Board and management back off support of cooperative garden

Cooperators who established the garden last year behind building 1 — with the approval of the board of directors and support of management and maintenance staff — have been awaiting word of whether raised beds could be installed this year to improve the quality and safety of the soil for plantings.

Mary Jo Burke, who has helped coordinate communication with gardeners and solicited the soil test done last year, has shared with all gardeners an email exchange she had recently with Shulie Wollman in the management office that showcases the resistence the board and management have shown in contuing support of the garden.

From Mary Jo Burke to Shulie Wollman, 6.13.13

Hi Shulie,
The Board of Directors have not taken action yet on the proposal for raised beds for the community garden. It may be on the agenda for the next meeting.

Because it is almost the middle of June, I am wondering if we can get approval from management to garden this year without the raised beds – same as last year but no fruits or vegetables. Please let me know one way or the other.

Mary Jo Burke

From Shulie to Mary Jo, 6.13.13


Mary Jo,

The Board of Directors did discuss the community gardens at its last meeting and was about to take action when Jim Keenan who raised the issue casually informed the board that members of the garden committee had done a soil sample and had found some disturbing results including lead in the soil. The Board, worried about the safety of our children and cooperators using the garden, expressed shock and dismay that this was the first they were hearing of this soil test. Jim was asked if he had a copy of the report for management and the Board to see and was asked when the sample was taken. Jim said he did not have the report and didn’t know when it was taken. Your name and Lee’s name were mentioned as people involved in this testing or the people who asked him to raise the funding issue. Members also asked why these test results or even the fact that a soil test was done, which again could affect the health of our children, were never mentioned by Lee when he served on the Board assuming they were taken earlier. Jim said he did not know. Board Members grew very concerned as their first thought was that the soil test was possibly taken recently and any unusual results could be due to the aftereffects of Hurricane Sandy and the East River overflowing, etc.. Jim was asked to get the report to Management as soon as possible and the Board and Management immediately agreed at a cost of thousands of dollars to hire a very reputable testing company to take soil samples from various locations. The safety of our children must always come first so now action could be taken on the garden at that meeting until we verify the conditions of the soil and our children are safe to dig in that soil. Incredibly, when the report was delivered to management it was clear to see that the soil samples were taken last June(2012) and the results, good or bad, were never shared with anyone including the parents of the children using the garden for a period of one year. Further, this testing or any safety concerns were never once mentioned by a then Member on the Board when the Board was asked by that member to allocate money to the Garden Committee this year. If the report showed no potential health issues then why did Jim bring it up to the Board and if it did show potential health issues to our children and cooperators then don’t you think it is almost criminal that the garden committee kept this report to themselves and never shared it with the Board and Management and I assume all or most of the parents. Our results are not back yet and no decision will be made until such test results are known and hopefully show the ground and soil are safe. I am sure you or Lee were told what happened at the last board meeting ( as someone asked Jim to raise the funding issue now that Lee is not serving on the Board and you write that you assume the matter might be coming up before the Board at its next meeting) regarding this safety matter so I am more than surprised that you again are asking about letting our children dig in soil before the testing results are known. Could you imagine the uproar if the Board or Management had taken soil samples a year ago and not shared them with the cooperators whose health and their children’s health could be affected by those results? We all know that would never happen as Management and the Board will and would never ever compromise on the safety of our cooperators.Our environmental and green record and thus our cooperator health record is second to none. But, Management and the Board’s good record still doesn’t explain the possibility of Garden Committee Leaders having certain knowledge and potentially putting our children at risk.

Whoever had such knowledge based on the facts presented to the Board and Management at the last meeting has a lot of soul searching and answers to give to this community. I truly pray that even the slightest concerns about the health and safety of our children were not put second or third behind coop politics, personal ambitions and past and possibly future elections.


From Mary Jo to Shulie, 6.18.13.

[Attachment: 2012 soil test results]

Dear Shulie,

Thank you for your response to my email. I would like to let you know happened last summer, from my perspective.

After we were given the go-ahead from the board and management, we held a lottery on Sunday May 20, 2012 to assign the garden plots. After this event, some people asked questions about the condition of the soil. We did not know the answer, so samples were taken and tested by the Environmental Sciences Analytical Center, Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Brooklyn College.

When we received the results, I sent an email to the people participating in the garden. I told them about the soil testing, attached the soil test results, and provided links to the Brooklyn College webpage about soil testing. I also included a link about how to read the test result numbers. A notice was also posted to the Cooperatively Yours website.

A common solution to concern about soil is to have raised beds with organic soil. This would allow full participation without any concerns about the soil.

Many people are interested in participating this year and are asking questions about the state of the garden and why nothing has happened this year. I will share your email with them to let them know what is happening.

Thank you very much,
Mary Jo Burke