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Preserving Open Spaces in Brooklyn and Queens

The Brooklyn Queens Land Trust is looking to fill 6 board member positions

A community of gardeners across Brooklyn and Queens needs your help.

Beginning in the 1960s and for many years to follow, hundreds of community gardens were started and maintained across New York City to provide local communities a natural food source and a means of preserving vital green space.

But during a period in the 1990s, these thriving gardens suddenly were being auctioned off by the City to real estate developers seeking open spaces to build.

So in 1999, hundreds of gardeners, joined by Attorney General Eliot Sptizer, filed a lawsuit to stop the planned auction of 112 community community gardens by former NYC Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.

The gardeners won, and in 2002, Mayor Bloomberg signed a deal negotiated with The Trust for Public Land (TPL) to pay $3 million to save 69 gardens as permanent open spaces. Also, Bette Midler paid $1.2 million and founded The Restoration Project to save the remaining gardens, altogether forming The Bronx Land Trust, The Manhattan Land Trust and The Brooklyn Queens Land Trust.

The Brooklyn Queens Land Trust (BQLT) was incorporated in 2004 as a non-profit to manage 34 gardens located in the neighborhoods of Bedford Stuyvesant, Boerum Hill, Bushwick, Clinton Hill, Crown Heights, East New York, Flatbush, Fort Greene, New Lots, Park Slope, Prospect Heights, and Williamsburg in Brooklyn; Queens gardens are in the neighborhoods of Cambria Heights, Corona, East Elmhurst and Jamaica.

These designated green spaces by law cannot be sold nor developed and provide a safe place where community members work together to grow vegetables and fruits and sometimes raise farm animals. They also are used as open space classrooms by local schools and meeting spaces for concerts, art exhibits and memorials.

"In our gardens, we have chickens, goats and other animals where kids from the local schools come and visit with these animals, learn how to garden and interact with the earth," said Demetrius Mills, BQLT president. "And so we are collaborating with NYC public schools so they can get more in touch with the feel of the earth and soil. We're trying to get them back in touch with the land."

"Also, so many of the people who started these gardens 40 years ago are still associated with them today. So it's important we maintain these gardens because, not only do they help the neighborhoods look more vibrant but when people walk by and see their longtime neighbors working in the garden, it gives people a sense of comfort and safety that there's always someone around, watching and taking care of their block."

BQLT is a membership-based organization where the gardeners act on behalf of their gardens in an official capacity either on the BQLT board or as voting members.

BQLT's sister land trusts in the Bronx and Manhattan are experiencing operational difficulties due to challenges in self-sustainability. But BQLT is thriving but can only continue to do so with an ongoing membership base and a continually refreshed board of directors. BQLT also is working with the Bronx and Manhattan branches to help rebuild their sustainability and is asking for the community to volunteer on to serve on its board.

"The way our bylaws are set up, board members only get a two-year term so that we're always bringing in new blood," said Mills. "You actually can get reelected for another year if the board grants you permission. But that's it."

Right now, there are six board positions that need to be filled, and the application is due February 15. To download a board member application go here

"Community gardens offer the community a place to gather, a place to network and grow fresh fruts and vegetables without the worry of chemicals," said Mills. "These gardens are in your communities. We fought to keep them open, but we need your support to keep them sustainable."

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