Thomas in his watermelon patch. Photo: Jessy Edwards for the BK Reader.

Kofi Thomas wants all the gardens of one Bushwick block to have annual traditions — the type that no one can remember how or why they started, they just are.

In May, the founder of the Good Life Garden at Grove Place and Goodwin Street started the Make the Block Bloom fundraiser. The fundraiser is an effort to unite green spaces on neighboring blocks on Bushwick’s Greene Ave, Goodwin Pl. and Grove St for the long term.

It imagines a future where the Good Life Garden, People’s Garden, the garden of Concerned Citizens on Grove Street, and a senior center garden are connected.

The four green spaces are within a stone’s throw of each other.

Right now, each of the spaces has its own strengths and seperate groups it serves. But Thomas and the other garden leaders are currently designing a future where the groups share resources, and all their neighbors get to know each other.

“The fantasy is rooted in people of the community knowing each other, because what I’ve learned from listening to people on different blocks is a lot of the things we need are right around the corner.”

He says the pandemic forced him to be more geographically-grounded, to talk to neighbors more and to rely on each other more for mutual aid.

“We learned we had a lot of the resources we needed to take care of each other.”

Hernan Pagan in the People’s Garden. Photo: Jessy Edwards

One example was how People’s Garden caregiver Hernan Pagan was wanting to bring more children to the garden to learn, enjoy the garden’s arts programming and perform. Meanwhile, over at Grove Street, which is used by children at PS. 75, leaders were looking for help transforming the space.

Through talking with both gardens, Thomas realized there was an opportunity. People’s Garden is served by a group of highly skilled immigrants who recently built a curving walkway through the garden. And the Grove garden is full of talented young people who would love a chance to perform. A partnership waiting to happen.

“I want to create for the future these traditions that we have every year that will ensure we stay connected and will give us reasons to work together,” Thomas said.

The Good Life garden is run by a group of dedicated volunteers. Photo: Jessy Edwards for the BK Reader.

Thomas said he had already sat down with leaders of all three gardens to write up a coalition between them of expectations. For example, the gardens should collectively have six annual events between them, that they all advertise.

“That way we’ll have community members of different streets coming out to meet each other and venturing off their block. Another beautiful by-product will be making each garden healthier for the future. After the youth meet each other, we hope they will take ownership and become stewards of the gardens.”

The Make the Block Bloom fundraiser closes June 30. So far, the gardens have raised more than $31,247 of their $32,000 goal.

The money will go to a range of specific programs and projects that will hopefully form enduring bonds between the community gardens.

The donation box that keeps things running at the People’s Garden. Photo: Jessy Edwards for BK Reader.

Projects underway include forming a union of youth artists and contractors to reimagine and reshape a school’s garden and getting planting beds ready and accessible for seniors to grow their own food at the Goodwin Place senior’s garden.

Meanwhile more structures are being built to grow more food to feed the people of Bushwick at the gardens, and the leaders are planning to work with a contractor to purchase and install solar energy, and make the panels a teaching tool for kids from PS. 75.

The leaders are also planning music nights and paint festivals to bring neighbors together to express themselves and to be together and heal from the past year.

As well as tomatoes, the Good Life garden grows cucumber, peppers squash, zucchini, pumpkin, watermelon, cantaloupe, blackberries, blueberries, rosemary lavender, sage, oregano thyme and more. Photo: Jessy Edwards for the BK Reader.

Thomas said it was important that the Caribbean and Afro-Latino cultures of the neighborhood and the gardens are celebrated and preserved, too.

“I don’t want our stories to get lost, so I’m really trying to strengthen that big family culture, like with cousins — if I need something he takes care of it.”

“We’re very vulnerable when we’re isolated as we saw last year with people going without food, getting laid off, immigrants not knowing how to get any aid or unemployment, and that stress was traumatizing.

“I want us to have solidarity and have that strength of connection… that’s how a community gets strong — from knowing each other.”

To donate, go to the Make the Block Bloom fundraiser.

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Jessy Edwards

Jessy Edwards is a freelance writer based in Bushwick. Originally from New Zealand, she has written for the BBC, Rolling Stone, NBC New York, CNBC and her hometown newspaper, The Dominion Post, among others.

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