Life Does Exist in Hell’s Kitchen

by Jean Sarosy

I want to start out by saying that I was surprised that there is so much interest in “Green” projects in Hell’s Kitchen.

While doing research, I discovered an article about the Rauschenbusch Metro Ministries.  They run a Farm Project on a rooftop right here in Hell’s Kitchen. It is a 4,000 square feet rooftop of Metro Baptist Church which has been in existence for over 20 years and is a wonderful opportunity for volunteerism.  “Each month over 700 persons are provided emergency food assistance through RMM’s Client-Choice Food Pantry. Each person receives a 3-day supply of nutritious food staples; families may receive assistance once per month. Food Pantry doors open Saturday mornings 11:00- 11:30 a.m. (except fifth Saturdays in a month), and clients must be in the building by 11:30 a.m.  Food Pantry participants are required to bring photo I.D. for each member of the household, and proof of address.”  This is a great thing to have in a community where shelters have closed.  It is run by volunteers and receives donations from the United Way, City Harvest, Food Bank of New York and several others including seven Baptist Churches.   Individual sponsors can also buy shares ranging from $485.00 down to $200.00. (http://www.hkfp.org/)

Covenant House, located on 10th Avenue, which is an organization run by the Catholic Church to help those in need of shelter and other assistance, has started a Horticulture Internship to improve its open spaces.

What impressed me most was the Clinton Community Garden.  In 1978 a group of Hell’s Kitchen residents got together and cleared out a vacant lot which was the remnant of old tenements, abandoned cars and piles of garbage.  Many undesirables were taking up residence here and it was attracting all kinds of drug related crime. It was when they saw some tomatoes growing out of the rubble that they got the idea for a garden.  Then they started planting fruits and vegetables.  In 1984, this was the first Community Garden to be granted parkland status.

When I visited the gate was locked but I found some key-holders who were kind enough to let me enter.  It’s almost unbelievable that you are sitting right on 48th Street between 9th and 10th Avenues.  The silence is only interrupted by the occasional song of a bird – you could almost hear a pine needle drop.

“The city-owned property was leased through Operation Green Thumb in 1979 and organized into two sections, a public front garden with a lawn and flower beds and a back area for individual plots.  Over the next several years, the back garden was expanded from the west to the east, so that 108 garden plots were eventually created.  Paths were built from salvaged brick, and fences and gates were put in to protect the garden and separate the public area from the plots in the back.  Stone benches were made from recycled slabs of slate and concrete block.”  In its infancy there was a mural painted by Mallory Abramson on the west wall.  To this day, you can still see traces of it.  Now with the success of this garden, developers became very interested in acquiring the property.  The community banded together and formed the Save Clinton Community Garden Campaign and were successful in their efforts to keep the garden exactly where and how it is.

Astro’s Dog Run is a beautifully maintained dog run right on 10th Avenue.  It is meticulously maintained (all by volunteers) and has a lush garden adjoining the property.  This dog run is probably one of the largest in the area.  It’s wonderful for dog’s to be able to take their human companions to such a peaceful place where they can sit and rest while they (the dogs) socialize.  The humans also do a great deal of socializing which is a wonderful thing since a good many of the residents of Hell’s Kitchen are getting on in years and the thought of taking “Fido” for a long walk can be daunting.

The Hell’s Kitchen Green Summit was held in Hell’s Kitchen Park, 554, West 53rd Street on March 14th of this year.  This is another opportunity for Hell’s Kitchen gardeners to get together and plan for a greener future. (web page below).

(https://theparkclinton.files.wordpress.com/2015/03/unnamed.jpg?w=232&h=300)

Alice’s Garden is probably the most near and dear to my heart.  It’s a difficult to find but once you locate it, it’s well worth it.  Who would expect a lovely greenspace right next to all the noise and pollution belching out of the traffic from the Port Authority?  (I am trying to get in touch with Shanti Nagel, director of the community cultivation).  Since Alice Pareskian’s death in 2010, this park has been well-maintained by volunteers.  I would like to meet with some of them and learn more.  On the day I visited I was unable to enter because the gate was locked.  It’s just a front to back strip of land next to a Fed Ex facility which would otherwise just have been an unsightly empty lot strewn with debris.  Hell’s Kitchen doesn’t need one more of these, for sure!  YAI, an organization for developmentally and intellectually disabled persons, partners with the volunteers and has been helpful with picking up the trash.

Juan Alonso Park Community Garden, located on 51st and 11th is the northernmost key park hear in Hell’s Kitchen.  This park stretches along side of a CHDC affordable housing development and one of the paths leads into the development.  An extension is in the works near the Irish Arts Center and this should make it open to the public – no keys necessary.

Teresa’s Park is yet another park that leases its land from the Port Authority, is situated on 39th Street west of 9th Avenue.  It was first developed in the 1990s by Teresa Mattia, who lives across the street.  Here there is a picnic table which makes it appear more like a private backyard garden.

These parks are jewels in the middle of a very rough environment.  Many (key holders) people come at lunchtime to relax and eat lunch since there are no large parks in the area.  With lunch breaks being a limited amount of time, there’s no time to travel by bus or subway to a huge city oasis like Central Park.

According to the article “Your $2 Trip to an Urban Oasis,” more keys to the community gardens are going to become available.

Street gardens involve over 3,000 square feet of plantings.  The tree beds not only contain trees but many shrubs, perennials and bulbs.

On a more somber note, my beautiful “weed” – he might have been called buckthorn by his family – was cut down in his prime.  The owners of the parking lot on 43rd Street thought that his stately eight foot plus presence was an eyesore so they cut him down – didn’t remove the roots.  He’ll be back, I’m sure!

Jean S.

References

Astro’s Dog Run “Pups and their people kick-off 2013-2014 season at Astro’s HKN Dog Run Community” – Astro’s Dog Run Team 14 June 2013

Chelsea Now, “Your $2 Trip to an Urban Oasis:  Key Parks of Hell’s Kitchen, 28 August 2014

Clinton Community Garden – About – http://clintongarden.org/about/history-2/

Cultivate HKNY – Community Projects & Partners – http://www.cultivatehkny.org/#!community-projefts/c1iob

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