Every year, ioby awards the Heroes In Our Backyards awards to those ioby project leaders that exemplify the ioby spirit of community activism. ioby Heroes In Our Backyards are hyper-local, community-based, entrepreneurial and tireless. In 2012, we awarded three groups with this award around the key tool for revitalizing urban centers: reimagining vacant space. The Heroes are Urban Patch in the Fall Creek-Mapleton neighborhood on the north side of Indianapolis, the People’s Garden in Cypress Hills, Brooklyn, NY, and the movement of leaders who have activated vacant lots throughout NYC with the support of 596 Acres including the 462 Halsey Street Community Garden, Java Street Garden Collaborative, Myrtle Village Green, One Kin Farm, and A Small Green Patch. Thanks to Good Eye Video for producing this beautiful video.
For more than two decades, 143 Stockholm, an NYPD-owned vacant lot, was a neighborhood dumping ground and an ideal growing site for Ailanthus altissima, foul-smelling trees infamous for thriving in urban wastelands. Laying in between boarded up buildings, the 5,000 square feet lot is located in Bushwick, Brooklyn, a largely Latino community where access to fresh food is limited. Recently, local artists have taken a keen interest in the space and are negotiating a four-year lease with the NYPD to turn the decaying lot into a flourishing community garden and green arts space.
Kaitlin Crowley, 24, after serving an apprenticeship with a CSA farm in New Jersey, was looking for a vacant lot to turn into an a community garden in Bushwick. It did not take long for her to realize that contacting the owners of vacant lots would be a challenge. “Many [vacant lots] were privately owned so there was a lot of confusion,” explains Crowley. Luckily, a legal advocate friend of hers referred her to 596 Acres, a public education project aimed at providing information and legal assistance about accessing Brooklyn’s publicly-owned vacant properties. 596 Acres’ interactive online map of city-owned vacant lots and lots that have been reclaimed by the community, brought her to 143 Stockholm.
Around the same time, Kim Holleman, 38, the artist behind Trailer Park: A Mobile Public Park—a portable public park housed inside an 18’x8’x7′ mobile repurposed travel trailer—was looking for a site to permanently park her socially and ecologically-minded creation. Since 2006 the portable park has been traveling throughout the streets of New York City, providing curious passersby with a green space to enjoy in their neighborhood. Holleman was interested in parking her living sculpture in a community garden located in Bushwick, where she has been a resident for 13-years and has an art studio. A quick zip code search via 596acres.org resulted in her joining forces with Crowley to revitalize 143 Stockholm.
The site has been named Xquizit Greens, a name derived from a car repair shop in Bed-Stuy called Xquizit Motors, which Crowley happened to pass by. “Xquizit Greens says to us that this is a spot where something beautiful and unexpected happens,” Crowley explains. With the neighborhood suffering from one of the highest levels of poverty and diabetes in the city and limited fresh and healthy food options, Crowley hopes that Xquizit Greens can provide a local food source and encourage healthy eating in Bushwick. She plans to promote purchasing seeds with food stamps through the SNAP program and have individual parcels along with communal beds.
In addition to the community garden, a green arts space will also take place at Xquizit Greens, with Kim Holleman’s trailer leading the way. Both Holleman and Crowley are anticipating to host workshops that include topics such as composting, seed saving, canning, jam-making and hot-sauce making at Kim’s trailer.
The Xquizit Greens team started cleaning up the lot on January 29 and have been meeting every Sunday since. Curious neighbors, including Ben Bois, an urban agriculturist, and Kate Mitchell, a native plants gardener, eagerly got involved in the project. Crowley says she feels lucky to be “working with talented, driven and passionate people.” A number of contractors and construction workers have volunteered to build stuff for the lot. “It feels great to make something happen with them,” she adds.
Crowley, who is also a Buying Manager for the Bushwick Co-op, is currently working on building partnerships with local businesses in order to use bike trailers to collect raw food scraps and compost them along with kitchen and yard waste from local residents. With a newly built 3-bin compost system, Xquizit Greens expects to begin the community compost program this May. “Composting is a priority for now… something we can all contribute together,” says Crowley.
Once enough soil is laid, Crowley would like to plant an edible fruit tree in the back of the lot—specifically, a Hardy Kiwi Tree from Mongolia. If all goes as planned, we will witness the demise of Ailanthus altissima, and the rise of edible trees in the 143 Stockholm lot–something truly “xquizit,” indeed.
Xquizit Greens will be tabling with the Bushwick Food Coop at the Ridgewood & Bushwick Flea Market at the Onderdonk House (1820 Flushing Ave. Ridgewood, Queens), on Saturday, April 28th (rain date: 4/29). Stop by their table to learn how to get involved in their current composting project or click here to sign up and help Xquizit Greens meet their fundraising goal.