Urban Agriculture | August 3, 2021

An Inwood Community Garden Reinvents in the COVID Era

NYRP staff provide additional maintenance and support for some garden beds at Riley-Levin. Photo credit: Ben Hider

Our Riley-Levin Children’s Garden in Inwood has always been an indispensable outdoor classroom for educating local youth about gardening, healthy eating, and environmental literacy. However, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit last year, we put the safety of the community first and halted all in-person programming.

With beds already planted and food insecurity on the rise, the need for gardens like Riley-Levin became even more critical. Working with longstanding community partner groups such as the WHIN Food Council, the garden went from an education hub to an essential food distribution site, providing neighbors with fresh and nutritious food.


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A post shared by WHIN Food Council (@whinfoodcouncil)

Now, as vaccination numbers rise and COVID restrictions change, we have been thrilled to reintroduce in-person programming throughout our gardens. To kickstart the 2021 growing season, NYRP hired urban agriculture specialists to help oversee eight beds at Riley-Levin and assist community members across all 52 of our gardens to grow more food.

At Riley-Levin specifically, we’ve partnered with two committed groups in this season in addition to WHIN Food Council: Papai’s Garden and Amaya’s Book Reads. These partnerships not only provide access to garden beds, but also tools, a gardening handbook, lesson ideas, and ongoing staff support.

With the garden, partners both old and new have a productive and thriving green space to rebuild their pre-COVID programming momentum. Papai’s Garden, for example, a group whose mission is to provide opportunities for people with different intellectual and physical abilities through urban gardening, sees the garden as a home to grow their mission and a place to collaborate with other likeminded organizations.


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A post shared by Papai’s Garden (@papais_garden)

The idea of Papai’s Garden has always been in the back of founders Dita De and Taylor Anderson’s minds: “COVID was actually what gave us the time and space to focus on developing this idea and to have a positive impact,” explained De. Since partnering with NYRP, Papai’s Garden now oversees two beds at Riley-Levin and has a physical space to formalize and test their programming, build connections with other NYRP partners, and provide fresh food to their community. “NYRP is always there to offer whatever support is available. It feels like a real family over by the garden,” describes Anderson.

Additionally, we’ve welcomed Amaya’s Book Reads (ABR) to Riley-Levin this season. A youth empowerment, literacy, and wellness organization, ABR is committed to empowering, engaging with, and ingraining the value of literacy for families in underserved areas. Through this partnership, ABR will be able to implement their “Read it, Grow it” workshop that utilizes garden beds to show youth how to grow food in the city while also promoting healthy eating and living through horticulture-themed books.


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A post shared by Amaya’s Bookreads, Inc. 📚 (@_amayasbookreads)

This is WHIN Food Council’s fifth season at Riley-Levin. They now oversees six garden beds to support their mission of providing food education and combatting food injustice within Washington Heights and Inwood.

Garden coordinator Can Esroy emphasizes how essential the garden is to WHIN’s programming success since they don’t have a physical office space. “It is a place where we can show people what we preach, so to speak, and of course, use that as a proof of concept.” says Can. Additionally, Esroy points out that, thanks to continuous support and guidance from the NYRP team, their once-novice gardening knowledge is now flourishing and they can help other groups create events and growing plans. “This partnership is an invaluable resource that kind of allowed us to stand on our two feet,” explains Esroy.


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A post shared by New York Restoration Project (@nyrp)

Today, WHIN is creating a growing community of neighbors who are passionate about urban agriculture and food justice through their grow-from-home programs, nutrition workshops, family garden days, and environmental education.

While COVID-19 has changed some of the ways NYRP interacts with their incredible network of parks and gardens, some things remain constant: the garden will always serve as a vital place for exchanging knowledge, environmental education, urban farming, and community-building.

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