Shatia Jackson, 26, born and raised in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, was sick and tired of looking at the vacant lot on her street. “The lot has been there as long as I can remember…over twenty years,” Jackson told ioby last week. So, in August 2011, when 596 Acres put up a sign on the fence enclosing the neglected lot on Halsey Street encouraging citizens to reclaim city-owned vacant space in Brooklyn, Jackson acted immediately. 596 Acres, a Brooklyn-based organization who raised money on ioby to print posters with the contact information of lot owners around vacant spaces in Brooklyn, quickly introduced Jackson to Kristen Bonardi Rapp, another member of the community interested in reclaiming the land. Both women appreciated the other’s passion for gardening, and with a two-heads-are-better-than-one mentality, they joined forces to secure the lot at 462 Halsey Street.
After a few months of paperwork and planning, 462 Halsey got its certification from New York City garden agency Green Thumb. On December 3rd 2011, the community garden hopefuls opened their gates to begin transforming the once-forgotten lot into an accessible neighborhood staple. Brooklyn Permaculture, a small group of urban farmers, teamed up with 462 Halsey volunteers to prepare the lot for use, share gardening techniques, and create a design plan for the garden-to-be. Since Jackson and Rapp started work on the lot, they have succeeded in raising over $3,000, and do not intend to stop there.
Bedford-Stuyvesant is one of New York City’s “food deserts,” defined as “an area in the United States with limited access to affordable and nutritious foods, particularly in a low-income area,” according to the USDA. Even if residents are able to make it to the grocery store, the healthier food options are often too expensive. Jackson and Rapp hope that 462 Halsey can provide their community healthy food options at no cost, and by doing so, Jackson explains fervently, “will give families the incentive to eat better and live healthier.”
For Jackson and her community, the 462 Halsey Community Garden will not only provide access to healthy food options, but also aims to serve as a community hub, planning to offer free yoga classes, seminars on healthy eating, and gardening classes for children. “We want to make it not only a garden in which you have a couple of members, we want to make everyone feel welcome…Even if you don’t know how to grow anything, you still have a place in this garden, you can still come to class, you can still do your morning stretches next to some beautiful flowers. We want it to be open and all encompassing,” says Jackson.
With the help of local residents, 596 acres, fully funding their project on ioby, a Love Your Block grant, and the invaluable assistance of Brooklyn Permaculture, 462 Halsey is preparing to open on April 1st of this year as a fully functioning garden. With a strong community support system, including local businesses and volunteers providing tools, compost, and time, 462 Halsey has been the picture of success. “Honestly, when you see that progress being made and you see that you have people starting a project that is meaningful and that is going to accomplish so much for a neighborhood that needs so much it keeps people coming back,” Jackson remarks of the garden’s inspired volunteers.Local residents are doing their part to help in order to have the garden ready for spring, gladly sacrificing weekends to collect compost and build raised beds.
Looking toward the future, Jackson hopes to see more people in the community come together for a common cause. “I want to see a bridge being built between people who are new residents to BedStuy and people who are longtime residents; people that have lived here their whole lives, third and fourth generation residents,” says Jackson. “You have to smart small; start where you can…If we don’t do it for ourselves, there’s no one who is going to do it for us.”
Members of the community have approached Jackson to applaud her efforts to improve her neighborhood. Jackson told ioby, “One man said to me, ‘From the bottom of my heart, I’m so happy that someone from here is doing this. I was starting to worry that the black youth don’t care anymore.’ It touched me to know that I gave someone hope and proof that the youth of today are active in making a change.” Jackson believes the garden will be a mainstay in her neighborhood. While the 462 Halsey community garden may be Jackson’s first project for her neighborhood, she knows it will not be her last.