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Valley Stream, Elmont residents work to build community garden

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A house once stood at the intersection of North Central Avenue and North Drive in Valley Stream, but it was demolished in the early 2000s, and for the past decade, the parcel has sat dormant as a Town of Hempstead property. Now Valley Stream and Elmont residents are petitioning town officials to let them develop it into a community garden.

“We live here, and we’re asking for this,” Denise Riggio, a resident of the area for 50 years, said at a virtual community garden interest meeting on May 4. She has been working with the Cornell Cooperative Extension, which helps promote sustainability on Long Island, and State Assemblywoman Michaelle Solages, who proposed the idea of a community garden in the 22nd Assembly District in January and has secured a $9,000 grant for its creation.

But the vacant lot on North Central Avenue isn’t the only site being considered by nearly 40 Valley Stream and Elmont residents who are members of the 22nd Assembly District Community Garden Coalition. Others in the virtual meeting suggested they build the garden in the Mill Pond area of Valley Stream, or in a vacant lot near the Pep Boys on Hempstead Turnpike in Elmont.

One member, Lorrie Sand, suggested Valley Stream’s Village Green, so gardeners could tap into the village’s water supply. But Solages said they could always use water barrels, and Mary Callahan, a coordinator for the Cornell Cooperative Extension, noted that an irrigation system could greatly reduce the amount of water necessary for garden maintenance.

Wherever they choose, coalition members agreed that the site should be easily accessible, and Muhammad Tahir Vali said it should also be “scalable, so if the pilot program succeeds, we can develop it more.”

The group could plant whatever members wanted, Solages said, although many agreed they would like to use non-genetically modified and native plants. Some members envision hosting fundraisers at the garden, such as wine and kids’ parties. Geeta Arjune suggested they plant apple trees and have a large fall or Halloween festival.

They could also develop an educational program, Riggio said, and Karen Milazzo proposed hosting field trips at the garden, in which the coalition could charge local school districts to have children plant flowers in pots to bring home.

“It’s really what we, as a community, want it to be,” Solages said.

Community gardens have proven to bring people together, Callahan said. One in North Amityville that she helped develop about three years ago represented a “unique coming together of private-public partnerships,” and encouraged people to interact in an open space. Another one, in Roosevelt, has beds that residents can rent, and others set aside for children to grow their own flowers.

But before any of that can happen, Solages said, the group will need to finalize a location. Suggestions can be made on the coalition’s Facebook page, she said, and Riggio offered to take photos of each possible location. Once that is decided, the residents can begin writing letters to town and village officials, requesting a permit for the garden.

Solages said she would like to get it up and running as soon as possible, so the Community Garden Coalition could “hit all the growing seasons.”

“I think we’ve got a good year to start,” she noted, with Riggio saying it was something they could do while social distancing.

To get involved in the community garden planning, join Solages’ Community Garden Coalition group on Facebook.