort’s GreenTeam – Surviving the Summer Heat!

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In a Summer of sweltering heat and thick, humid air, you would be forgiven for wanting to be inside. But not the GreenTeam: they have sweat, hauled, and planted their way through the heatwave. Despite this, they always keep their chin up and smile on their face. How could they not enjoy themselves when the progression of each planted tree and blossomed flower highlights a (so far) successful season?

To learn a bit more about what makes the GreenTeam tick through the summer season, Sam Lewis, GreenTeam Manager, answers a few questions.
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Q: What’s the toughest part of the summer?

Sam: As you may know, plants don’t slow down like us in the mid-summer sun, meaning early mornings and late evenings. It’s not uncommon for staff and interns to tend gardens at supportive housing facilities, provide maintenance at public plazas, and clean up community parks every day. Oh, and also the heat, did I mention the heat?

Q: Do you know which task the GreenTeam participants like to do the most?

Sam: If you ask me, it’s probably harvesting, weeding, planting, deadheading, pruning, and mulching. You know, all of it! The rest of the guys would probably say “break-time”. I’m kidding, they all love seeing their work grow through the summer and then are surprised at how much pruning and care each plant takes.

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Q: Is there any project the GreenTeam is especially excited about?

Sam: We have a lot of cool projects, but the community farm and flower garden at the CAMBA Gardens Facility (Wingate, Brooklyn) has everyone buzzing. It’s a building with over 200 units of affordable housing and is also home to families and individuals with special needs. Our interns are really attached to this location because the project began from ground zero: testing soil for dangerous metals, amending poor soil, and taking out old dead wood. In the spring, residents mapped out their vision for the garden and helped the team lay the foundation. Now the produce list includes: tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, peppers, eggplant, okra, basil, tomatillos, corn, beans, herbs, and berries. The designated flower section highlights zinnias, cosmos, sunflowers, snapdragons, gomphrena, marigolds, bachelor buttons, and statice. I know that was long-winded, but it’s a truly impressive place.

Q: How does the community respond to such a transformation at CAMBA Gardens?

Sam: Everyone has been really responsive, especially leaders inside CAMBA. The junior board visited the garden for a volunteer workday and were in awe of the progress made. Volunteers made plant ID signs, helped weed beds, and composted a little too. After being in the garden for half of the day, everyone recognized how essential it was to the entire housing complex.

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Q: What will happen to the garden in the fall and the winter?

Sam: Have no fear! In October residents will plant cover crops, garlic and tulips to maintain the soil quality. Also, throughout the fall and winter, the team will offer instructional workshops like how to make basil pesto, create flower arrangements, and when to start seeds for the spring. We love working with CAMBA and are looking forward to next summer already.

Q: Any words of advice for fellow summer gardeners?

Sam: Enjoy your harvest! You know as well as I do that it takes a lot of work to maintain plants, but there is nothing better than picking a bunch of your own tomatoes for a delicious summer salsa.

The Hort and Emma Lazarus High School Bring the ‘Poet’s Garden’ to Life

The Hort and Emma Lazarus High School Bring the ‘Poet’s Garden’ to Life

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In May, The Horticultural Society of New York joined forces with students at Emma Lazarus High School (ELHS) to install a beautiful garden and inspirational learning area. ELHS is dedicated to assisting English language learners thrive in and out of the class room. With the diverse student population in mind – hailing from Ecuador, Haiti, and China, to name a few – ELHS and The Hort brought the universal language of gardening to every young adult.

The ‘Poet’s Garden’, named by students to honor poet (and school) Emma Lazarus*, is located in the Lower East Side on the corner of Hester and Eldridge street. As we see so often in the city, the scrap of land housed little more than a few trees and a tuft of grass. After a combined total of 150 volunteer hours the site is a shadow of its former self. Following a design they helped create, students conditioned soil, created two ovular beds, planted two more trees, laid a stone walkway, and tended to any stray weeds.

The new plants and trees not only add to the immediate beauty but also lead to long-term garden viability – a strong groundwork to grow forward. The plant list included: Hostas, Bee Balm, Hellebores, Andromeda bushes, and lavender. The trees, a Coral Bark Japanese Maple and a Dwarf Lace Leaf Japanese Maple, will add plenty of shade to this unique and special area.

Over the next month, The Hort will continue to work with the students to maintain the space. Through regular maintenance, garden education, and time spent enjoying and meditating in the outdoors, the hope is to instill a sense of pride and ownership in the garden’s ultimate stewards: the students.

*Emma Lazarus is a famous American poet whose most recognized work, The New Colossus, can be found inscribed at the base of the Statue of Liberty. The stanza, “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” is often considered one of the most powerful and recognizable pieces of American writing.