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What Will You Build Today? (Including Updates on the Fugees Family, Hurricane Sandy Garden Damage, Dignity, and More)

Posted Nov 24 2012 8:02am
It seems an odd place to be thinking about building, but there I was, the day after Thanksgiving, riding my bike and thinking about building.  I guess the immersion in nature--from meadow to marshland to river to woods--made me grateful that this land had been preserved and nothing had been built there (I wrote about this place in my book on pages 95-96).  And perhaps that got me thinking about "building" in all its forms.  Building opportunity.  Building community.  Building dignity. And how easy it is to work together to build something good in this world.  Here are some ways for you to join me in answering the one question I can never, ever seem to crack--what on earth is really possible?

Building Opportunity

I created this little slide show just for you. The truly remarkable and inspiring Luma Mufleh is asking for our help in a very easy way that costs nothing but a minute a day for eight days (November 27-December 4), for the chance to win a million dollars.  And then her organization, the Fugees Family , can start building the first school for refugee children in the United States, complete with a huge community garden.  If you would, please spread the word on your social media networks.  Luma has a big heart, and this we can do.

Building Community

Hurricane Sandy came and went, and left a sea of destruction behindI asked on a couple of listservs and Twitter if anyone knew of a concerted effort to raise "seed money" or send seeds for community garden/urban farm rebuilding.  I had assumed the remarkable Battery Urban Farm (see short video here from when I visited two summer ago) was long gone, and I wondered what else was gone.

And then I got the tweet.  From the Battery Park Conservancy.  The first urban farm on the tip of Manhattan since the days of the Dutch settlers survived the storm!  Here are a couple of photos they sent me of what's happening "on the ground."  The soil has been sent to be tested for contaminants, but hopes are high for a banner spring.  (The Battery Park Conservancy office, unfortunately, was destroyed.)

In other garden news, Lenny Librizzi from Grow NYC gave a long list of garden updates, including that the Santos Garden in Coney Island is completely gone and the chickens were killed, but, lo and behold, the ducks survived (swimming skills?). Numerous gardens have lots of debris that require removal with heavy equipment and dumpsters. Cleanups with the Green Guerillas are underway.  Lots of wheelbarrows are in action, and much lumber is being used right now to reconstruct beds, gazebos, chicken coops, amphitheaters, benches, and tables.  Of the 64 community gardens on Manhattan's Lower East Side, maybe 12 need post-Sandy assistance.  About 40,000 trees are down citywide in gardens and parks.

I heard from Phillip Ulbrich, who is with FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) in the GIS (mapping) department, who is eager to make a map of community garden/urban farm damage and needs, so we'll see what he comes up with.

This article gives a good rundown of some of the gardens and their losses from Hurricane Sandy.  What I have not found yet is a concerted effort to raise money to help these gardens.  If anyone knows of anything, please email me at and let's build a way to make a difference. 

Building Dignity

The day before Thanksgiving is my favorite day at the food pantry, because gratitude overflows in all directions and so, so many people in need (which, over time, I've figured out means all of us in one way or another) come and gather together.  I know when people help in the garden we built there that they feel like they give of themselves (and not just receive) and I know for sure that this is a dignity issue, and that dignity matters .  

And so we put the call out for wheelbarrows and tools, and people brought them, and more than 30 people who had been standing on line for hours to wait for the food pantry doors to open came over and helped.  

In about an hour, the entire garden was remulched.  We built two lasagna garden rows that will "cook" for a couple of months and be ready for potato planting in February.  Fresh greens to fill holiday bowls were harvested.  And dads and moms and children all had a hand in working together to make a positive difference.  Keep this in mind with your community garden.  There is always someone who not only wants to, but needs to "water on Wednesdays."   There is always someone who will feel better about him or herself because they got the chance to help.  And you never know when a voice will burst out in glorious song (as it did Wednesday) when a group of boys were asked what their reward was for helping and were told to heed the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson: "The reward for a thing well done is to have done it."

If you want to grow for those in need in your community, please feel free to email me if you think I can offer you any suggestions, encouragement, or connections.  See here for more tips.

And ask yourself today, as I will every day now: What will you "have done" when today is done? It doesn't have to be grand.  In fact, the simpler, the better.

You can build opportunity, community, and dignity.

You can build knowledge.

You can build memories.

You can build health.

What will you build today?  
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