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On Wednesday, June 29, 2011 it wasn’t the construction on the NYC subway that turned the heads of commuters and pedestrians passing the corner of Beach 59th Street and Rockaway Beach Boulevard on the Rockaway Peninsula in New York. Over 80 volunteers in bright orange t-shirts joined together to transform what was once an empty lot adjacent to an abandoned firehouse into a beautiful and productive community garden as a result of Fiskars’ community garden initiative Project Orange Thumb.
At 8:00 a.m. volunteers from Fiskars, the Rockaway Waterfront Alliance (RWA), the Home Depot, and the surrounding community gathered to learn how to properly plant trees and shrubs from master gardener, author and TV host Joe Lamp’l before breaking into teams to begin the one-day garden makeover. In less than eight hours, nearly 700 plants including trees and shrubs, native grasses, and decorative perennials such as lavender, asters and irises were planted throughout the 7,500 square-foot garden designed by landscape architect Billie Cohen. Many educational elements were included in the design such as trough planters to serve as educational stations for growing edibles and a rain garden. In addition to the planting, three picnic tables were constructed and reclaimed wood from the nearby boardwalk was used to build three benches and a bridge to continue the garden pathway over the rain garden.
Volunteers ranged from experienced gardeners to neighbors who were excited to come together to help beautify their neighborhood and instill a sense of community pride. The dirt was hard and the sun was hot, but spirits remained high as everyone worked hard digging, planting, edging, mulching and watering to help complete the remarkable garden transformation. After all of the planting was completed, NYC fire fighters from stations 121 and 165 stopped by to check out the garden and use the fire truck hose to lend a hand with the watering.
The day ended with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 4:00 p.m. attended by various elected officials and community members to celebrate the completion of the “Rockaway Hip Hop Community Garden”. NY1 anchor Cheryl Wills was thrilled to visit the community in which she grew up and see the community coming together to breathe new life into a lot she remembered to be vacant and covered in trash. RWA executive director Jeanne DuPont spoke emotionally about the garden’s powerful demonstration of community pride and youth involvement, both of which were lacking in the Rockaway’s just a few years ago.
RWA was selected as the 2011 Project Orange Thumb garden makeover recipient from a pool of more than 700 Project Orange Thumb grant applicants as a result of their strong track record of success in promoting community well-being and environmental stewardship. Working side-by-side with RWA staff and youth from RWA programs strongly reinforced their commitment to the community’s well-being and garden’s long-term success.
Along with providing a beautified community space for the thousands of nearby residents, the “Rockaway Hip Hop Community Garden” will become the primary gathering place for several RWA programs. With plans underway to renovate the adjacent firehouse, the garden will serve as an excellent complement to RWA’s learning environment as an outdoor space for people ranging from middle-school-age kids to adults to participate in learning and planning opportunities and complete hands-on activities and projects. The garden will also be used for summer activities such as small performances and puppet shows, providing a well-needed space for kids and families on the Rockaway Peninsula.
Rockaway Beach, NY, Friday July 1, 2011 - Page 86
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