On 2nd St., A Dispute Over a Garden

Teri Hagan, Peach Tree community garden 3Chelsia Rose Marcius Teri Hagen says that she is being unfairly denied access to the Peach Tree Community Garden on East Second Street. Those who manage the memberships at the garden deny any wrongdoing.

At the entrance of the Peach Tree Community Garden on Second Street between Avenues B and C stands a small, decorative sign bearing a one-word message: “Welcome” — seven letters that most take as a friendly invitation to enter.

But some residents say they’ve been locked out of this urban green space for at least nine months, and after voicing multiple complaints to Green Thumb, Community Board 3 and City Council District 2, one says she’s fed up with feeling overlooked.

“We have a right to be here, this is a community and everyone has to have a say,” said Teri Hagan, 75, who lives on East Second Street just across the street from the garden.

Mrs. Hagan said that she first noticed a new padlock on the garden gate back in September, and thought it was a temporary move or that long-time members were being mistakenly shut out.

Peach Tree community garden 1Chelsia Rose Marcius The Peach Tree Community Garden.

But the lock remained, so Mrs. Hagan contacted officials at the city’s community garden program, Green Thumb, and asked why she and her neighbors had not been given a new key. She said that Green Thumb officials told her she that must have missed paying her Peach Tree dues, and, after a phone call to the City Council District 2 office, she was redirected to the garden contact Nelson Valentin who would process the payment and give her gate access.

Mrs. Hagan said she approached Mr. Valentin in late May with a $20 check, but said he refused the dues. Several calls later, she settled on taking the matter to Community Board 3 and presented a one-page petition June 16 to the Parks, Recreation, Cultural Affairs, Landmarks, & Waterfront Committee, calling Mr. Valentin’s actions discriminatory and asking for assistance to “reclaim our garden.”

So far, the committee has not followed-up with her request. And Mrs. Hagen’s membership remains in limbo — and she’s still locked out of the garden that’s right across the street from her home.

Officials with the Parks Department and Green Thumb declined to comment on the dispute. Mr. Valentin denied that he has done anything wrong by preventing Mrs. Hagen and others from becoming members of the garden.

In an interview, Mr. Valentin said that members are allowed to join the garden based on his judgment and said that he opens the garden to everyone on weekends from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. “It’s up to our discretion who we give the keys to,” Mr. Valentin said, noting that security concerns in recent months have made him more vigilant about who has access to the garden.

Mrs. Hagen cites a passage in the Green Thumb Gardener’s handbook, which notes that garden “contacts do not necessarily hold decision making power” and “should be able to explain the garden’s membership procedure.” Still, Mr. Valentin has so far been unmoved.

Peach Tree community garden 2 - welcome signChelsia Rose MarciusA welcome sign at the garden.

Neighbors of Second Street say that there has been drug dealing inside Peach Tree, which Mrs. Hagan brought to the attention of Community Board 3 earlier this month. She said she’s not involved with the illicit activity and therefore should be able to become a member of the garden she helped to first plant more than 10 years ago.

Dan Glass, who is 44 and a member of the garden and who lives just a block and a half from Peach Tree, said Mr. Valentin is, “completely straight up in how he handles things” and he appreciates Mr. Valentin’s concern for safety. He said the feud between some residents and Mr. Valentin simply boils down to old grudges and “playground politics.”

“I can’t believe there could be so much drama around a community garden,” Mr. Glass said. “I mean it’s a garden, go there, plant something and do some work in the sun. There’s no need for this.”

Meanwhile, Mrs. Hagan is concerned that if the dispute isn’t resolved soon she might not be able to tend to her tulips, red roses and an assortment of veggies.

“Do they have so much power that we don’t have rights, that this discrimination now comes to me, to my neighbors, and to this garden?” she said. “I’m 75 years old, I don’t need this; I just want to tend to my little plot.”