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

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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

 

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Is Cover Cropping Going Mainstream?

Cover crop in commercial farm

I was astonished to find, in the Business Section of all places, a story about cover cropping in the NY Times today.  Just as permaculturists and organic farmers have known for decades, monocrop farmers are now discovering that cover crops increase yield, improve soil health and reduce loss of topsoil.  The article recounts how the Anson family, and Doug Anson in partiucular, attended an unspecified “seminar” (was it a permaculture talk?!?!) about cover cropping and returned home with “his hair on fire”.  Sound familiar, those of you who have attended a permaculture talk?
He insisted that the family plant at least a small percentage of their acreage with a cover crop that fall.  So in part to humor him and in part out of curiousity, his two brothers agreed to let him plant a cover crop on 1,200 acres, a fraction of the 20,000 acres on the “family farm”.   Incredibly, as predicted,  yields increased by 20-25 bushels per acre!   And less quantitatively but more satisfyingly, the soil felt better, less sandy more granular and lumpy, the way good soil should feel.
The article goes on to note that none other Monsanto is now investing in studies to determine if in fact cover cropping actually has the benefits its promoters say it has.
I’ll never forget one of the opening observations made by Geoff Lawton when I took his 72 hour permaculture in 2007 (sponsored by Green Phoenix Permaculture).  He stated that America’s number one export was not corn, soy or Boeing airliners, but rather top soil.  I’ve often repeated this quote in gatherings and it never fails to draw astonished looks.
Now it seems that commercial agriculture as reported in the Business Section of Americas newspaper of record, is beginning to feel the heat.
Will this new awareness trigger a revolution in agricultural practices?  And more interestingly how will Monsanto and other big ag companies figure out how to subvert cover cropping for their own fun and profit?   Let’s all pay careful attention over the months and years ahead.

Source: green-phoenix-rss

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Will You Let Herman Stark Commit Arborside?

 

Willow at Imani in mid-summer.

On September 18th, the City Register published the name of the gentleman who purchased 89 Schenectady Avenue, the middle of three lots that comprise Imani I Garden.  His name is Herman Stark and his address is listed as 199 Lee Avenue Suite 308 Brooklyn NY 11211.  He paid $365,000 for this single 20×100 lot.
As far we can tell, the only reason someone would spend $365,000 for a 2,000 square foot lot would be to build a residential building.  Of course building such a structure would entail cutting down one of the tallest and most beautiful weeping willow trees in Brooklyn.  Is this really what the community wants to happen?  Is it really that important that we have more unaffordable housing in a borough already rated as one of the least affordable in the United States?
Or would we rather have a community garden with a towering willow tree, surrounded by chickens, an aquaponics project, fruit trees and a cob oven?
Let your electeds know your preference.  Scott Stringer, the Comptroller, can be reached at 212-669-2156.  Robert Cornegy the local council member, can be reached at 212-788-7354.  Let them know you’d prefer a willow tree over a housing project!
On September 28th, garden members put up the sign you see in the photo.  We are asking for anyone who knows and cares for Imani Garden to send us an email telling of their experiences there and what they like most about the garden.  We’re asking that you send your comments to “saveimanitree@gmail.com”.  With your permission, we will publish your responses on this website.

Diverse community residents sitting at picnic table in Imani I
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Workshop on Fall Crops and Cover Cropping Oct. 17th

Guy D’Angelo, Wenting Chen plus one other in Imani II with hoop house

On Saturday October 17th at 1 PM, Guy D’Angelo, an organic farmer with 20 years experience growing on a 1/4 acre garden in Center Moriches Long Island, will be discussing fall crops and cover cropping at Imani II. Find out what plants you can grow in the fall in this zone and how to prepare your planting beds. Also learn about the advantages of putting a crop on your planting beds that will protect and enhance the soil over the winter. We will provide a demonstration of how to start your crop, how to cultivate and harvest it. Learn how you can extend the growing season even further with hoop houses over your growing beds.
Imani Garden II is located at 1680 Pacific Street in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn. It has 13 raised beds, a 350 gallon water storage tank and a year around polycarbonate greenhouse.
To get there by mass transit, take the A/C or 3/4 trains to Utica Avenue. Walk Utica to Pacific Street and then walk west to Schenectady Avenue. Imani is located at the corner of Schenectady and Pacific Street.

Source: green-phoenix-rss

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Is Imani Garden A Victim of Abuse or Fraud?

 

Willow at Imani in mid-summer.

According to the Comptroller’s website, his job is to be:”…responsible for providing an independent voice to safeguard the fiscal health of the City, root out waste, fraud and abuse in City government and ensure the effective performance of City agencies to achieve their goals of serving the needs of all New Yorkers. ”
Why is the amount of the liens on 89 Schenectady said to be $95,000 when the amount shown on the notice of intention to sell tax liens was only $1,844.20?

Why wasn’t NYRP notified of the liens, given that they own the adjacent lots at 87 and 91 Schenectady which together with 89 Schenectady form Imani Garden? Is the Comptroller aware that selling this lot will cut a community garden into two pieces, including the largest chicken coop in Brooklyn and destroy a 60 foot willow tree that’s the centerpiece of the garden?
Given that the owner of 89 Schenectady Ave is a non-profit shown as active by the Secretary of State, why does it owe real estate taxes in any case?
Aren’t these enough questions to prompt the Comptroller to “root out waste, fraud and abuse”, or at least stop the sale scheduled for August 3rd so the facts can be investigated?
Mia Hilton has been assigned to investigate this case by the Comptroller.  She called today to say they are reaching out to the Intergovernmental Affairs office to get some answers.  Watch this blog for more updates.

Group shot – pond Imani I
Chickens stripping old plants from bed in Imani I

 

 

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Must This Tree Die? Help Save Imani!

Ngonda and Ntangou Badilla with sign in Imani I – Imani II at risk

We just learned that, in a process still unclear to us, on June 18th, 89 Schenectady Avenue, the middle of three lots that comprise Imani I Garden, was sold to a private investor for the sum of $365,000.  In conducting a difficult referee sale, the community was overlooked and is now paying the price! Let us bring this great error to Comptroller Scott Stringer’s attention. Let him know that Crown Heights is who is suffering most from this dispute.  The other side lots in Imani are owned by the New York Restoration Project.  This sale goes forward on August 3rd.   Imani will be effectively cut into two pieces, and the 60 foot willow pictured above, an icon in Weeksville for a very long time, will be cut down.

Please ask Comptroller Scott Stringer to halt the closing.   Scott’s hot line number is 212-669-3916.  Tell him we need time to transfer the lot of NYRP where it should have been from the beginning.
Also contact Stephanie Zimmerman, Council member Robert Cornegy’s Chief of Staff at 718-919-0740 x 106.  Ask her to have the Council set aside money to reimburse the City for the liens on 89 Schenectady.
If you want more information about how you can help, send an email to imanigreg@gmail.com.
We are working on an on-line petition and Facebook page to address this injustice.  Stay tuned for further developments.

Green Guerilla youth in Imani I
Early Imani group photo 2007 with Rupert Poole, Alice Lo, Kate Key and Greg Todd

 

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Does NYC Sustainability Include Community Gardens?

Willow at Imani in mid-summer.

Since at least the Bloomberg administration, NYC has been aggressivlely trying to paint itself as being “green”.  The building codes are now requiring many green features and incentivising builders to add even more.  Builders get additional buildable square feet for adding water storage tanks on site and get tax credits for adding solar panels.  Bloomberg launched the “Million Tree” initialive and much progress has been made towards that goal.  PlanNYC initiated by Bloomberg and recently updated by DeBlasio calls for every NYer to be within a ten minute walk of green space.
Yet when the sustainability agenda collides that of real estate developers, guess who get thrown under the bus?  As you may already know, Imani Garden II at 1680 Pacfic Street, an established community garden with 13 raised beds, water storage system and greenhouse was put on a list along with 18 other gardens sent to developers as sites for “affordable” housing.
Now we learned that, in a process still unclear to us, on June 18th, 89 Schenectady Avenue, the middle of three lots that comprise Imani I Garden, was sold to a private investor for the sum of $365,000.  In conducting a difficult referee sale, the community was overlooked and is now paying the price! Let us bring this great error to Comptroller Scott Stringer’s attention. Let him know that Crown Heights is who is suffering most from this dispute.  The other side lots in Imani are owned by the New York Restoration Project.  If this sale goes forward on August 3rd, Imani will be effectively cut into two pieces, and the 60 foot willow pictured above, an icon in Weeksville for a very long time, will be cut down.

To allow time for our elected officials to save the tree and the lot, please ask Comptroller Scott Stringer to halt the closing.   Scott’s hot line number is 212-669-3916.  Ask him to stop the sale so that the erroneous liens can be rescinded.
Also contact Stephanie Zimmerman, Council member Robert Cornegy’s Chief of Staff at 718-919-0740 x 106.  Ask her to have the Council set aside money to reimburse the City for the sale price of 89 Schenectady.
If you want more information about how you can help, send an email to imanigreg@gmail.com.
We are working on an on-line petition and Facebook page to address this injustice.  Stay tuned for further developments.

Youth in Imani I garden
Diverse community residents sitting at picnic table in Imani I

 

 

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Compost Tea Workshop at Imani Garden April 18-19

Compost with worms in Imani II compost bin

What’s compost tea and how do you make it? Come find out on April 18 and 19 at Imani Garden! We’ll be brewing a batch on Saturday and applying it on Sunday t…o our garden beds. Many soil biologists including Dr. Elaine Ingham believe that compost tea is an excellent way to amplify the biological activity in your compost.  For a 10 minute video that explains how to make compost tea click here. We’ll also be doing some work to get the garden ready for spring, including bringing leaves from a nearby park in a wheelbarrow brigade and cleaning out our water storage tanks and fish ponds. Lots of fun. Bring some work gloves and if you have them, rubber gloves for cleaning the tanks and ponds. We’ll be providing some tasty vegetarian stew. Bring your favorite beverage and some hearty bread. See you there! Donation of $5 requested to cover material costs. Loving those worms in the compost pile at Imani!
Source: green-phoenix-rss

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Imani Under Threat of Demolition

Monica and Tawhid with kids working to clean up Imani II

When we discovered that the vacant lot near Imani I was actually owned by the people, we were overjoyed.  We’d been trying to garden at Imani I for several years but due to a large willow tree, the garden got little light.  By contrast, the vacant lot at 1680 Pacific was just a few feet from Imani I and had no trees at all!
We asked the elected officials who represent us if we could garden there and were initially told no because it was under the jurisdiction of Housing Preservation and Development.  But to our surprise, they offered us a license revokable at will, to use the lot for gardening.
Of course, our mistake was to accept this Faustian bargain, and sure enough just a few short years later, after we had invested over $5,000 in adding planting beds, a water storage tank and a beautiful greenhouse, our 60 plus past or present members are about to be evicted.  Why this lot was given to HPD, and not Parks, is a mystery.  It’s a small corner lot just 30 ‘ x 87 ‘, across from the Weeksville Houses, down the street from a large Sanitation garage and a block from the LIRR elevated train line.  It’s the only garden in a 20 block radius so if you want to garden in the area, we’re it.  It’s noisy and has been vacant for over 30 years.  If there was ever a house on the site, it was a long time ago, and it’s probably been vacant for good reasons.
But rather than fight City Hall, we took the bait and ran.
Now, we have no choice but to fight the decision to turn our garden into housing.  After a meeting of garden members last night, we will be producing a video featuring garden members and inviting local elementary schools to come by for a visit.  If you’e like to find out how you can help, send us an email at “imanigreg@gmail.com”.
The deadline for developers to respond to the City’s request for proposals is February 19th.  We have up until then to pursuade the City to remove our garden from the list.
Any help would be appreciated.

Planting seedlings during work day at Imani II greenhouse
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