M'Finda Kalunga Community Garden


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M'Finda Kalunga Community Garden

  1. 1. Reporters’ book A guide for design- based ethnographic research M’Finda Kalunga Community Garden
  2. 2. 1.1 Description What do they do? (Description of service idea, e.g. a community garden, a food coop, etc). What are the demands/problems this initiative responds to? What is the aim of the initiative? What happens and how does it happens? What benefits does it bring to the neighborhood? M’Finda Kalunga is a community garden that provides individual plots, community events, children’s activities, classes and composting to the public in Manhattan’s Lower East side. Its’ members often describe the garden as being a “communal backyard”, which emphasizes how its primary purpose is for the members to work together to maintain the space for the community’s enjoyment. The garden operates under the time and commitment of its’ members, without this it could not exist. It receives much of its funding from member dues, GreenThumb donations and grants which help the garden fulfill its’ aim of continuing to be an integral part of the community. The garden members focus on ensuring that the public has an opportunity to come visit and participate because the garden does not belong to its’ members but to the public. The garden benefits the neighborhood by offering free classes that educate the public on garden related subjects and by hosting events to celebrate various cultural holidays to make the various ethnic groups in the community feel comfortable and welcome in the community.
  3. 3. 1.2 Context What is this neighborhood like? How was it before this new solution took place? Prior to the creation of the M’Finda Kalunga garden in the 1980s, which is located in the lower east side, the area suffered from a lack of affordable housing and drug problems. The garden was created to bring the people in that area together and give them a common goal and sense of community. When the garden was first created, used drug needles and broken bottles were often found in the soil, which meant that the gardeners had to be very safe when putting their hands in the soil. While the neighborhood still remains to be very diverse with several different ethnicities and nationalities calling it home, it has begun to become increasingly gentrified in the recent past, which has resulted in an increased interest of newcomers desiring to participate with the garden. While this has had several positive effects, it has also created underlying power struggles between the older, more experienced gardeners who have been there a long time and the newcomers – often younger, wealthier families – who do not know much about gardening but like the idea of having a garden, yet do not participate often due to their more hectic and less dedicated schedules. This causes issues primarily with regard to the limited number of plots available in the garden. Yet due to this gentrification and the creation of spaces such as the garden that provide safe, desirable places to be in the community such drug problems have largely disappeared, and as a result the community is much safer than before. Strong evidence of this is seen in the significant number of older, discount stores that are increasingly disappearing and being replaced by new, pricey boutiques.
  4. 4. 1.3 History of the initiative How did the project/initiative start? Who took the initiative? Why? Can you describe a timeline of events, highlighting success and failure aspects, major milestones? How far can you go back? How did this initiative mature? How did it turn to be a real enterprise? (registered, formalized etc.) Did it receive public or private support of any kind? Did it help change the public or policy structure? The M’Finda Kalunga garden was started in the early 1980s by the Roosevelt Park Community coalition. As previously mentioned, there was a huge drug problem in the area at that time and the land that the garden occupies was not being used for any purpose, other than as a place where drugs were frequently sold and used. The coalition decided to ‘take the park back’ and make it a supportive place within the community. Part of the coalition was the Bowery Residence Committee, who came in and acquired the building that is next to the garden and turned it into a senior center; however they had little interest in maintaining the garden so other members of the coalition took it over and it became a community garden. Organizations in the community such as the University Settlement House and second language groups came and began to work in the garden to help maintain it as well as individuals from the community who came and joined the initiative. The name M’Finda Kalunga means “garden at the edge of the other side of the world.” It was named this in commemoration of the African American burial ground that used to be located on Chrystie Street between Livington and Stanton, but was moved in 1853 in order to be built over. The garden is dedicated to those that were buried there. It eventually became a member of GreenThumb and the Parks service, both of which have provided support and some sense of stability for the garden.
  5. 5. 1.4 Main actors Who are the users of this initiative? Who are the promoters of this initiative? Is there a difference between users and promoters or are they basically the same? Describe users and promoters lifestyles? Do the users work as a group or groups? Is there a network of related organizations and/or individuals? Do they have any form of connection or exchange with other similar initiatives? Was the group inspired by other examples? Do you know counter examples, (of service ideas that did not take-off), cases that went wrong? The users of the M’Finda Kalunga community garden are comprised of fmembers and volunteers of the garden as well as any visitors that stop by to come in from the community and participate in events that the garden holds. The promoters of the initiative are the members of the garden. Both users and promoters are largely families and groups of individuals who have been living in the community for a long time; however, visitors of the garden come from a wider variety of places, many often being tourists. There are two Co-Chairs of the garden who are largely responsible for communicating with GreenThumb, the Parks service, Partnership for parks and other groups, in addition to one Co-Head Gardener - all of whom are the primary promoters of the group. Full members are key-holders to the garden who pay a due of twenty dollars a year and assist in at least one community event a year, whereas ‘friends of the garden’ are those who are undergoing an apprenticeship to become a full member. Other users include regular volunteers who are not full members and visitors to the garden. Many of the individual plots in the garden are run by small groups of people. One such group that now owns a plot met because they were each pregnant at the same time and had been going to the same yoga class. They all wanted to join the garden so their children would be able to be a part of that environment. Another group that owns a plot in the garden is from the nearby Rivington hospital. The hospital in turn provides the gardener’s with any first-aid supplies that one might need and gives other members access to their restrooms.
  6. 6. 1.5. Technologies What are the technologies that the group uses? How are they used in system? Perhaps the most important technology the garden uses is its’ locked gate, which is there to protect the senior citizens who use the garden during the week. During the weekend, members volunteer to watch the garden and open the gate to allow for visitors to come in and explore the garden or go to any events at the garden. Other technologies used by the group primarily include standard gardening tools, such as rakes, shovels, hoes, etc, which are kept in a shed at the garden for members to use. There is also a large composting facility where leaves and other greenery are piled and get turned regularly. The garden has a vegetable compost as well, but it is not open to everyone due to the number of rodents in the area, which the gardeners do not want to attract to the garden. After the vegetable compost is cooked, it gets added to the leaf compost and used for fertilizer in the garden. In addition, there is a chicken coop located in the garden that is used to house a few chickens that were given to the garden by another garden that was unable to keep them. The chickens have primarily served as a sort of attraction for the garden, as they often bring many curious people into see them - particularly young children and their parents.
  7. 7. 1.6. Communication What communication materials do the group have? (e.g. website, brochures, postcards, etc). What is the main purpose of these materials? e.g. to keep participants updated about activities (internal communication) or to get more participants (external communication)? Does the group want to have more participants? The garden has a very informative website that provides a history of the garden and information about its’ upcoming events. The outside community is encouraged to come and get involved with these events. The website also provides free resources on gardening and links to similar initiatives. In addition, there is a private sector of the website that may be accessed by members of the garden only. At the garden there is an informative plaque located next to the entrance, which gives curious visitors and those walking by a short history of the garden. The primary purpose of these materials is to educate, encourage and provide resources to those in the community who are interested in gardening in general or looking to become involved with M’Finda Kalunga, as well as to communicate amongst the members already involved with the initiative. While M’Finda Kalunga invites the outside community into the garden by holding events, classes and opening the garden on the weekends so the public may walk through and marvel at its beauty, the garden is not currently seeking additional full time members who want their own plots, as there are no free plots available and to get one, one must do an apprenticeship for usually about a year before receiving it. The garden is, however, always looking for additional volunteers to look over the garden, which currently is only open ten hours a week, as that is the minimum requirement set by GreenThumb. If the garden had more volunteers it would be able to be open to the public more hours per week.
  8. 8. 1.7. Perspective for the future What are the perspective/objectives of the group for the next 3-5 years? What are some of the success factors and possible risks in the short medium and long term? The primary objective of the garden for the next few years is to continue to be a valuable part of the community. The garden is looking for additional volunteers so that it can keep the gate open to the public for longer hours. Some members have expressed an interest in looking for ways to begin growing food in the garden as well as starting additional new projects like bee keeping. Undoubtedly, the community surrounding the garden will continue to change due to gentrification and some members have expressed a concern that they may be forced to move because of rising rents. The garden will have to learn to adapt to the changing community and find ways to make sure that it remains to be an integral part of the community as its primary purpose is to offer a valued space to the public.
  9. 9. 1.8. Problems and opportunities Are there any specific issues/problems/barriers that pose threats to the initiative? Are there any main areas of concern among the participants (leaders and users alike)? Are there any opportunities that could be explored (that are currently not explored)? Members of the M’Finda Kalunga community garden are aware that they do not own the land and that consequently it could be taken away from them at any time, but do believe that the garden is fairly well protected from this because it is located on park land, inside of the larger Sarah D. Roosevelt park. Some members have expressed concern regarding the continued gentrification of the community, which, as previously mentioned, threatens to push some of those older members out of the community due to high rents. In addition, many have commented on how it is often difficult to get things done because of the members’ differing opinions and beliefs about what should or should not be done. New suggestions always seem to be controversial among the group and take a long time to implement. An additional concern, which is one reason the gate is kept locked when members are not around, is the possibility of homeless members in the community coming to live in the garden. The soil quality and large population of rodents present primary barriers preventing garden members from growing food in the garden, perhaps there are possible opportunities here for how to fix these threats so that members can safely and effectively begin to grow produce.
  10. 10. 1.9. Indications of other social innovation Do the users participate in other entrepreneurial endeavors? Do they form small initiatives on their own? Are members involved in other “sustainable” services within the community? (Ex. Food Co-op, carpooling, community gardens, etc)? Do you see evidence of wider networks that these users contribute to?   Members of the garden are primarily concerned with bringing people into the garden to enjoy it, however some members work with additional outside groups in conjunction with M’Finda Kalunga. Some members at the garden are involved with the Bowery Resident’s Committee that runs the senior center at the garden. Volunteers from the garden sometimes volunteer at the senior center as well to help teach English to immigrants. The seniors from the center use the garden during the week, which is why it is kept locked to protect them. Sometimes the events that the garden puts on will overlap with the senior center, and both entities will be involved in hosting the event. Other members of the garden are involved with the Lower East Side Ecology Center, particularly with regard to composting. M’Finda Kalunga conducts demonstrations on composting in conjunction with the Lower East Side Ecology Center. The Stanton Street CSA group and M’Finda Kalunga garden work together as well, with the garden hosting and promoting the CSA, which brings down produce from a farm upstate to sell to members in the community. The garden tries to celebrate several holidays related to different cultures in order to make all the different ethnic groups in the community feel comfortable and welcome. One such holiday the garden celebrates is “June-Teenth,” which is on June 19th and marks the day that the slaves in Texas found out about the emancipation proclamation, which wasn’t until a year after the proclamation had been instated.
  11. 11. 1.10. References Website of the initiative www.mkgarden.org Interviewee name and contact information Victoria Kurtz -------- Julie Larsen Hanson: Julielarsen@mac.com Robert Humber: 646-620-5260 Elizabeth Hubbard: j22192@msn.com Other References http://stantonstreetcsa.wordpress.com/ http://www.greenthumbnyc.org/ http://www.nycgovparks.org/
  12. 12. Quantitative Data Exercise How many members does the initiative have? How many are very active in the initiative? How does individual spaces compare with shared/group spaces? How many members are involved in other community-based services? (Food Co-op, activist orgs, clothes swapping, bike sharing, etc.) What is the size of the initiative in square footage?   The M’Finda Kalunga community garden is currently comprised of approximately fifty members, with about thirty of those being ‘very active.’ Most of the garden is divided up into individual plots, while some areas of the garden are reserved for group activities, such as composting demonstrations and public events. Many of these members are involved in other community-based services, such as the CSA. All full members of the garden are required to participate at some point in Parks Department sponsored clean up days. M’Finda Kalunga expands over nearly the entire block on Delancey St. between Forsyth and Chrystie Streets.