Do urban gardens attract rats?

When space for the new community garden was authorized last year, certain Board members insisted that vegetables not be planted in the garden for fear that rats would be attracted to the food. Cooperators who signed up for plots this spring were informed of the prohibition before they began to plant.

But Management has since received an email complaining that the nascent garden is indeed attracting pests, putting the project’s future at risk.

Board member Lee Berman has taken a lead role in supporting the garden, so Management forwarded the complaint to him. Lee, in turn, responded in some detail, and has given us permission to reprint his memo here:

The participants in the community garden have all been advised that the Board of Directors mandated that no vegetables are permitted.

I have been in the garden frequently since its inception and never once found a rat or any trace or indication of a rat being present. As a matter of fact, I placed three tomatoes on the ground as a test and found that after three days there was not one trace of a bite, gnaw marks or any other indication that they were consumed or approached by rats.

I consulted with Operation Green Thumb, the Parks Department, the Lower East Side Ecology Center and JB Pest Control about the possibility of a community garden attracting rats or being a harborage for rats or other vermin. Each indicated that as long as the area is well maintained, free of garbage and harborage, and not abutting foundation walls, that a community garden that has fruits or vegetables growing is no more an attractant than what was there before. As a matter of fact, various herbs and other plantings help deter rats and vermin. Rather, the consensus from these experts was that growing fruits or vegetables in our community garden poses no risk of attracting rats or vermin, or any harm from eating such items. Instead, the idea that any garden we put on our property will bring a swarm of rats stems from ignorance.

I would be happy to send you a variety of photographs I have taken as far back as two years ago, all the way to today, August 9, 2012, showing rat holes, rat harborages, vermin, garbage cans without lids, garbage can lids with giant chunks chewed out of them by squirrels, garbage strewn about our property, doors to compactor rooms that have gaps in them permitting rodents entry as well as rusted and broken dumpsters that all have and continue to pose an actual threat of rats to our community. Moreover, while I continue to see water bugs, mice and rats in and around our property, including outside the A and B sections, I have never seen rats in or near the current garden.

The overwhelming interest in a community garden, along with the amazing goodwill and sense of community that the garden has engendered indicates that there is a great desire by a vast majority of residents for not just a community garden, but a place where children and adults of all ages can grow flowers, herbs, fruits and vegetables, so that they can enjoy the process of planting, growing, caring for and ultimately picking and eating what they plant and grow. Seeing families in the garden with infants and toddlers gardening or touching the plants, brings to one not just a smile, but a feeling that something great is going on in our property. I look forward to meeting with you and the garden volunteers to discuss expanding the community garden to raised beds, with organic soil, not just in its current location, but a location to be determined on the north side of Grand Street too.

Thank you,
Lee Berman,
Member, East River Housing Corporation Board of Directors

Urban gardening is a growing movement, generally believed to promote both good soil and good health. As Lee indicates, respected organizations dispute the idea that a garden would attract rats, and ongoing pest control issues at the coop have many other well-documented causes. Pointing a finger at the new garden doesn’t make much sense.