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GreenThumb urban gardening program celebrates 40th anniversary with tree giveaway

The Parks Department program will host celebratory events around the city this summer.

At Discovery Community Garden in Jamaica, volunteers get

At Discovery Community Garden in Jamaica, volunteers get some early spring work in while distributing free trees as part of GreenThumb's 40th anniversary celebration. Photo Credit: Maxwell Parrott

It’s been four decades since the Parks Department launched its urban gardening program GreenThumb — and volunteers are making sure its legacy will grow on.

On the morning of May 12, a group of youth volunteers, amateur gardeners and nonprofit helpers bundled in rain jackets to host a tree giveaway in honor of the program’s 40th anniversary at the Discovery Community Garden in Jamaica. With the help of the New York Restoration project, the volunteers handed out about a hundred Serviceberries, Witchhazels and Eastern Redbuds while revitalizing the planters in their new space.

To qualify for a free tree, recipients had to agree to plant the tree within the five boroughs, in their own yard or community garden (not along streets or in city parks) and keep it watered and maintained.

The event was one of several around the city sponsored by the Parks Department. GreenThumb supports more than 550 community gardens with materials and workshops to help them grow.

In this particular garden, a married couple, Arvind Sowkey and Marie Vulcain, have been drumming up community involvement since becoming stewards of the two-lot space two months ago.

“We’re the next generation — it’s people in their 30s that are trying to help. A lot of the people who have been in charge of gardens are seniors who are aging out now. The gardens need youth to come in and assist,” said Vulcain.

GreenThumb helps provide them with lumber for raised bed planters, plants and workshops, but the new stewards have also taken advantage of materials, services and grants offered by an array of programs and nonprofits around the city.

Vulcain and Sowkey’s efforts seemed to be paying off. Community members steadily streamed in throughout the morning to pick up their trees.

“Wow, we only have one more Serviceberry left,” said Mathew Dain as he went to check on the tree inventory. Dain is a representative of the New York Restoration Project, a nonprofit that manages 52 community gardens throughout the city and completed an initiative to plant a million trees across New York in 2016.

Seasoned gardener Emily Jamison, 35, sees so much promise in the Discovery Garden’s space that she braves an hour and 20-minute commute from Astoria to work there. She is excited to experiment with new ideas for community outreach, she said, like herb gardens or “munching gardens” that members of the neighborhood could pick fresh vegetables from.

“GreenThumb has been great. Other nonprofits have also helped. It’s all about everyone collectively working together to make sure that the garden is the best it can be,” said Vulcain.

GreenThumb will be hosting events throughout the summer at locations around the city to celebrate its 40th anniversary. For a complete list of events, visit nycgovparks.org.

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