Seeds Planted for Rooftop Gardens to Feed Midtown Needs

A flower on the roof of 205 W. 39th St., as part of Inner City Farmer’s garden. | Photo courtesy of Inner City Farmer

BY DUSICA SUE MALESEVIC | Can a freshly grown tomato help with homelessness? Ask John Mudd and Andrea Winter, and the answer is a resounding “Yes.”

Winter, of Inner City Farmer and Mudd, of the Midtown South Community Council (MSCC), have partnered to help spread rooftop gardens in and around Midtown. Now entering its third season, Inner City Farmer grows thyme, tomatillos, and, yes, tomatoes on the roof of 205 W. 39th St.

Much of the produce — including collard greens, kale, carrots and all kinds of lettuces — is donated to the Dwelling Place, a homeless women’s shelter at 409 W. 40th St., and across the street to the food pantry Metro Baptist Church. Winter told this publication in a phone interview.

Winter recounted a story about giving tomatoes to a group of guys who are regularly at the corner of W. 39th St. and Ninth Ave. She said she often stops to chat with them, and on this occasion, they ate tomatoes while she explained where, and how, they were grown.

“We [were] connecting,” Winter said, noting that is part of Inner City Farmer’s mission. Her son, who started the initiative, wanted to get fresh, quality produce in the hands of people who might not be able to afford it, she explained.

Much of the produce Inner City Farmer grows is donated to a women’s shelter and a church’s food pantry in Hell’s Kitchen. | Photo courtesy of Inner City Farmer

Indeed, Mudd, a longtime Hell’s Kitchen resident who is president of the Midtown South Community Council, said, “It’s starting to build a foundation for a community.”

The council has been working on the complicated problem that is homelessness for years, bringing in speakers to talk about the topic as well as partnering with several organizations to tackle the issue in Midtown. Mudd said he also has been working on a study about the homeless and housing.

In a project that dovetails with that effort, Mudd has created a rooftop garden proposal that also includes estimated budgets.

“It’s a huge puzzle and it’s all ever-linking,” he said in a phone interview.

A rooftop garden could provide numerous benefits — including nutritious food and job opportunities — for those who are homeless, Mudd explained.

Initially, the idea was to have a rooftop garden at the Midtown South Precinct — located at 357 W. 35th St.

Mudd said that while they are still pursuing that idea, he hopes to “find a rooftop soon to catch the season,” and they have expanded their search to schools, churches, and municipal buildings — and are now focused on shelters. Mudd said he recently emailed the Bowery Residents’ Committee to see if there is interest in a rooftop garden.

He also had a meeting with Services for the UnderServed, a nonprofit that has an Urban Farms program that has “more than 40 growing spaces in four boroughs, including eight community farms,” according to its website.

“We met with them — that might be a great fit,” Mudd said.

Winter, who is also the urban farm director for the MSCC, said that the Services for the UnderServed’s Urban Farms gets people to work while teaching them skills as well as showing the therapeutic quality of farming.

Mudd and Winter talked about rooftop gardens at Community Board 4’s Waterfront, Parks & the Environment Committee meeting on Apr. 12.

“The community board seems to be wholeheartedly behind stuff like this,” Mudd said afterwards.

Winter added, “I thought they were encouraging and enthusiastic.”

John Mudd, president of the Midtown South Community Council, recently talked about his rooftop garden project at a CB4 committee meeting. | Photo by Winnie McCroy

The committee offered to a put information about the rooftop farm project on the board’s website, and Mudd said board members as well as those attending the meeting may have contacts and connections that could be helpful. At the meeting, it was suggested that they reach out to the Hell’s Kitchen South Coalition and Penn South.

Winter noted at the meeting that rooftop farms could help with the area’s air quality — with the Lincoln Tunnel and the Port Authority Bus Terminal in the neighborhood, air quality has been a source of concern and an issue the community is focused on.

Both Winter and Mudd said they wanted to involve kids and families in some way, with Winter saying that she might give tours of her rooftop garden.

Mudd said he hopes to replicate the rooftop garden model as much as possible, and Winter said that she is also interested in helping out on smaller projects — even if it is planting one pot.

“I’d be delighted to do that,” she said.

— Additional reporting by Winnie McCroy

Vegetables and herbs are grown at the Inner City Farmer’s garden on the roof of 205 W. 39th St. | Photo courtesy of Inner City Farmer

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