By Oona Milliken | [email protected]
An entire acre of peppers, kale and okra sits six stories above the busy trafficways in Astoria. The vegetables are a part of a rooftop garden project recently acquired by the Variety Boys and Girls Club of Queens.
All crop produce, alongside honey farmed from a beehive located on the lot, is intended for harvest and will either be sold to the community or given to children of the Boys and Girls Club, according to Chief Executive Officer of the Queens Boys and Girls Club, Costa Constantinides. Constantinides said the project is intended to help children in underserved areas of Queens provide access to nature and educate young people about where their food comes from.
The opening of the event included speeches from Constantinides, Variety Boys and Girls Club Board President Walter Sanchez,* Congresswoman Nydia M. Velásquez, Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, New York State Assemblymembers Zohran Mamdani and Kristen Gonzalez, as well as co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Brooklyn Grange, Ben Flanner.
“We’re hoping to have kids up here on school trips, really make this a neighborhood space, make this something that can be exciting for everyone,” Constantinides said. “This is an acre of paradise, an oasis in the urban jungle. We want this to be a green space where our kids can come up and be like, ‘Wow, that’s so cool.’”
The VBGCG is planning to utilize the space to help build education programming surrounding agriculture, including the growing of organic vegetables and honey, as well as being a space for mental wellness.
The plot of land was developed by Brooklyn Grange, a rooftop farming and green roofing business that is intent on increasing locally grown produce in the city, as well as using urban green spaces to mitigate environmental phenomena such as rainwater overflow. According to their website, the business produces over 100,000 pounds of vegetables each year across their three rooftop farms in Brooklyn and in Queens.
Michelle Cashen, Director of Design and Build at Brooklyn Grange, said that rooftop gardens are an underutilized area for greenspace in a city.
“There’s not a lot of ground space for greenery, parks or green space in general [in New York City],” Cashen said. “On rooftops, there’s a lot of bare empty spaces. It just kind of makes sense that if you’re going to add any type of greenery into New York, that’s where you’re looking.”
Constantinides said the Boys and Girls Club serves 4,000 children a year, 77 percent of whom live below the poverty line. Many of these kids live in areas of Queens that lack access to healthy food or are affected by environmental pollution, Constantinides emphasized. He said that the garden could be a step for the community in order to mitigate these issues.
*Editors Note: Walter Sanchez is the Publisher of BQE Media.