Urban gardens to get new life

Brighter days are clearly in sight for dozens of urban gardeners who toil on a handful of plots in Dorchester and Jamaica Plain owned by a gardening non-profit that has been largely defunct since 2000.

Marrey Embers, president of the board of Boston Urban Gardeners (BUG), told the annual Gardener’s Gathering at Northeastern University that her group has agreed to hand over five urban gardens and a bundle of cash to maintain and improve them to the Boston Natural Areas Network and the Trust for Public Land. Four of the gardens are in Dorchester.

“More than 30 years ago there were empty spaces throughout the city filled with bottles, syringes, tires, and broken glass,” Embers said in a speech to the gardeners in NEU’s Curry Center. “And yet, a group of visionaries of whom I unfortunately was not part of could see through this urban blight and could imagine vegetables, flowers, cross-generational sharing, food safety, and community building.”

BUG founded the Gardener’s Gathering at the Christian Herter Community Garden in Allston in 1975, and was one of the first groups to organize the ‘guerilla gardeners’ who were taking over vacant lots in various parts of Boston and planting them with vegetable gardens. The gardening movement is now credited with helping to improve neighborhoods all over the city, most notably the South End, Lower Roxbury and Jamaica Plain.

But since 2000, when the group ran out of funds and was forced to sell its headquarters building in JP for $450,000, the group has remained dormant and elusive. Its members paid the garden’s water bills and only spoke occasionally to community reporters about the money sitting in its bank account.

Negotiations in 2002 to give BNAN six garden plots broke down when BUG would not agree to include a sum of $80,000, money that BNAN said would be necessary to rehabilitate the gardens for use. According to some sources, there were “egos” and “history” in play at the time.

Later, in 2006 after coverage in the Jamaica Plain Gazette, a group of gardeners at the South West Corridor Community Farm in JP demanded that BUG call an annual meeting and allow 30 gardeners to become members of the organization. The demand was turned down, but the South West gardeners dubbed themselves “the real BUG” and began holding meetings on its own, pressuring BUG to strike a deal with BNAN—the strongest gardening organization still active in Boston.

Rumors of an impending BNAN/Trustees for Public Land deal were confirmed by BUG members in 2007, after BUG flirted briefly with Dorchester Gardenlands Preservation as a possible recipient of the gardens. Meanwhile Dorchester’s gardeners carried on with little support.

“I was asking for soil two years ago,” James Moore, a gardener at 10 Josephine St., told the Reporter that year. “That’s not asking for too much, a fence, a gate, some soil, or some treatment if you’re not going to get the soil.”
Moore will likely get his soil, or at least some compost, this year. The garden at 10 Josephine, one at 29 Josephine, and two others at 39 Barry St. and 33 Bullock St. are all part of the deal, as is the SWCCF at 57 Lamartine in JP.

“We’re going to meet with the gardeners and start getting to know each other,” said BNAN director Valerie Burns. “We’re also going to talk to gardeners about what they’d like to see.”

The dissolution of BUG as a non-profit corporation will need to be approved by the Attorney General and the Supreme Judicial Court before the garden transfer will be final, and Embers said BUG will be mum about the actual accounting of the deal until then.

“We’re not going to release the details until we clear it through the AG’s office, rather than have to edit or re-work it later,” she said
When asked if there was a substantial amount of money accompanying the gardens, she said, “I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised in terms of the money to support them.”

In past interviews, other BUG members have hinted that they would like to also create a foundation to support the creation of new gardens with part of the BUG money.