Stories

Nurturing Nature in NYC

Photo Credit: Kelly Street Garden

At Kelly Street Garden’s weekly market, local community members dig their bare hands into the soil of the garden’s raised beds, harvesting the week’s selection of fruits, vegetables, and herbs, or planting seeds for a future harvest. Close by, high school students prepare bundles of fresh produce to hand out to residents, while other volunteers set up a cooking class.

Sheryll Durrant is Resident Garden Manager for Kelly Street Garden (KSG), which has been a Citizen Action group of the Open Space Institute (OSI) since 2019.

Sheryll is animated as she talks about the garden and how it has become a community resource — training young people, providing nutrition and cooking classes, and even collecting rainwater for irrigation. “We do so much more than grow food and distribute it to residents and local food pantries at no cost. We are part of the fabric of this community.”

Surrounded by apartment high-rises on all sides, the 2,500-square-foot garden generates almost 2,000 pounds of produce each year. In 2013 community activists negotiated with developers to keep the garden as a community green space after the apartment complex was renovated.

Proud of the community she lives and works in, Sheryll adds, “KSG is a testament to how, with some care and investment, urban landscapes don’t have to be divorced from other green spaces. We need places in the city where people can connect to nature, that are welcoming to everyone, and are great for mental health and spiritual healing.”

Acknowledging the power of the garden as a community resource, Sheryll notes, “Kelly Street Garden has flourished thanks to the passion and involvement of our residents, the funding we have received, and successful partnerships.”

KSG partnered with OSI to learn the daily fiscal and administrative tasks needed to operate a nonprofit.

Over the past four decades, OSI’s Citizen Action program has been at the forefront of providing fledgling grassroot organizations, many of which are aimed at addressing urban environmental issues or improving local neighborhoods, with mentorship, professional training, and legal assistance as they work to achieve not-for-profit status and establish themselves as successful nonprofit entities.

“In addition to providing us fiscal sponsorship so that we can raise money for the garden, working with OSI has been a great way for me to learn other skills. I need to keep the garden operating smoothly. I have taken workshops with OSI on fundraising, social media, and project management,” notes Sheryll.

Jessica Watson, who runs OSI’s Citizen Action program, said of the fruitful partnership, “Through Citizen Action, OSI is able to support the work of new and diverse organizations that are passionate about conservation, environmental education, and food justice. KSG is addressing issues in the South Bronx that are central to OSI’s mission, and I am glad to provide guidance that increases KSG’s ability to have a positive impact on the local community.”

Looking out into the garden, Sheryll shares one last thought. “Our garden’s largest impact is as a self-healing community. I have seen firsthand the transformational power of touching soil, and Kelly Street Garden helps us address the issues of our community while bringing people together. We are providing a space where people can actually heal.”

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