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Plants & Gardens Blog

BUGs at the Grassroots

BBG’s BUGs are out! Brooklyn Urban Gardeners, that is.

The first class of BUG—BBG’s new program to train community greening volunteers—has put its newly honed skills to good use. Graduates of the eight-week program received their BBG certificates last January and soon dug into creative and collaborative projects all around Brooklyn.

Recognizing that community gardening is 10 percent gardening and 90 percent community, several members of BUG’s vanguard class are not just making Brooklyn greener but also bringing people together. “BUG gave me the tools, knowledge, and confidence to revitalize a community garden,” reports Erik Rosenberg, a certified BUG who currently spearheads the Crown Heights Youth Collective Garden. “Thanks to BUG, I have a framework for how to approach soil-quality issues, community assets, and other challenges. We’ve brought neighbors together for cleanup and planting days, and next we’ll be meeting to decide the garden’s long-term development.”

Coquille Houshour, also of Crown Heights, had been working for years to green NYC public schools, but BUG inspired her to speak to her neighbors about greening their own block. “During my BUG studies, I encouraged my block association to apply for a Love Your Block grant from the Citizens Committee for NYC. We got it! So last spring my neighbors and I got the tools and plants we needed to host three street ‘cleanups’ and ‘greenups.’ People got inspired to pay more attention to green space; more and more plants began appearing in containers and on fire escapes. During our last event, 25 people participated in a MillionTreesNYC street tree care workshop—12 of them were children from the block!”

Newly certified BUG Jamel Evans organized the Brooklyn Beautification Project (BBP) in his Bushwick neighborhood. BBP promotes sustainable living and self-sufficiency among youth and young families. It aims to inspire pride in place through workshops, block cleanups, and planting days. BBP has applied for a grant from In Our Back Yard (IOBY) for tools, seeds, and plants, which Jamel plans to buy at a discount he’s negotiated with local suppliers. “What I took away from BUG was, just do it. I don’t know if I’m doing everything right, but you can always do it over! Just try.”

For many BUGs, grassroots greening is a means to a greater end. As Bed-Stuy community gardener, founder of the new Tranquility Farm Community Garden, and BUG graduate Ena McPherson puts it, “Plants empower communities.”

Our next class of BUGs graduates in January 2012. Watch for BUGs in your neighborhood! Or better yet, learn more and apply to become a part of this growing group of committed community greeners.

Nina Browne is the community program manager at Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

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