May 8, 2014 / Brooklyn news / Clinton Hill / Health, Mind & Body

Myrtle Village Green faces drought

Myrtle veggie patch on its way to becoming desert Village

The Brooklyn Paper
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A community space and garden in Clinton Hill is facing a springtime drought after the city shut off its water.

Advocates for Myrtle Village Green, which sits on lots owned by the city’s Department of Environmental Protection on Myrtle Avenue between Franklin and Kent avenues, is at loggerheads with the agency over getting its water back after it was shut off during the winter because of a leak. At the same time as the flow was cut off, the city notified the group that it could lose control of the space if it fails to banish animals, including a dog run, a chicken coop, and beehives. The dry spell has gardeners of all ages praying for rain.

“We really do hope that our water gets turned back on,” said McKenzie McLean, a sixth grader at the Brooklyn Urban Garden School in Windsor Terrace. “So we can freely water our plants and they can be happy.”

The spacious plot was an empty lot for decades and neighbors had been trying to get access to it for 20 years when the city finally relented in 2012, offering green thumbs a two-year, rent-free lease that expires this July. The dirt patch contains an access point for one of the city’s water mains, and is owned by the environmental protection agency. When gardeners took control of the property it had a working water source that an old contractor had left behind, but few signs of life. Volunteers have since transformed the place into a garden, outdoor classroom, and gathering place, but now the good will has run dry and the city is telling the group to clean up its act, or else.

“We want to make this garden work,” said a spokeswoman for the city’s Department of Environmental Protection. “But they have to be in compliance with regulations.”

McLean volunteers at the garden with her family, who used to live in the neighborhood but moved to Bedford-Stuyvesant. For them, the space is a place to spend time together.

“Last year, it was a great bonding experience for us,” said Tabitha McLean, McKenzie’s mother. “Usually on Saturdays and Sundays we’d all go together. And when people came to visit, we’d bring them to the garden to show them.”

Gardeners have already removed the chicken coop and beehives and closed the dog run in an effort to appease the bean counters who demanded it because the fauna violates the occupancy agreement. But the water troubles run deeper.

Deep freezes this winter caused the big pipe to spring a leak and required it be shut off before it froze and burst. The city handled it, but when the gardeners asked to have service restored for the spring planting season, it told the group it needed to spend $2,500 on an anti-contamination fixture before it would turn the water back on. Officials say the equipment is mandatory and should have been there all along.

“It’s required for every facility with a spigot like that,” said a Department of Environmental Protection spokeswoman. “We just don’t want to contaminate the water system.”

The gardeners don’t have the cash on hand and have held off on planting for now. Some are hauling in jugs and buckets to keep their sprouting crops alive.

“About half the beds are empty because people are concerned they wouldn’t have water,” said Eddie Bricker, a volunteer at the space who is also a mechanical engineer and is trying to hook up a temporary water supply. “The number one temporary solution is to bring water in buckets. But a lot of people in the garden just aren’t up for that.”

The city offered the gardeners some rain barrels if they decided not to pursue the spigot upgrade. Smaller gardens often irrigate using rain water collected from the roofs of nearby buildings, but Bricker says the gardeners have not been able to contact their neighbors’ landlords and that the garden’s 80 plots need more water than most storage systems can supply. Another solution could be to fill barrels with water from a fire hydrant, but the gardeners have not yet been able to get that approved either.

“It’s incredibly frustrating and really disappoint­ing,” said Bricker.

Councilman Stephen Levin (D—Clinton Hill) has been helping negotiate the terms of a renewal agreement and getting the pipes running again. An aide to the pol said that muttering about an eviction plot is overblown.

“Everyone kind of kicked up some dust and ruffled some feathers,” said a spokeswoman from Levin’s office. “But no one’s trying to kick them out.”

She also pointed out that the Department of Environmental Protection is not an adept garden landlord because it only owns a few sites with community gardens on them. Most are controlled by the city’s parks department.

“DEP wants to be a good neighbor. But they aren’t necessarily good park stewards,” she said.

As for the livestock, the chickens, bees, and dogs are clearly banned in the agreement the Pratt Area Community Council signed on the gardeners’ behalf, but the gardeners say no one clued them in and there is no good reason to kick the critters out.

“They’re part of the ecosystem,” said Paula Segal about the bees. Segal helped organize community groups behind the space.

“It doesn’t make sense to remove them,” she said.

No matter whether the lease gets renewed this year, the gardeners are planting the prime real estate on borrowed time. Past ideas floated for the lots have included a below-market-rate housing complex, but no development plans for the site are currently public.

Reach reporter Matthew Perlman at (718) 260-8310. E-mail him at Follow him on Twitter @matthewjperlman.
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Reasonable discourse

SwampYankee from runined Brooklyn says:
red beardo, veggies, chickens, bees, change the law for me, lather rinse repeat. ed beardo, veggies, chickens, bees, change the law for me, lather rinse repeat.
May 8, 2014, 6:27 am
SwampYankee from ruined Brooklyn says:
Hipsters are sleeping in after a tough night barisitaing so the but hurt beardo below will start sniping when he rolls out of bed some time this afternoon
May 8, 2014, 9:19 am
Idiots from Times Two... says:
Like the first observation wasn't stupid and racist enough. Even if he is a fake, this sad case needs professional help, and he must know it.
May 8, 2014, 9:59 am
The Duke from Flatbush says:
Aww, swampie is all butT hurt because no one responded to him. So sad.
May 8, 2014, 11:44 am
John Wasserman from Prospect Heights says:
Well, now I know where all of those missing arrows ended up ↑↑↑↑↑.
Does this SwampYachter character think he's some modern day version of Robbing in the Hood or the like? Why does he need to use so many arrows?
Why does he spell the word "ruined" as "runined" more often than not (in case you haven't noticed)?
Thanks for reading.
May 8, 2014, 3:20 pm
SwampYankee from ruined Brooklyn says:
I call the tune and all the hipsters dance to it. You just can't resist, can you? Ah yes, the last bastions of an internet idiot, correcting spelling. you guys are really defensive, hipster thing hitting a bit close to home. I thought hipsters don't exist?
May 8, 2014, 6:34 pm
John Wasserman from Prospect Heights says:
^^^^^^^thanks for taking all of the decent arrows, SwampLoser.
May 8, 2014, 8:33 pm
Tomatogrower from Bed-Stuy says:
As I member of the garden, I can attest to Myrtle Village Green being a vibrant, racially and socioeconomically diverse community of people of all ages that share a common interested in gardening, sustainable living and improving the neighborhood. Come by sometime and see for yourself.
May 9, 2014, 8:57 am
Gardener from Clinton Hill says:
While some pieces of the article are not as clear about the issues we are facing, the overall point is very clear - neighbors worked together tirelessly to clean up a disgusting abandoned lot full or trash, toxic soil and rodents and now this beautiful community space is engaged in toddler-like negotiated in which the city has declared "because I said so" as the new governing rules for the space. DEP did t seem much for rules when they let 1.5 acres of my neighborhood sit as a waste site but now they want to control every move.
May 9, 2014, 9:02 am
Eddie from Clinton Hill says:
Matt - great article, thanks for covering the story!

A few clarifcations:

1. The DEP is citing regulations that we have to be in compliance with for the site but we've yet to be issued them, only, as "Gardener from Clinton Hill" says, a slate of demands that are to be met before our space can be considered for a license agreement to be signed, and in fact we've complied with regulations where we've found them. E.G. - the shed, it was purposely built under 150 square feet in footprint and 10' in height because that's what the DOB requires for it to be legally built with lumber that we had on site. The DEP is still requiring us to provide fireproofing for this shed under their own "regulations" which haven't been provided to us.

2. Neither the DEP nor any other city org has offered us free barrels. All of the barrels currently on site were either purchased with gardeners' own money, or privately donated through routes pursued by the garden.

Thanks again for covering this story!!
May 9, 2014, 9:22 am
Eddie from Clinton Hill says:
Also, as a reminder, if you'd like to help you can donate a small amount here:

As of this comment we're over 80% funded, with the first 40% sourced from donations made by the gardeners ourselves!
May 9, 2014, 9:25 am
Ian from Fort Greene says:
Thanks for covering the story, Matt. Despite the obstacles we're facing, everyone at Myrtle Village Green is confident we'll be able to work through the current issues and excited to keep this moving forward and building the garden into a resource for the community. For anyone who'd like to keep up on what we're doing - or better yet, come down and get involved! - please check out our Facebook page for news and updates from MVG.
May 9, 2014, 9:33 am
Popps from Clinton Hill says:
A member of the neighborhood for 9 years. I must say that it was an amazing sight to see this ugly (and dangerous) lot transform into a lush attraction to the community.

I take all my family and friends to see this garden, and am proud to let them see how well it gathers ALL members of the area, from the Hasidic community, to yes, the hipsters!

I hope that this garden continues to stand as a great example for people from other neighborhoods who want to turn an eyesore into an amazing gathering place and resource for their friends and family.

Thanks for the article!
May 9, 2014, 9:48 am
Kathleen from Bed Stuyvesant says:
This space is fantastic. It offers so many opportunities for people from the neighborhood to get to know each other. It was transformed in just a few months last year from a vacant lot to a garden and gathering place. The chickens are a great asset to the neighborhood as they bring a little bit of the country to the city and draw scores of people from a variety of communities to the garden. The bees demonstrate how important pollinators are to growing healthy food. I can't wait to see how it evolves this season.
May 9, 2014, 12:42 pm
The Chooch from The Bohemian Magic Show says:
Shabba shazooom baby. Chalk another one up for the Bohemo-Hipstoid Green Revolution in Brooklyn. You guys are doing great! Thank you. And don't let some mook on a do-nothing city job sabotage your efforts out of resentment. Call your city council person and have them light a fire under the DEP's azz. You are the ones who are saving Brooklyn. You are the new economy. You own the hood.
May 10, 2014, 10:15 am
Bkmanhatman from nubrucklyn says:
In all fairness, I applaud anybody's effort to have some kind of roof top garden in the city, but after reading articles about toxicity in urban grown spinach I am a bit weary of open air grown kale on a roof.
May 10, 2014, 4:32 pm

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