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Brownsville Garden Wilts in the Shadow of New Apartment Complex, Manager Says

Green Valley Garden grows and distributes healthy produce in the community.
Green Valley Garden, Brownsville
Green Valley Garden, Brownsville. Photo: Nigel Roberts

Construction workers were busy putting finishing touches on a new apartment complex on New Lots Avenue in Brownsville that is expected to ease the urgent need for affordable housing in one of the city's most impoverished neighborhoods.

But across the street, the nine-story structure casts a shadow on Green Valley Garden, one of Brownsville's most popular urban gardens. 

That's a problem for the gardeners who are passionate about supplying much-needed fresh produce in a community with few options for healthy foods.

Brenda Dushane, Green Valley Garden's manager, is largely resigned to the reality.

"I'm not saying don't build, but build with consideration of how it will impact gardens and greenhouses in the community," Dushane told BK Reader, pointing out that the Brooklyn Botanic Garden in Crown Heights is in a similar situation.

Harmful shadow

"We used to get sunlight from dawn until five o'clock in the afternoon,'' Brownsville community garden leader Barbara Adamson recalled to BK Reader. "Now, we don't get sun until noon because of the building."

That's detrimental to the crops -- especially during winter.

"By October we're going to get four-and-a-half hours of sunlight because it gets dark early. So our crops won't get sufficient sunlight and warmth," she explained. 

Diminished hours of sunlight also force seed planting delays.

Sowing previously happened in February but has now been pushed to March, reducing growth time and yield, Dushane said.

In the summertime, heavy rainfalls soak the ground, turning it to mud in some spots.

"The ground isn't able to dry because there's not enough sunlight," Adamson fumed in a dignified manner. "Plants are starting to turn yellow, and that's because there's too much water." 

A setback to eliminating food swamps

"Why don't they put the same energy of constructing buildings into growing local fresh food?" Dushane asked rhetorically. "I would like to see that." 

Brownsville has food deserts and swamps, areas lacking healthy food sources but with an overabundance of fast food choices. 

In 2018, East New York topped the list with 27 different fast-food chains, according to City Limits. Canarsie and Brownsville weren't far behind with 22 and 21 restaurant chains. They sell inexpensive but dangerously unhealthy foods associated with obesity, diabetes, hypertension and other chronic diseases. 

Green Valley is part of a community gardens network in the neighborhood, where gardeners are dedicated to growing and distributing healthy produce in Brownsville.

Through their umbrella nonprofit, Isabahlia Ladies of Elegance Foundation, Dushane, a master composter, educates folks on gardening techniques and the value of eating produce untainted by chemicals.

Dushane said she discovered through a six-month study that low-income communities get leftover fruits and vegetables from grocery shelves in upscale neighborhoods -- just before they rot.  

These already pesticide-laden foods have even less nutritional value by the time they reach homes in neighborhoods like Brownsville, according to Dushane.

Making the best of a bad situation

Dushane said the developer promised to provide electricity to Green Valley. That would enable the garden to use artificial light and heat in its greenhouse.

BK Reader contacted the developer for comments but did not receive an immediate response.

According to Brownstoner, the development at 96 New Lots Avenue is part of Ebenezer Plaza, a multi-building, mixed-use, affordable housing development that includes retail and a community facility.

When construction is completed, housing will consist of four buildings across two large lots. Perkins Eastman is the architect of record for the complex.

Dushane and Adamson shook their heads about Green Valley's reduced capacity and asked if anyone truly cared about improving health in the community.

They are concerned that deadlier COVID-19 variants will kill numerous Brownsville residents.

"How are we going to build up our immune system?" Dushane asked. 

About the Author: Nigel Roberts

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