Photo: Chloe Bennett. Mike Young transformed Padre Plaza 14 years ago after open heart surgery.

Volunteers unite for garden workday

After undergoing heart surgery about 14 years ago, Mike Young was told he wouldn’t be able to walk normally anymore. Looking for a new activity, Young began gardening in Mott Haven, defying the doctor’s opinion. 

“I just kept going,” Young said. 

Now the manager of Padre Plaza Community Garden, Young grows rows of plants alongside local volunteers.

On Saturday, he was one of more than 10 volunteers and members of the New York Botanical Garden laid mulch and later planted flowers and shrubs at the community garden as part of an ongoing series of workdays. 

The planting workday was in preparation for an Oct. 16 event celebrating urban farmer and activist Karen Washington, who is moving from the borough. According to the director of Bronx Green-Up, Ursula Chanse, the Padre Plaza celebration will feature music and food. 

Zoe Arcidiacono, a volunteer from the Botanical Garden, joined its NYC Compost Project, last month. For the North Bronx resident, the sense of community and education that urban farming provides is fulfilling. 

“You can grow fruits and vegetables and it’s like a block party,” she said, raking mulch into the garden’s soil.

As the COVID-19 pandemic has endured, urban farming in the South Bronx has flourished. People looking to grow their own food have taken up the practice and more community gardens have been developed, according to reports from the Associated Press and the Mott Haven Herald.

Young said the success in gardening stemmed from food insecurity. “There’s a lack of food, and we’re able to address that,” he said. 

Data from nonprofit Feeding America shows that 251,180 Bronx residents were food insecure in 2018. The expiration of some federal benefits has also decreased the income for thousands of New Yorkers. 

Leafy greens, peppers and other plants are grown in wood-encased beds in Padre Plaza park.

Bronx Green-Up, formed in 1988 by the Botanical Garden, coordinates garden workdays each month in separate locations around the borough. It started as a movement to turn vacant lots into gardens and now, it hosts events and teaches urban farming and gardening skills.

“All the teenagers, youth, elderly, we all come together,” Young said volunteer efforts to keep the garden thriving.