The MTA-owned lot, which was once a dumping ground overgrown with weeds and piled high with trash, runs under the M train between the Seneca Avenue-Palmetto Street and Forest Avenue stops.
Ridgewood resident Clark Fitzgerald is a member of Mayan Spring, a non-profit group that is spearheading the revitalization of the lot.
“We are living through a tough time of unparalleled disaster and uncertainty, which is also an immense opportunity for rebirth and trying out new ways of living and working together,” Fitzgerald said of the meaning behind the group's name.
Fitzgerald, a SoHo native, was priced out of Manhattan and Brooklyn. After his arrival in Ridgewood, he has focused on improving the community’s quality of life through the cultivation of the garden.
Since early April, the group has spent about $3,000 cleaning the space, as well as testing the soil. Predictably, with the train running overhead every five minutes, the soil was contaminated.
“Obviously is it a very toxic area with all the track lubricants,” Fitzgerald said. “The 20th century was a bad time for the environment and Ridgewood in particular was very affected.”
Fitzgerald said that he and about a dozen other volunteers have been testing ways to clean the soil.
“Mostly what we are doing is experimenting with ways to remediate the site, testing the soil, cleaning it up and growing plants that reintroduce nutrients into the soil to create a better environment for ourselves, but also for plant life and animals,” he said.
Sunlit-areas were sectioned off and flatbeds with plants were installed. The volunteers hope to grow vegetables and herbs for the local community.
According to Fitzgerald, volunteers have forged friendships with residents whose homes directly overlook the community garden. He said that the garden’s neighbors often provide resources, such as water, through nearby windows. The garden also attracts Glendale and Bushwick residents.
“There is just not space like this in other places,” Fitzgerald said. “A half an acre to a full acre of land? That’s unheard of in New York City, so it is clearly too good an opportunity to pass up for us.”
The residents are not the only ones happy about the new garden. According to Fitzgerald, local MTA employees also appreciate the work Mayan Spring is doing.
However, the MTA is giving mixed signals about the project from higher up the management chain. The group is trying to mimic existing community gardens on MTA property in Long Island City, Elmhurst and Flatbush.
“We had provisional implicit agreements with the station manager here and agents come by and say, ‘keep up the good work, we like what you are doing,’” Fitzgerald said.