Tag Archives: garden

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Board fills in cooperative garden with concrete

Just in time for Memorial Day weekend, East River maintenance pulled out all the plantings in the cooperative garden behind building 1 and filled in a large section of the garden with a concrete slab.


Somehow this gorgeous rose bush survived the slaughter:

The garden was started five years ago with the board’s blessing; East River maintenance assisted in preparing the beds. A year later, the board backed away from their support, but cooperators continued to cultivate the area on their own initiative.

Those cooperators this week were given no warning of the landscaping changes, nor any reason for them. (A member of the maintenance crew pouring concrete told me that the snow plows needed the area for snow removal, though I’ve seen snow from the parking lot plowed onto the grass here for several years without any ill effect to the grass or garden.)

Compost donation arriving on Tuesday

Fall is a great time to apply compost to nutrient-depleted soil. Cooperator and gardener Dawn Fox has arranged to have Lower East Side Ecology Center donate a large amount of food scrap compost to replenish the cooperative garden.

The drop-off will be Tuesday, November 1 around 11:30 am by the garden behind building 1, near the Section C parking lot. Any gardeners who can help should bring gloves and tools. LESEC may have more compost than is needed for the garden, so you are invited to bring your own empty bag and take some soil home for your balcony garden or houseplants.

Any questions, please contact Dawn at ERyardsale@gmail.com.

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

Gardeners! Join Us on Thursday at 7pm in the Community Room

Not only is the growing season winding down, but we will soon lose weekday access to the courtyard between buildings 1 & 2 due to the ongoing building inspection and repair. So along with cleaning up the garden and preparing for the winter, we’d like to have an end-of-season meeting to share our experiences of this first season. While it’s all still fresh in our minds, we would like to hear ideas for improvement, complaints, and compliments so that we can plan properly for next year.

Please join us in the building 4 community room for an hour to share our stories this Thursday, October 4, at 7pm. Please come prepared to offer your honest assessment and hopes for the future.

If you can’t make that meeting, or would like to share your ideas before then, please head over to our online Garden Suggestion Box.

Thanks for all your work and support during this first season!

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.

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.