Last Thursday, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and the Department of Transportation (DOT) unveiled the “New Roots Gardens” on both sides of the 69th Street Bridge over the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway in Woodside.
The community gardens, which sit on DOT property, will be operated by IRC staff, thanks to a license agreement.
The spaces will feature up to 10 vegetable beds and diverse native plant gardens. The IRC and other volunteers will soon build raised beds, select flowers and perennials to support pollinators and plant a variety of local vegetables to distribute to the local community.
“By helping groups new groups of New Yorkers put down roots right here in Woodside on this bridge, it’s bringing a new dimension to adding public space next to public transit infrastructure,” said Queens DOT Commissioner Nicole Garcia.
In addition to planting local vegetables, the IRC will also host educational workshops and activities for the public. The organization will also develop a curriculum for local students to learn about the green space.
The seed money, gardening supplies and other materials for the project were funded by both the IRC and United Way’s Hunger Prevention and Nutrition Assistance Program.
“We want to be able to create a space where we can learn together,” said Kathleen McTigue, the IRC’s economic empowerment manager.
The New Roots Gardens project is part of the IRC’s Food and Agriculture Program, first established in 2011. The initiative allows IRC-assisted refugees and asylees to grow their own produce.
The IRC runs a similar program on a half-acre farm at Grand Concourse and 153rd Street in the Bronx.
“We’re really excited to bring our knowledge from that site to this site,” McTigue said.
According to Assemblyman Michael DenDekker, the land that was transformed into the community garden was once a community eyesore.
For several years, DenDekker and Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer’s offices were fielding calls from neighbors about illegal dumping on the bridge. After receiving numerous complaints, the elected officials would ask the Department of Sanitation (DSNY) to clean up the trash.
A few months later, garbage would accumulate again, DenDekker said.
Additionally, some of the debris would sometimes blow over onto the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (BQE), causing a hazard to vehicles.
“We have taken something that was a plight to the community, something that was not good, and turned it into something that will be so beneficial,” he said. “Bringing a farm-like atmosphere to Woodside is something we desperately need.”
“I think this is the best case scenario you could ever ask for,” DenDekker added. “I think it’s going to be a fantastic asset to Woodside.”
Denise Keehan-Smith, chair of Community Board 2, called the community gardens a “no-brainer.” The board voted to approve the gardens last year.
Board members conducted visits to the plot of land last year. Keehan-Smith said she spoke with neighbors who live on the block as well.
“They were absolutely thrilled that we were going to do something productive and positive,” she said.