Community garden project could get big grant from Cornell

A community garden proposed for downtown Riverhead could get a portion of a $1.2 million grant through the Cornell Cooperative Extension to promote healthy eating through farmer’s markets and community gardens, etc. it was revealed in Town Hall last week.

A nonprofit group called River and Roots Community Garden is hoping to build the garden on town-owned land just north of Grangebel Park and south of Griffing Avenue’s intersection with Route 25.

“The plan includes 36 garden beds, two herb decks to be shared by gardeners and a perimeter planted with berries and fruit trees, to be shared by gardeners and passersby,” Amy Davidson, who founded the group with Laurie Nigro, said at a hearing on the proposal at last Tuesday’s Town Board meeting.

Under the plan, any Riverhead resident would be able to sign up for a plot in which to grow things.

Susan Wilk, Cornell Cooperative Extension’s project coordinator of creating healthy places in Suffolk County, announced at that public hearing that the Riverhead-based Cornell extension has received a $1.2 million grant that will focus on creating strategies aimed at preventing and reducing obesity-related health problems in Riverhead, Southampton and Babylon towns.

“One of the project’s objectives is supporting community gardens,” she said. “The state feels so strongly [about promoting] farmers markets and community gardens that they are investing in this.”

The grant also targets the creation of additional nutrition education, improved walking and biking trails and working with grocery stores and restaurants to promote healthier food options, Ms. Wilk said.

The proposed community garden mostly drew support during Tuesday’s hearing.

“We are ready to make the garden a reality and improve the health and quality of life of Riverhead residents,” Ms. Davidson said.
“This spot in particular is the perfect choice for our community,” Ms. Nigro said. “The location serves as a visual entry to downtown,  welcoming people to Main Street. And combined with the extensive renovation of Grangebel Park, the community garden would be a beautiful and welcoming destination.”

There has been some confusion over whether a prior Town Board in some way promised the land in question as a site for a veteran’s memorial.

“We are led to believe, as an organization, that a resolution had been passed several years ago allotting this piece of land as a war memorial, and that a sizable grant of about $50,000 was put aside for this purpose,” said John Newman of the Veterans of Foreign War Post 2476 in Riverhead.

“A couple of people have raised the issue that we may have dedicated this for a veteran’s memorial,” Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter responded. “We have done extensive research: we can’t find any dedication.”

Mr. Walter said he thinks the community garden is a “fantastic idea” for downtown.

Councilman John Dunleavy said he was told by employees with the town’s community development agency that the $50,000 grant was to renovate an old comfort station on the property.

The idea of using the site as a veterans memorial was brought up in February, 2004, by town assessor Paul Leszczynski, who is an American Legion member, according to a 2004 News-Review article.

The community garden proposal also met with some opposition Tuesday from resident Sandra Mott. She said the Peconic River floods and is filled with contaminants from Brookhaven National Lab, and that the vegetables and fruits grown in the garden would lure animals to the site, and those animals would then be hit by cars.

Ms. Mott said she supports a community garden, but not in this proposed location.

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