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Planting for Bees, Butterflies, and Beauty in the Bronx

By Kelly Gill on 25. May 2023
Kelly Gill
Volunteer carrying watering can at the dedication event
A People's Garden brings together people and pollinators, as evidenced by volunteers working to plant pollinator habitat. (Photo: Kelly Gill / Xerces Society.) 


Recently, I was fortunate to join a celebration of two Bronx-based urban farms becoming USDA People’s Gardens in New York City: Garden of Happiness and Tawqua Community Farm.  At the official dedication event, Xerces and partners from NRCS New York, NYC Parks GreenThumb, New York Botanical Garden, and the Mary Mitchell Family Foundation worked together to plant pollinator habitat gardens and help with spring clean-up tasks at both farms, followed by the official dedication ceremony. 

Garden of Happiness and Tawqua Community Farm are two of 17 urban farms and community gardens across the country that were selected as flagship gardens for the inaugural relaunch of the USDA People’s Garden Initiative. The initiative is part of a broader USDA effort to advance equity, support and expand local food systems, improve access to food, teach people how to garden using conservation and climate-smart practices, provide habitat for pollinators and wildlife and maintain or create open greenspace cities, and build more resilient communities. 

Garden of Happiness and Tawqua Community Farm have operated under these principles since their inception, and the ongoing contributions and magnitude of positive impact both gardens have in the local community is staggering. Certainly, both farms serve as models for urban agriculture that clearly demonstrate small-scale farming has disproportionately large-scale benefits. 


Volunteers weeding the garden of happiness 
Volunteers in the community keep the Garden of Happiness thriving. (Photo: Kelly Gill / Xerces Society.)


Abandoned lots were reimagined into urban oases

Garden of Happiness, located in the East Tremont Neighborhood of the Bronx, was founded in 1988. The three formerly city-owned lots which the garden now occupies were transformed by the community after plans to develop the land fell through and the lot was abandoned and became a dumping ground. With the help of NYC Parks Operation GreenThumb, the community was able to clean up the lot and transform it into a garden. 


Beautiful garden in a city lot
The Bronx community transformed an urban dump site into the beautiful and functional Garden of Happiness. (Photo: Kelly Gill / Xerces Society.)


Taqua Community Farm shares a similar story. It was also a vacant lot that became a dumping ground in what was once one of the city’s most impoverished neighborhoods, the Highbridge neighborhood of the Bronx. The community revived the lot and transformed it into a vibrant community farm in 1992 with the help of neighborhood residents and NYC Parks. 


Bed of plants near a greenhouse at the garden
Taqua Community Farm is another example of a vivacious community space with roots as an abandoned dumping ground. (Photo: Kelly Gill / Xerces Society.)


People’s Gardens bring together nature, food, and people

For local residents, the Garden of Happiness and Taqwa Community Farm are more than places that benefit the community by growing and providing fresh, local produce. These urban farms are also a natural refuge, where people can connect with and enjoy nature. They are a focal point for community gathering, activity, and cultural exchange, and they are places of peace and neighborhood pride. 

Now, after adding about 250 native flowering plants to both sites to celebrate their new designation, Garden of Happiness and Taqwa Community Farm are also places for pollinators. Xerces staff has been working closely with NRCS and the USDA Office of Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production to enhance habitat for pollinators and provide outreach and education at People’s Gardens in other cities including Philadelphia, Detroit, Portland, and Minneapolis.

Do you have a community farm or garden that you’d like to designate a People’s Garden? School gardens, community gardens, urban farms, and small-scale agriculture projects in rural and urban areas, can be recognized as a “People’s Garden” if they benefit the community, are a collaborative effort, incorporate sustainable farming and conservation practices, and educate the public. 


Community garden and volunteers within, surrounded by city buildings
People's Gardens are sustainable, educational, and synergistic spaces worthy of celebration! (Photo: Kelly Gill / Xerces Society.)



As a Xerces Society Pollinator Conservation Specialist and a Partner Biologist with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Kelly provides technical assistance on pollinator conservation in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast region. This work includes planning, designing, installing, and managing habitat for pollinators. Kelly also works with staff and research partners to develop technical guidelines and provide training on pollinator conservation practices.

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