On most mornings, Valeria Cantero can be found in her garden, planting, trimming, watering, weeding and harvesting. The food she grows nourishes her family in Mott Haven.
Cantero, her daughter Esperanza, and another dozen and half families labor on small plots in a city park, Brook Park on Brook Avenue and East 141st Street. Joining them are youngsters from local schools, who take part in a “Youth Farm” sponsored by Aspira. The park’s gardening programs provide fresh, healthy food not only for the families that till the soil but for local churches and soup kitchens.
The story of Brook Park’s urban farming program is told in The Express’s sister newspaper, the Mott Haven Herald. By any reckoning, it is a success. So why does the Parks Department want to crush hope for a similar effort in Longwood?
For two years, the Parks Department has been sitting on $1.5 million in taxpayer funds, appropriated by former Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion Jr. and Councilmember Maria del Carmen Arroyo to fix up the Fox Playground on Fox Street and East 156th Street.
Lord knows it needs it.
The basketball court is functional, but worn and shabby. Next door to the paved playground is a scruffy patch of grass and weeds, good for nothing at all.
Until Tanya Fields noticed it.
When the veteran community activist looked at the neglected patch of ground, she saw her neighbors working together to grow tomatoes and peppers and beans and herbs. She saw flowers brightening the street.
And since the city wasn’t doing anything with the land, she enlisted some helpers, hauled out some spades and rakes and seedlings and set to work.
Fields hoped to get the attention of the Parks Department, and persuade it to include the space she calls Libertad Urban Farm in its long-stalled plans for Fox Street. She got attention alright: two months after the planting began and two days after a block party to raise awareness and money for the community garden, the Parks Department declared that it was about to start work on the playground, and it didn’t need any pesky people who actually live nearby to tell them how to do it.
The Parks Department could see momentum building for the urban farm plan. At the block party, Councilmember Arroyo endorsed the idea and Deputy Bronx Borough President Aurelia Greene gave it weight through her presence. Community Board 2 was set to vote on a letter of support until the Parks Department’s sudden announcement that it was ready to go to work.
Clearly, the Parks Department is ticked off because Fields didn’t go through channels. But spite is no reason to refuse to consider a good idea.
The contractors have showed her the plans for Fox Street, Fields said, and they leave most of the area she hopes to plant untouched. Why grow weeds when neighborhood people can grow food and flowers?
Raymond Figueroa, Aspira’s Youth Farm Coordinator, says of Brook Park that its gardeners are “planting social responsibility while planting seeds.” That could become true for Fox Playground as well.
Current plans don’t call for most of the grassy lot to be renovated, so why not give the community garden a try? It would be a welcome addition to Fox Street.