The Weeksville Willow Is No More

The Fateful Day: May 18th 2018, the Willow Comes Down

The last day of life for this 80 year old survivor, a stable reminder of the past through out decades of change for the African American community of Weeksville was Friday, May 18 2018.   The human who cut it down claims to own its home, nominally called 87 Schenectady Avenue by the City of New York.

Our Day In Court

About a dozen garden members had been in court a day early in a futile effort to block the destruction.   The judge threw out our case, a “show cause” order, because we had failed to serve the owner with a “summons and complaint”.  It all seemed like the owner, his lawyer and the judge knew the outcome ahead of time.  We never got a chance to show the judge the beautifully enlarged photos of the tree we had brought to court.

The Weeksville Willow’s demise was as quick as its life was long.   At about 10:30 AM,  an armada of men and machinery arrived at the site.   Among the assembled monsters were a boom truck. a wood chipper, two dumpsters and an especially vicious device designed to cut up the roots of the tree.   The owner apparently knew that willows will keep driving up new trees from their roots for months after the tree is cut down, so he clearly meant to eliminate that possibility.

Our Willow is No Match for Mechanized Might

The crew of about a dozen workers descended on the sleeping giant armed with ropes and chainsaws.   They began disassembling the 80 foot tall willow that had been a beacon of hope for decades for Weeksville, once an independent community of African Americans.   Piece by piece, two men, one with a chain saw, cut limbs off the willow and lowered to other men waiting on the ground.  They in turn hauled the pieces off to a wood chipper which chewed the limbs up and spat them out into a waiting dumpster.  Sections of the trunk too large for the chipper were dropped directly into another dumpster by the boom operator.  Meanwhile more men steered traffic away from the work and closed off the sidewalk lest anyone want to get to close to the destruction.  Local residents reacted with sadness and anger to see the willow coming down.

By 2:30 PM, the willow was only a memory.   I sense even the workmen had some idea of the travesty they were engaged in.  The tree expert told us the willow was rotten from within and would have fallen within a year or two.  They gave us the chipped remains for our garden as mulch.   From ashes to ashes, chips to chips.   They are now helping build up the soil of our remaining garden.  Still in service to our community.  As always.   Long live the Weeksville Willow!

Saddest of all: the lot remains empty!

The saddest thing of all is that now, fully seven months after the willow ceased to exist, its former home is still an empty lot.  The owner, once so eager to build, seems to have had a change of mind or lacks the funds to proceed.  Was all of this haste necessary?  How much longer will this once thriving garden remain a forlorn and empty lot.

A boom truck hauls away some of the last limbs.


A willow limb goes into the dumpster

A few leaves to remember you by.

A neighbor weighs in.

It was a good fight.

A view from underneath the willow.

A view of the willow from Imani II.

When the Willow was a place to gather.

The Willow created a great space for youth in Weeksville.


What the garden site looked in January 2019


Save the Imani Willow Fundraiser A Great Success!

A fund raiser held on October 1st at the Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture raised over $5,000 to help save the Imani willow. On a beautiful sunny Sunday at this historic mansion on Prospect Park, scores of supporters gathered for music, a panel discussion and art auction. Sarah Taylor received a plaque honoring her legacy of hard work in support of the Weeksville Heritage Society and the Weeksville community. Here are a few photos from the event.

JC Joseph discusses history of Weeksville and the Imani Willow
Ngonda Badilla and her sisters perform ancestral Congolese songs
Herbs and tinctures from the Imani Garden provided by Alyssa Dennis
Panel discussion among  (from right)  Ede Fox, Keith Carr, Claudia Joseph and Greg Todd about how we preserve space for gardens
From left, William Keefer, Alyssa Dennis, Greg Todd, JC Joseph, Tania Cuevas and Pareesa Pourian in front of Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture
Greg Todd, Ede Fox and Mireille Lemaine
Keith Carr and Mireille Lemaine



Save Imani Willow Fundraiser Update

Pareesa Pourian Sketch of Historic Imani Weeping Willow


Buy a Ticket and Place An Ad in our Event Booklet

On October 1st, the Imani Gardeners will be hosting a fundraiser at the Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture at 2 PM.   The event will focus on our struggle to preserve our garden over the past year and celebrate 10 years of gardening at Imani.  Featured will be a video about Saving the Weeping Willow,  a talk about ways we can save land for the community in the future, an art auction, vegetables and medicinals from the garden, music and refreshments.  Tickets for the event will be $20 if you purchase in advance and $25 at the door.  To purchase your ticket click here.

If you can’t make the event and would still like to show your support, or you’d like to honor your favorite charity, to honor a relative or community member or just thank the Imani Gardeners for their work, consider placing an ad in our event booklet.

Ad rates are as follows:
Business card: $50  Up to 12 words
1/4 page: $75  Up to 25 words
1/2 page: $125  Up to 50 words
Full page: $200  Up to 100 words
Inside back cover: $400  Up to 100 words
Inside front cover: $400  Up to 100 words
Back cover: $500  Up to 100 words

Ad prices

After you’ve paid for your ad, send an email to “”, tell us the name on the credit card you used to pay, the size ad you purchased and what you’d like the ad to say, up to number of words allowed for your ad size.

Thanks for supporting Imani Garden and Saving the Weeping Willow.

BSEC is located at 53 Prospect Park West between 1st and 2nd Streets.

Press coverage of Imani Garden

Channel 12

Prospect Heights Patch

Imani Gardeners Kick off Campaign To Save the Weeping Willow

On July 17th, the owner of the middle lot at Imani I had threatened to install fences that would have cut the Imani Garden in two pieces.  In response, garden members called a press conference for 4 PM that day and invited the press to come and witness the destruction of our garden.

What happened instead is that, not only did the owner NOT put up the fences, he offered to sell his lot to anyone interested in buying it.  We are seeking purchasers interested in donating the lot to NYRP, the non-profit gardening group that owns the remaining 2/3’s of Imani Garden.  Warning!  This won’t be cheap, so only wealthy benefactors need apply.  Our estimate: somewhere in the vicinity of $500,000.   Think of who you know that could spare a half a million to help a struggling historic garden in Weeksville.  Read below for more information on Weeksville, NYC’s oldest independent African-American community.   Of course, any donation will be fully tax-deductible.

Continue reading “Save Imani Willow Fundraiser Update”


Press Release: Imani Garden To Be Cut Asunder Monday July 17th 4 PM

July 16th

For Immediate Release


Imani Garden, an historic community garden located in Weeksville, Brooklyn, the oldest independent African-American community in New York City, is about to be cut into two pieces. Like Solomon’s baby, this garden is being cut asunder by the neglect of City and State officials. Unlike the real mother in the Solomon baby saga, neither the City nor the State is stepping in to save the baby.

To witness this destruction, attend our Press Conference on Monday July 17th at 4 PM at 89 Schenectady Avenue, between Dean Street and Pacific Streets

On Monday, the owner of 89 Schenectady Avenue, a lot purchased as a result of the City’s tax lien sale, a lot once owned by a non-profit, will put up fences that will cut an NYRP-owned community garden into two pieces – and lead to the destruction of an iconic willow tree that has graced this low-income community for over 50 years.

Founded as Imani Garden – which means “faith” in Swahili and is the final day of Kwanzaa – by the nearby Our Lady of Charity RC Church, 89 Schenectady Avenue was the subject of a series of tax lien sales in the early 2000’s by the City of New York. This despite the fact that it was owned by a non-profit created by a member of the OLOC church. Under existing procedures, a non-profit has to file annual notices with the State to be removed from the City tax rolls. By placing the burden of proof on often under-funded non-profits, this City-State two step manages to create a vast reservoir of properties for the gaping maws of land speculators.

In the case of Imani, to collect what appears to be less than $15,000 in back taxes, the City created a situation where speculators stand to rake in as much $235,000 or more. Nice deal for them, raw deal for Weeksville.

For more information call Greg Todd at 718-496-5139 or email Also see our website.

30 –


Oppose the proposed recycling of Styrofoam in NYC

Beached whale with a recent meal of plastics from ocean.

It was with great pride that I was able to testify on behalf of Brooklyn Solid Waste Advisory Board (BSWAB) at a hearing on May 12th about proposed legislation (Intro 1480) that would declare Styrofoam (expanded polystyrene or EPS) to be recyclable in New York City. I have testified previously at other City Council hearings but this was by far the most lengthy and well-attended hearing I’ve attended. The attendees filled at least two over-flow rooms in addition to the main room that seated perhaps 50 people.

At least 15 industry experts testified in support of the legislation, including the chief recycling officer for Dart Industries, a billion dollar manufacturer of EPS, the owner of the PRI plant in Indiana that would recycle the dirty EPS from DSNY, an economist, a scientist, several plastics producers who use recycled polystyrene, the owner of the company from Mexico City that designed the recycling plant in Indiana and several others.

Opposing the legislation were the current and former Sanitation commissioners, the former head of DSNY’s Recycling program, Ron Gonan, Eric Goldstein from NRDC, a large collection of environmentalists including Riverkeepers and several kayaking and boating groups, NY Lawyers For The Public Interest, a resident of Los Angeles talking about LA’s negative experiences with recycling EPS and me.

Council members attending included CM’s Reynoso, Lander and Rosenthal, opposing, and Cabrera and Constantinides who supported. Lander in particular grilled the industry spokespersons, questioning the promise that the EPS would actually be recycled and wondering if this effort was not a desperate attempt by Dart to protect its sales. Rosenthal asked the owner of PRI if he’d be willing to donate his profits to the City of New York. Of course he claimed that he could not make that commitment. Cabrera, who supported the legislation, had in fact visited that PRI plant in Indiana and begged other CM’s also do so.  Reynoso said he was not interested in visiting the PRI plant because he disliked plastics and felt the City should move to less harmful materials.

I was in the 5th panel of testifiers, appearing after some 3 hours of testimony. By the time I spoke, much of what was in the BSWAB prepared statement had been covered many times. So I submitted 25 copies to the Council staff person and read instead from a report stating that by 2050, there will be more plastics than fish in the ocean, by weight. The report also states that less than 5% of the plastic packaging is actually recycled and that up to 1/3 ends up in the oceans. I felt this particularly important given than all of the industry testimony focused on the recyclability of EPS, yet none of it addressed the fact that 95% of plastic packaging is never reused.  I also pointed out, that unlike other materials such as paper, metal and glass, plastic never breaks down which is why so much accumulates in the oceans.  My testimony appears at the 3:01:49 mark in this video of the hearing.

In fact, CM Reynoso asked the scientist supporting EPS what the “half-life” of EPS was. The scientist said he had no idea, to which Reynoso responded “precisely”.

All in all, a great time was had by all and yet the outcome is still uncertain. Brad Lander after the hearing was over said he was pleased to see such a strong showing against EPS and felt we had slowed the considerable momentum the bill had been gathering.

We will see!

I would encourage you all to contact your NYC Council Member and ask they vote no on Intro #1480.

Greg Todd, Co-Director

Waste Not Permaculture



Help Imani Garden Grow!

Hard at work in Imani Garden

Now is the time for all good men and women to join the urban gardening movement! We at Imani are seeking 5 new members. Imani is actually two gardens located in the Weeksville section of Brooklyn. We offer, at a very low cost, all the vegetables you can harvest every week.  The annual fee is $25 fee, you’ll need to work two hours a week during the growing season, at hours of your choosing. We garden collectively (no private beds) and share in the harvest. We sell or donate our surplus to the community. We offer 13 raised beds, a greenhouse, a chicken coop, a solar-powered aquaponics system, water capture, a cob oven and lots more. We require a four week probationary period.  For more information or to apply for membership, email me at “”.
Continue reading “Help Imani Garden Grow!”


Will The Oil Glut Continue?


What if the current cheap oil is replaced with expensive oil?  Will what is happening now in Venezuela be happening in Brooklyn?  Will we be ready?  Will community gardens help ease the transition?

While we may be able to use wind and solar power to replace fossil fuels in our electrical grid, the transportation sector will prove much more difficult.   Forget about the Teslas, Leafs and Volts.  It’s moving freight, not people, that will be the problem.  Ships, airplanes and trucks are not going to be battery powered.  The numbers just don’t work.  And these are the backbones of modern industrialized society, the means by which we get our cheap imported food, cars, shoes, clothes, electronics and just about everything else we consume.

Read this analysis of what’s going on now in the oil industry.  It’s a long article but worth the read.  Thanks to Dan Miner for bringing this to my attention.


Talk on Selva Negra, Nicaraguan Permaculture Paradise

View of Selva Negra hotel in March 2016 Nicaragua

Come to the Brooklyn Permaculture Meetup Friday May 20th 2016 at 7:00 at the Brooklyn Commons, 388 Atlantic Avenue. We’ll be talking about Greg Todd’s visit to Selva Negra, a permaculture paradise in northern Nicaragua and Andrew’s upcoming Permaculture Design Course.

Hugel culture applied to Selva Negra coffee field
Seaweed being raked out of pond at Selva Negra for use as fertilizer







Source: green-phoenix-rss


Why Doesn’t Comptroller Stringer Do His Job?

Rally in front of City Hall to save gardens threatened by HPD

In a recent New York Times article,  New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer “discovers” that the City’s Department of Housing Presevation and Development (HPD) has allowed large parcels of land to sit idle for decades while the City suffers through the worst affordable housing crisis in its history.  Why hasn’t HPD developed housing on these sites the AG wonders.   HPD posits many reasons including lack of appropriate infrastructure, inaccessibility and lack of funds.
Yet while the Comptroller so sanctimoniously pillories HPD, the Department of Finance which he has a statutory mandate to oversee, continues selling City tax liens on vacant land to wealthy investors, folks speculating in one of the hottest real estate markets in the country.  Is there any wonder why the City has no land for developing affordable housing when it no longer takes property for delinquent taxes, as it did up until 1996 when Guiliani began the tax lien sale program?  Since 1996,  the number of City owned lots has shriveled.  Now the City is forced to look at remote and unattractive development sites because it has nothing else left.
Of course, among the parcels sold to investors was 89 Schenectady Avenue, the middle lot of Imani I garden.  (the two side lots are owned by New York Restoration Project, the garden group founded in the late 90’s by Bette Middler).  Previously this lot had been owned by a church affiliated non-profit.  Because the non-profit, located in Weeksville, the 2nd oldest independent African-American community on the East Coast, failed to file the necessary paperwork, the City began taxing the lot, even though the owner was technically tax exempt.  Why is it that the City puts the burden of filing paperwork on the least advantaged, while allowing the most advantaged to reap the benefit?  Is this part of the systemic racism that causes areas like Weeksville to be filled with tax foreclosed properties and now makes them a hotbed of real estate speculation?
This is the story that the Comptroller should be looking into, not HPD’s failure to develop random lots in fringe neighborhoods.
When will Stringer begin doing his job, the job we the people elected him to do?


Willow at Imani in mid-summer.
Diverse community residents sitting at picnic table in Imani I