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.

The ER Board Has a Newsletter?

This is new, right? News from the East River Board of Directors? Does this replace or supplement the occasional newsletters produced by the House Committee?

Well, more communication is always welcome. The Boardroom Beat has some facts and figures about the huge new boiler and promises, “Once the winter arrives, the Board will provide you with a financial update on the efficiency of the boiler when it is being used for steam as well as for hot water.”

The newsletter also recaps briefly the state of our courtyards during the Local Law 11 maintenance work, previews a rise in real estate taxes of almost $1 million, restates the new (very popular) no-smoking rules, and reminds cooperators that maintenance requests can now be submitted online.

Read it all below:

Construction begins on buildings 1 and 2

From Management:

TO: East River Housing Cooperators Buildings 1 & 2

FROM: Shulie Wollman

RE: Local Law 11 Project

PLEASE BE ADVISED, work on your buildings (1 & 2) detailing the Local Law 11 Project has begun. The park between these buildings will remain open until further notice. Cooperators are advised to keep their windows closed and shades drawn during the day when work is underway. Cooperators with terraces or balconies are asked to move any furniture or plants away from the railings on the exposed side.

We will continue to keep you updated as work proceeds.

Thank you for your understanding.

Do you have any good pictures of ongoing Local Law 11 work? Please share below.

Photo Released of Suspect in Muggings

Apropos of this summer’s Cooperative Question of the Month (“Do you feel safe in our neighborhood?“), the Lo-Down reports that the NYPD has released a photo of a man suspected in several muggings in East River Park and elsewhere.

The suspect is described as a black male in his 30s; he has a thin mustache and thin beard and was last seen wearing a gray hoody, gray pants and black sneakers.

If you have information about these crimes, call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-577-TIPS (8477).

Soil test results

We received soil test results last month from the Environmental Sciences Analytical Center at Brooklyn College and have finally gotten some information about what the results mean for our community garden.

You can see the lab report here. And you can read the Center’s guidelines for how to interpret the test results here.

So what does it all mean?

First of all, heavy metals are naturally-occurring elements, present in all soil. But in cities, the accumulation of heavy metals is more pronounced — primarily from car exhaust. After particles are released into the air, they always settle back down into the ground.

Second, ingesting heavy metals is to be avoided — especially for pregnant women and children (that’s why families need to be careful about chipped lead paint in their homes). Being exposed to too much of one metal can lead to health problems, but with some simple precaution it is unlikely you will be exposed to unhealthy levels.

One of our gardeners forwarded a link from the University of Minnesota with some very useful information about lead in urban gardens.

The results for the soil in our new garden show average levels of heavy metals for New York City. And the level of lead, even though average for the city, require some precautions. Because plants do not take up significant quantities of heavy metals, the real danger is ingesting the soil itself, so you should wear gloves when working in the garden, or wash your hands afterwards. Anything edible that you harvest should be washed thoroughly. (If you are particularly nervous about all these numbers, you will probably decide to not eat any root vegetables or leafy greens from the garden.)

Probably the best piece of advice is suitable for young children, whether they are in the garden or just sitting on a piece of earth anywhere in the city: don’t eat the dirt.

If our community garden is to grow and thrive with edible harvests we can all feel are safe, we should probably consider constructing raised beds next year filled with uncontaminated, organic soil. Such a project would of course require some work and money. A composting program for the garden would contribute to the health and maintenance of the soil. Gardeners who feel strongly about these issues should be ready to contribute to this effort, and lobby the Board of Directors for assistance.

Composting Program Draws Interest

There’s no cooperative composting program in the works — but maybe based on our results from last month’s cooperative question there should be. Seventy-eight percent of our respondents indicated interest in participating, while 22% said “No way.”

Hillman has had a successful composting program in their garden for several years, but there’s never been a major push to compost here at East River. Maybe after our garden establishes itself (and with these survey results as encouragement) more cooperators will start making plans to reduce our waste and cut down on some landscaping costs by starting a serious composting initiative?

Nice! Courtyard can stay open on weekends

Some ALL CAPS good news just emailed out —

JULY 2, 2012
TO: ALL COOPERATORS/ EAST RIVER HOUSING
FROM: LEONARD GREHER, PRESIDENT, BOARD OF DIRECTORS
RE: PARK REOPENED FOR SATURDAY AND SUNDAY

DEAR COOPERATORS,

WE HAVE GOOD NEWS.

THE BOARD OF DIRECTORS WOULD LIKE TO ANNOUNCE THAT MANAGEMENT HAS SUCCESSFULLY SECURED A VARIANCE FROM THE NEW YORK CITY DEPARTMENT OF BUILDINGS FOR THE PARK BETWEEN BUILDINGS 3 & 4 TO BE REOPENED ON WEEKENDS.

THE VARIANCE WILL BE FROM FRIDAY AT 8PM UNTIL SUNDAY AT MIDNIGHT EVERY WEEKEND UNTIL THE LOCAL LAW 11 CONTRACT IS COMPLETED.

ENJOY THE PARK!

Are you getting email alerts from Management? If not, you can sign up for them right here.

Report: Muggings in East River Park

From DNA Info:

A series of muggings in East River Park has contributed to a 13 percent increase in crime on the Lower East Side.

There have been 62 robberies this year on the Lower East Side, compared to about 50 at this time last year. There’s also been an increase in car theft, according to Capt. Peter Venice from the 7th Precinct.

At a community council meeting Wednesday, Venice encouraged residents to be alert, especially in the East River Park after dark.

“It is quiet over there,” he told a packed community council meeting. “It can get desolate at night.”
The latest of three muggings occurred on May 22nd with the other two happening earlier in the month. All took place between 9 p.m. and 12:30 a.m.

In each attack, the suspect was described as a 30- to 35-year-old man who wore a hooded sweatshirt, according to Venice.

The suspect either simulated having a gun or, on one occasion, showed a gun during the robbery before taking cash and valuables from victims.

In response to the crimes, the 7th Precinct has stepped up patrols in the park.

A “handful” of similar crimes have occurred north of East Houston Street in the park, which comes under the 9th Precinct’s command, Venice said.

What do you think? Are you ever in East River Park after dark?