Urban Garden Made From Compost

Community workers decided that the Bronx in New York needed community gardens, so residents created an urban garden made of compost in the infertile land.

| May/June 1978

Compost used as dirt made this urban garden a possibility in the Bronx, New York area.

Compost used as dirt made this urban garden a possibility in the Bronx, New York area.

Photo by Fotolia/Audaxl

Community workers create an urban garden in the Bronx using compost as the base for these community gardens.

For the past several years, the good folks at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance in Washington, D.C. have worked to help urban residents gain greater control over their lives through the use of low-technology, decentralist tools and concepts. We strongly believe that more people (city dwellers and country folk alike) should be exposed to the Institute's efforts . . . which is why we're now making this "what's happening where" report by ILSR staffers one of MOTHER's regular features.  

A few years ago — long before President Carter made his now-historic visit to the area — two veteran community workers named Irma Fleck and Jack Flanagan decided that what New York's South Bronx needed more than anything else was [1] local economic development, and [2] some kind of program for the reclamation of vacant land.

Not knowing how to solve the former problem, Fleck and Flanagan turned their attention first to the problem of land reclamation . . . the problem of how to put almost 500 rubble-strewn acres of vacant South Bronx land to good use by making an urban garden.

Some lots — the community workers reasoned — could be made into parks. (In the South Bronx, as in many cities, recreational space is scarce.) Other pieces of property might be turned into community gardens, thus allowing local residents to cut their food costs and improve their diets. Unfortunately, there was just one hang-up: Neither grass (for parks) nor tomatoes (and other crops) can thrive on backfilled brick and broken glass. Before the vacant South Bronx land could be "greened," it would have to be made fertile and free of lead (and other hazards).

The usual way of changing infertile land to fertile is by having topsoil trucked in and applied thickly. To spread the necessary eight inches of such soil on the South Bronx's empty lots, however, would have cost more than $13,000 an acre . . . a price that the city was unwilling (and community groups unable) to pay.

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