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The new leaders of a Flushing community garden held their first meeting last Thursday, months after a 75-year-old man who long ruled the plots went on a hunger strike and threatened self-immolation to prevent his ouster.
On Sept. 25, two schools near Kissena Corridor Park were put on lockdown as the NYPD’s Hostage Negotiation Team and the FDNY descended upon an unassuming green shed where Bayside’s San Ok Kim stood next to containers of gasoline clutching a lighter, according to police, to protest the end of the Korean-American Senior Citizens Society of Greater New York’s leadership over the largely Korean green space.
Just hours earlier he had told TimesLedger Newspapers he preferred death to relinquishing control of the garden plots on Colden Street near Juniper Avenue.
Kim was taken into custody and in his absence power was transferred to a program called GreenThumb, run by the city Parks Department. GreenThumb provides programming and material support to more than 500 gardens across the city, according to Parks, although the passing of the torch did not go entirely smoothly last week.
The new garden honchos stood on a small stage and addressed a restive crowd of about 30 people.
“This plot now belongs to GreenThumb,” Chuck Wade, president of the Kissena Corridor Park Conservancy, announced over the commotion. “GreenThumb is in charge.”
GreenThumb’s succession was cause for concern for the largely Korean population who tills the soil there. By differing accounts, anywhere from 70 percent to 90 percent of the plots belong to Korean immigrants, who have strong roots in Kissena Park.
In the late 1980s, they, along with other community members, cleaned out construction rubble, rocks and trees from the park to form the area that is now the garden.
Some of them were shocked to learn only one Korean resident was on GreenThumb’s steering committee — the former leader, Kim. That was remedied by the end of the day, with the total now at three.
Some of the members did not see why the new leadership was necessary, but for others the takeover was a welcome change.
Kim ran the garden for decades on behalf of the society, which has been dogged by allegations of mishandling money and allowing an atmosphere of animosity among the flowers and vegetables.
The senior center was never charged with any crime, but some of the warnings issued by GreenThumb directors and the NYPD gave a inkling of what might have transpired behind the garden’s black metal fences.
“Know that it is illegal to make a false police report,” Police Officer Sue Too, of the 109th Precinct, told the crowd.
Several police reports do exist. One was plastered on the side of the same green shed where Kim was arrested. Another was provided to TimesLedger. They described alleged assaults involving fistfuls of dirt and brawls over plots and veggies.
“Some of you paid $100 or more. You were paying wrong,” Wade told the crowd. “But that’s gone. It’s over.”
The plots are going for $80 a year, and Wade urged prospective gardeners to give only money to the commission and not to any third party which promises to deliver the cash.
Other leaders warned gardeners to keep pruning shears away from park trees, and that acquiring multiple plots like Monopoly properties would no longer be allowed.
Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.
©2012 Community Newspaper Group
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