Elmhurst eyesore transformed into community garden

Six garden beds that have been planted with vegetables and herbs now adorn a vacant lot in Elmhurst. Photo by Karen Frantz
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A vacant lot that has been an eyesore for Elmhurst residents for decades is getting a makeover as a community garden, thanks to a number of youngsters who belong to a nearby church group.

“They’re helping to make my block nicer and better,” said Jennifer Chu, a resident who has lived near the lot, at the corner of Manilla Street and Kneeland Avenue, for nearly 30 years and who is helping to coordinate the beautification project.

She said the lot, owned by a retired lawyer who now lives in Florida, had become a dumping ground and at one point was used for the illegal parking of cars. She said it has been a mess for as long as she can remember.

Other residents said the lot was also overgrown with weeds and tall grass.

“It was a dump,” said one resident, Julian, who did not want to give his last name.

But Chu said the Young Governors, a youth development program that is part of the Elmhurst-based New Life Community Development Center, decided to clean up the lot after talking with residents about community needs.

“They thought it would be good to turn this empty lot into a community garden,” Chu said.

The youths contacted the lot’s owner, who gave them permission to transform the 0.57-acre space.

So now instead of litter, the lot is home to a greenhouse and six garden beds in which tomatoes, basil, eggplant and other herbs and vegetables have been planted.

The Young Governors donate food from the garden to the New Life CDC Food Pantry. Some of the beds are also reserved for families that live in the community, several of whom are apartment dwellers.

Chu said the beds particularly benefit people who live on higher floors in apartment buildings and do not have access to a backyard.

“If you just want to grow some tomatoes or some herbs, you don’t have the ability to do that,” she said.

The effort has been ongoing, and the Young Governors started working on the lot on a smaller scale last summer. But a large push came after the youths won a $1,000 grant from the Citizens Community of New York for a neighborhood beautification project. As part of a condition of the grant, the youngsters were required to use the money in a one-day event that required at least 20 people to participate.

So on April 27 the Young Governors held an Elmhurst Garden Beautification Day and invited the local community to come out and help clean up the lot and start planting.

Chu said she was hoping at least 30 people would show up to help, but was pleasantly surprised when more than 100 turned out.

She said future plans for the garden include constructing additional garden beds and installing a fence for protection.

The enthusiastic resident said the community loves the lot’s new look.

“They say it looks great,” she said. “And that means a lot.”

Reach reporter Karen Frantz by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4538.

Posted 8:20 pm, May 16, 2013
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Reader feedback

Justin from Douglaston says:
I read the article and wrote a summary about it, it was great!
May 19, 2013, 4:15 pm from Elmhurst/Corona says:
It's great to see young people getting invooved in meaningful projects like this. Wouldn't it be nice if the organization can grow and encourage them to get involved in more projects, including being Big Brothers/Sisters, etc.?
July 9, 2013, 10:13 am

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