New York Gardens Bring Free Programming to Local Communities

September 25, 2023

In 2022 and 2023, The Puffin Foundation supported several initiatives to bring free programming and events to community gardens in New York City, including educational workshops, art making, theater, and musical performances. 

Kelly Street Garden

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Kelly Street Garden brings healthy food and free programming to its local residents in the South Bronx. Through events such as yoga, Qi Gong, and cooking demos, the garden seeks to strengthen the health and  wellbeing of the community. 

The garden also offers the Garden Ambassador Program (GAP) which provides skill building opportunities for residents and awards stipends for the value they create. Ambassadors work from April until October on tasks including planting and managing projects.

Furthermore, the garden has established a free distribution network, providing fresh food for  community members residents and educating a path to better health. 

During the pandemic, the garden participated in emergency food distribution for an average of 200 families per week with fresh food — increasing its visibility as an important resource in the South Bronx. 

Communal Spaces

Communal Spaces is an annual festival of new, original plays written for and performed in community gardens throughout New York City. 

For the past ten years, theater artist Lillian Meredith has partnered with community gardens in different neighborhoods, commissioning playwrights, directors, and performance artists to create original plays for those spaces.

In 2023, the collaboration will continue with Moore Jackson Community Garden in Woodside, Queens, where the space will serve as the inspiration and performance venue for the entire festival.

Communal Spaces engages community organizations, schools, and garden members in the artmaking process, allowing them to help create the shows. In the past, this process has resulted in verbatim and interview-based plays, pieces built from writing workshops with community members, historical accounts of the area and its people, as well as student-led pieces. 

Communal Spaces is presented under the banner of The Motor Company, an unincorporated association dedicated to presenting free site-responsive theatrical work in New York. The performances will run from September 9 to 24 on Saturdays and Sundays at 2:30 p.m.

Ecological City – Art & Climate Solutions Actions Project

Ecological City applies the arts to build community engagement and action on climate solutions and ecological sustainability throughout a network of community gardens on New York City’s Lower East Side. 

Ecological City was launched in 2018 by Felicia Young, Founder/ Executive Director of Earth Celebrations, a non profit organization that seeks to engage communities to effect social and ecological change through the arts. 

Over a period of nine months, residents and over 50 partner organizations take part in building/design planning sessions and Climate Solutions Arts and Action Workshops, developing visual art and performance works. 

The collaboration culminates in a 6-hour procession with 20 site performances of dance, theater, and poetry throughout the community gardens, neighborhood, and waterfront.

Garden Stories

Garden Stories is a program which works with third graders from Community Workshop School in Campos Community Garden, teaching children how to plant, grow, harvest and eat healthy food. The project uses art as a medium to reinforce lessons learned from the environmental workshops. 

The program, produced by Art Loisaida Foundation, consists of workshops for each third grade class which involves planting seeds, the relationship between worms and bees to plants and the environment, an art workshop using materials from the garden, and a final exhibition which includes harvesting and preparing food for teachers and parents. Over the summer months, the vegetables planted by the children are donated to Trinity Lutheran Soup Kitchen. 

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