Community gardens by foot & bike

Did I tell you that I joined the board of a wonderful organization called the Brooklyn Queens Land Trust (BQLT) this past spring? I didn’t? Well, that’s probably because I spent approximately half my waking hours between then and last weekend helping to plan our 7th Annual Bike & Walking Tour!!

Happy people in bike helmets looking at plants

Happy bike tour participants inspect foliage at a BQLT garden

But I get ahead of myself. Let me first explain that BQLT owns and stewards over 30 community gardens in NYC’s two most populous boroughs. This means these public green spaces are permanently saved from development and cannot be sold. It means we apply for grants and hold fundraisers to keep them in raised beds and water systems. It means the resident gardeners who put their blood, sweat, and tears into transforming many of these plots from abandoned wastelands into lush oases for the whole neighborhood to enjoy 20, 30, and 40 years ago can confidently pass them on to the next generation. I’m so proud to be part of all this work, and so excited to learning about everything from tree identification to city council budgets with the committed and good-humored BQLT crew.

Group photo in community garden

Select BQLT board and staff members giddy with relief at the end of the tour

That’s why, after many months of planning, it was so thrilling when our big day finally came. Last Saturday, September 15th, 60 awesome people showed up to tour a handful of our beautiful community gardens in Bushwick (apparently the 7th Coolest Neighborhood in the World, according to Vogue), and eastern Bedford-Stuyvesant. We started the afternoon at Concerned Citizens of Grove Street Garden with remarks by a community affairs rep from the office of our Borough President, Eric Adams (who is himself a vegan bicyclist, didn’t ya know?), and by the garden’s founder Jaime Alvarez, who started it 37 years ago.

From there, tour t-shirts donned and branded water bottles filled, we bikers embarked on our ride to check out six more gardens, while the walking group ambled off to four. We saw bitter melon growing and chickens scratching. We heard stories of gardens’ origins as ashen lots in the bad old days of 1970s NYC. We whizzed by stoop sales and farmers markets and a motorcycle washing station with hand-lettered signage set up in someone’s garage. I learned that my husband has the same birthday as one of city council member Antonio Reynoso‘s staffers, and that La Finca Garden was established way back in 1986.

Guy in bike helmet and glasses next to guy in blazer

Birthday twinsies!

Woman in bike helmet next to man in baseball cap

They even have embroidered hats!

After a few sunny hours of pedaling, peeping, and chatting, we arrived at the truly fabulous People’s Garden for plant-based Dominican snacks by woman- and worker-owned catering cooperative Woke Foods and music by a band from Haiti Cultural Exchange. Kids pushed each other around in a wagon. People waiting for the bus outside peered in and bopped to the tunes. And apparently a reporter was there from Our Time Press, because I just saw this article! Nice. As dusk approached, I finally took off my fluoro yellow tour leader vest and headed out the gate, mad tired but wicked satisfied.

While I can’t say I’ll exactly miss the scores of hours the little BQLT events committee spent in after-work meetings at the library, the email chains about flyer printing that grew to 50 messages deep, or the mosquito-filled crepuscular trial rides I took part in over the past handful of months, they were all totally worth it. See you for the 8th!

People on bikes in urban America

2017: Greatest Hits

Is there a five-second rule equivalent for saying, “Happy New Year”? Like, is it still reasonable to say it on January 13? I guess I’ll find out.

Happy New Year, readers! Let’s celebrate the arrival of 2018 by kissing 2017 goodbye in style: with my annual end-of-year newsletter!

I Peace NY sign in lights

Hark! The holidays!

This year, I got into…

  • Women with guns
  • The art(s) of community development
  • Fighting plastic waste in oceans
  • The future of work
  • Audio engineering day camps for girls
  • Ridiculous party games
  • A 26′ moving truck… for 2,000 miles

If this year-end-stravaganza didn’t already hit your inbox, you can peep it here, and even sign up to get one next year!

Peace out—or really, peace in! I’m psyched to be starting 2018 with you.

Looking for a practical, ongoing way to make a positive difference post-election?

I thought you might be!

Here’s one idea that checks all of the following boxes:

  • It will keep us thinking critically and articulating our thoughts about political issues in the coming year and beyond, on a regular basis
  • It will let our elected representatives know where we stand on key issues likely to be affected by the Trump administration (climate change, freedom of the press, reproductive rights, racism, immigration…)
  • It doesn’t cost anything but a couple of postage stamps and a bit of printer ink each week
  • It can be accomplished at any time of day or night, in the comfort of your home (and in your pajamas, if you so choose), in 30 minutes or less, once a week
  • It will introduce you to a grip (so far 110 and counting) of excellent people nationwide who are also committing to this peaceful act of democracy
  • Unlike complaining to our already-sympathetic friends and family in our living rooms (which I also fully intend to go on doing), this actually might help us sway decision-making at the highest levels of government

What is it??

Why, it’s a good old fashioned letter writing campaign!

Letter writing campaign

Image borrowed from DayAgainstHomophobia.org

My new friend Katie is organizing people nationwide who pledge to send one brief letter a week to our respective state’s senators (and district reps, too, if we choose) about important issues we want to weigh in on. We’ll start right after the inauguration. The group is pooling ideas for topics to write about and talking points to include, so the letter-penning task won’t turn into hours of homework for anyone. (AKA: You don’t need to be a policy wonk to make your letters meaningful! You just need to show you care.)

While of course we’d love for anyone and everyone to get in on this, we’re especially looking for people who live in “red” or mixed states or congressional districts to get on board, as well as people who live in places that experienced an unexpected swell of Trump support in the voting booths.

Here’s a document Katie drafted called The Big Idea which explains everything a little more, and one I drafted with a fun photo at the top.

If you think you might want to take part, awesome!! Just fill out this quick form, or send an email to Katie at shallnotperish2016@gmail.com with the subject “Deal Me In” and your city and state in the body. She’ll give you more details and you can decide if you want to take part.

Thanks, fellow travelers! I’m glad to have you around as we gear up for the unknown.

Labor Day fantasy fun-times: The famous river surfers of Munich

Perhaps you are preparing to engage in a water-related activity of some kind this holiday weekend: a little frolicsome jet-skiing, some picturesque ocean snorkeling, or just a lazy rowboat ride around the lake.

If you are, mazel tov! But if, like me, you’re poised to stay largely indoors this weekend, deluged with work (always a good problem to have!), planning your wedding, and perhaps freaking out about a possible upcoming house purchase, then you will want to identify some good Labor Day fantasy fun-time water activities that you can enjoy by simply imagining yourself doing them. Right?

I already found my go-to, courtesy of my excellent cousin Geoff, who was in Europe for work a few months ago and sent me this photo, with the included caption:

River surfers in Munich Germany

“Yesterday, I saw the famous river surfers of Munich in action!”

I loved what I saw, but had evidently been living under a rock and was not yet aware of this exotic species. To ensure I would be absorbing only the most objective and rigorously fact-checked information on the topic, I turned to Vice, which explained that the powerful wave in the Eisbach River (a small, man-made arm of the Isar River) where these dudes do their thing is “the result of a rare mistake in German engineering.”

Apparently, a series of concrete blocks was submerged in the Eisbach in the ’70s to slow its flow before it reached the calm canals of Munich’s English Garden, located a ways down the river. An unintended effect of the blocks was the creation of a rapid. That plus some additional manipulation of the area by surfers (in the form of lashing their spare boards to some nearby bridge pylons) worked together to form the Eisbachwelle!, now Germany’s premier surfing wave.

So there we have it: legendary inland surfing (sometimes inland nude surfing, according to Vice) in a country otherwise not well-known for its beaches. What a lovely plot twist!

If that type of unanticipated wonder is possible, maybe I should hold out hope for scoring a little outdoor time (and maybe even some water time?) this Labor Day weekend after all.

And the cube goes to…

Last week, I had the super-pleasure of attending the Urban Green Council‘s fourth annual EBie Awards (pronounced EE-bee!). These “Oscars of Existing Buildings” recognize improved environmental performance: measures that reduce energy consumption, efficiently use storm water runoff, improve indoor environmental quality to promote better human health, etc.

Please proceed to GOOD TIMES

I was there as a guest of the terrific designer (and my good friend) Claire Hansen and her equally inimitable husband Russell Unger, executive director of Urban Green, so the conversation over dinner was guaranteed to be good. But, to my delight, the merriment didn’t stop there.

The evening combined all the great things about classic awards shows—Broadway numbers, presenters ribbing presenters, and an open bar—with not-so-common actual importance: these people were being celebrated for saving millions of kilowatts of electricity, saving even more millions of gallons of water, and educating building owners, tenants, and visitors about their life-saving best practices. I’ll raise a Super Sap cube to that!

I covered the EBies for Urban Green’s blog, and I’m happy to report their communications crew was just as nice and fun to work with as I’d imagined. They organize and host great events all the time; I hope to hang out at and write about many more of them!