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Community Garden Thrives in Mount Hope

August 15, 2006

By JAMES FERGUSSON

Aug 19 – Korean War veteran Gordon Johnson enjoys spending time in Townsend Garden, a lot-sized community garden at the south-west corner of Walton Avenue and 175th Street. “If you sit out here you forget where you are,” said Johnson. “It’s a different air because of the trees. You’re breathing beautiful air.”

Summer is a busy time in the garden. Local residents, ten of whom maintain vegetable patches, take turns watering and weeding. Walk around and you’ll see strawberries and tomatoes ripening, okra and eggplant, and rows of cabbages, kale, and broccoli. There’s even a peach tree, currently laden with fruit. 

Johnson has lived in the neighborhood since the 1960s.  The lot was once home to an apartment building, he remembers, with a liquor store on the ground floor. “After the blackout [1977] the owner abandoned it,” he said. “It got to be a bad place and so the city took it down.”

It lay empty until 1994 when Mount Hope Housing Company, and residents of 1734-35 Townsend Avenue, worked together to create a little slice of green – in an area with few parks and open spaces. 

 Willie Simmons is another Mount Hope resident fond of the garden.  “I love nature period,” she said. “It’s something to beatify the neighborhood. It’s relaxing.”

In 2004 Mount Hope Housing Company and local volunteers put up a gazebo.  Green Thumb, a city-based advocate for urban gardens who also provides Townsend gardeners with tools and the occasional plant, came up with the design, and a local lumber company, Harrow Lumber, donated the wood.

The garden is open Monday through Friday from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Key Food Fills Gap on Walton Avenue

August 15, 2006

By JAMES FERGUSSON

Aug 15 - Johny Taveras’ office window looks down onto the supermarket’s five cash registers, and out over the fruit and vegetable aisle. He also has a great view of the store’s giant aquarium, and the five sharks and one Hawaiian grouper that glide back and forth, back and forth.

Key Food on Walton Avenue and 176th Street opened last March. “We were looking around [for a location],” said Taveras, a part owner, speaking over the hum of a noisy air-conditioner. “We figured the area was ripe and we gave it a shot. This area was really underserved.”

The store is surprisingly spacious, bright and airy, and the floors are clean and free of clutter. Gap on

According to Taveras, 32, business has been brisk. “We’ve had a very positive reaction from the neighborhood,” he said, “People seem to like it. It has been a pleasant trip so far.”

Key Food has a wide selection of meats, dairy products, fresh fish, and canned goods, as well as organic fair and specialty foods such as dried codfish – or “bacalao” – a dish popular with customers from the Caribbean. Around lunchtime there’s often a line of people queueing up at the deli counter to order fresh sandwiches to go.

Annie Marsh of 173rd Street does much of her grocery shopping here. “It’s good for me,” she said, as she whizzed up and down the aisles. “The sales are good… and the meat is fresher than Bravo.”

Eddie Velazquez is equally enamored. “The prices are good,” he said, “It’s nice and clean… oh, and I like the aquarium.”

Taveras explains that the tank was here when he arrived. The previous owner of the store – which was also a supermarket – was “fish mad,” said Taveras, but when he abandoned ship, he left the aquarium, and its occupants, behind.

Key Food has approximately 20 stores in the city, and several in the Bronx. Taveras’ store employs up to 17 people at any one time, most of who are from the local area.

Key Food on Walton Avenue is open Monday through Saturday, 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Sunday 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. They offer free home delivery. For more information call (718) 299-2829.

Mount Hope Residents Celebrate Echo Park’s Revival

August 15, 2006

By JAMES FERGUSSON

Aug 15 – In Random Family, Adrian Nicole LeBlanc’s non-fiction bestseller about coming of age in the Bronx, Mount Hope’s Echo Park gets a mention; an argument over a basketball inside the park’s grounds on a Fall afternoon in 1988 escalates into a shootout in which a toddler is injured by a stray bullet.

By all accounts, Echo Park, a hilly four-acre park situated on Valentine Avenue, just south of 179th Street, was a nasty place in the 1970s and 80s – more a hangout for drug dealers and youths with trouble on their minds than a friendly neighborhood oasis.

Ernestine Jackson, who lived in Mount Hope from 1965 to 1977, remembers the park’s deterioration. “In the early 1970s the drugs started coming in and by the time I left I’d stopped bringing my kids out here,” said Jackson, adding that, at the time, most of the buildings along East Burnside Avenue (at the north end of the park) were abandoned.

In the 1990s, however, things began to change for the better. Through the hard work of local residents, Mount Hope Housing Company, and the Parks Department, Echo Park experienced a renaissance. The park was cleaned up and made more accessible, and the playground, handball court, and sidewalks were renovated.

In 1997, Mount Hope Housing Company held its first Echo Park Community Festival to celebrate the park’s revival and encourage local residents to take a stand against the nefarious elements in their midst.

The event proved popular and on Saturday, Aug. 12, crowds of people gathered to celebrate its 10th anniversary. In all, 3000 people passed through, according to Pamela Babb, Mount Hope Housing Company’s vice president of development and communications.

At “Drug Free and Proud to Be Day” visitors watched local kids and musicians sing and perform dance routines. Renowned New York DJ, Spinbad, mixed the tunes and kept the crowd entertained between acts. 

Families lined up for free burgers and hot dogs, and kids enjoyed pony rides and a bouncy castle. A basketball tournament, sponsored by the Police Athletic League, was held on the park’s basketball court, while Bronx hospitals and health insurance companies offered educational information.

 

Posters designed by Mount Hope Housing Company’s Project READY’s (Resources for Employment and Academic Development for Youth) summer students were on display. The theme was “My Vision for a Drug Free Community,” and prizes were to given to the judges’ favorites.