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Two Coves Community Garden threatened by park plan

The green thumbs at a three−year−old community garden in Astoria said they were concerned they could lose their plots following recent plans to turn the site into a park.

Two Coves Community Garden is located in a 25,000−square−foot triangular lot on Astoria Boulevard at Eighth Street and 30th Avenue. In the mid−1990s, the site was paved and a fence was installed, but it was eventually left vacant, becoming overgrown with weeds and trash from illegal dumping.

In 2006, a grassroots movement to establish a community garden succeeded in turning the lot into a community garden where local gardeners grow a variety of vegetables, including 10−foot sunflowers, eggplant, squash, tomatoes, basil, oregano, garlic and collared greens, said Lynn Serpe, a member of the garden’s steering committee.

“We want the garden to maintain its ability to allow local residents the opportunity to garden and grow together,” said Stacey Ornstein, president of Astoria Community Support Agriculture. “Two Coves Community Garden provides space for hundreds of people to cultivate their own food, reverse damaging obesity and unhealthy nutritional trends, interact across cultures and generations and harvest a lifelong love of urban gardening, all the while reducing municipal costs, crime and pollution.”

But Serpe said the garden could now face its final chapter. In the late 1990s, Astoria’s Goodwill Industries had proposed turning the lot into a park, but their plans fell through, she said.

City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D−Astoria) has now allocated $450,000 to create a park at the site, she said.

“The garden provides everything a park does — green space, educational opportunities and events,” Serpe said. “But rather than using a huge amount of money to maintain a park, we do it by shoveling sidewalks and cleaning trash. We grow our own vegetables, herbs and flowers. It would be a huge step back to turn it into a park.”

She said the garden obtained a license from the city and has received supplies from the city Parks Department’s Green Thumb program, which provides resources for community gardens.

The garden’s users said Two Coves has benefited the neighborhood.

“We don’t have a supermarket in the neighborhood, so we grow our own fruits and vegetables,” said Vanessa Hall, who lives at Astoria Houses and plants small trees in the garden. “And we can get children involved at an early age to eat the proper foods.”

Vallone said the city has agreed not to begin any work at the site until after this year’s harvest season.

“I understand the importance of sustainable organic gardening,” he said. “I’m trying to work out a compromise so we can maintain some gardening, but also provide a park to the community.”

Queens Parks Department Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski said the agency would hold meetings with Astoria residents and Two Coves gardeners this summer to discuss plans for the site. The city will soon bring in a water source at the site for the community garden, she said.

“We’re working with the community to develop a plan for the park,” she said. “We see it as a positive use and the gardeners are very energetic.”

Serpe said a total of 200 people have their own individual plots at the site and many others take part in its community plot. Neighborhood residents can get their own plot by calling Two Coves and placing a request. The garden’s committee does not charge gardeners for their plots, but suggests a $20 donation.

Gardening season at Two Coves runs from April 1 to Nov. 1.

Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e−mail at nduke@timesledger.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 156.

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