June 30, 2020 By Allie Griffin
A group of environmental activists took over a privately-owned site in Sunnyside Saturday to create a community garden.
The Western Queens Guerrilla Gardeners — a group of local gardeners, environmental activists and community composters — transformed the vacant lot with new plantings, compost piles and a “Resistance is fertile” sign.
Gil Lopez, an organizer with the guerrilla gardeners, said the group ‘liberated’ the land in an Instagram post. The grassy lot near the corner of Skillman Avenue and 45th Street is privately-owned by HB Village LLC.
The radical gardening group organized the event, which Lopez called a “ground healing ceremony,” in response to the city cutting curbside food waste collection and other recycling programs due to coronavirus-related budget cuts.
Some of the laid-off workers from the city-funded program came out to instruct neighbors on composting and gardening.
“This is a community garden, which will cultivate a fun, neighborhood oriented, all-ages environment,” Lopez wrote in an advisory for Saturday’s event. “It is also a guerrilla garden; a direct action done without permission.”
Lopez said the “activist garden” is inherently political and will shift power into the hands of the community.
The Sunnyside garden will work to establish equitable waste and garden services, environmental justice and “admonishment of speculative land holding in our communities,” Lopez said.
The organizers are encouraging community members to beautify and maintain the space as their own, while devising ways to defend it going forward.
Neighbors on the block came out to support the efforts, bringing their own food scraps and planting flowers on Saturday.
However, not everyone was a fan of the guerrilla garden.
An employee of the management company that represents HB Village LLC, Norcor Management, quickly came to the scene of the garden.
After a confrontation, he allowed the group to continue planting and collect food scraps until 1 p.m., the advertised ending time of the pop-up gardening event.
However, the management company locked the fence and put up ‘no trespassing’ signs after the gardeners vacated the empty lot, according to the Western Queens Guerrilla Gardeners.
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#Repost from @rotsquat ・・・ 06.27 – Today is Grace Lee Boggs’ birthday. We celebrated by liberating land in Sunnyside NYC. Rest in power Grace. This went fairly well, after our squad of guerrilla gardeners flooded the lot with plants, banners and pre-fabricated compost bins, the community started showing up thanks to outreach and a new food scraps drop-off on site. The owner came in with threats of the police but softened after neighbors came to vocal defense of our Guerrillas. We love you Sunnyside. We gonna help y’all lawyer up and defend the space we created this morning. Keep composting, keep it peaceful.
The group is still encouraging neighbors to drop off their kitchen scraps again this Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. and said it is in conversation with the owner and management company.
Norcor Management didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Western Queens Guerrilla Gardeners set up another guerilla garden and compost site on a set of abandoned railroad tracks in Long Island City in 2011.
The MTA owned the property and allowed it to be converted to a permanent community garden called the Smiling Hogshead Ranch.