Community gardens go to new owners

April 3, 2009
By

JOHN RUCH

Community gardens owned by the pioneering but dormant local Boston Urban Gardeners (BUG) will be transferred to the Boston Natural Areas Network (BNAN) after nearly a decade of controversy about their fate, BUG members announced on March 28.

“We’re happy to announce this new direction that will ensure the sustainability and productive future of our community gardens,” BUG president Marrey Embers said in a press statement.

Since going dormant in 2000, BUG has been sitting on more than $400,000 and several community gardens in Jamaica Plain and Dorchester, including the Southwest Corridor Community Farm on Lamartine Street.

Local gardeners have pleaded with BUG for years to transfer its assets so the gardens could be maintained. Complaining that BUG was violating its bylaws as a non-profit organization, frustrated local activists in 2006 declared themselves a new version of BUG. The efforts of those activists, now known as “Group B,” paved the way for negotiations with BNAN.

Group B member Greg Murphy said his group was not involved in the BNAN land transfer deal. But, he said in an e-mail to the Gazette, the Community Farm gardeners “are very happy to finally have a new landlord with a proven track record of community garden stewardship.”

BNAN President Valerie Burns did not return a Gazette phone call for this article. BNAN owns many other community gardens in JP.

The garden transfer deal involves the official dissolution of BUG as an organization, which will require approval by the state Attorney General’s Office and the Supreme Judicial Court. Embers said that BUG expects those approvals to happen and made the announcement now so BNAN could start working with community gardeners for this growing season.

The announcement involved only BUG’s real estate. It is unclear what is supposed to happen to BUG’s $400,000. Embers declined to comment on the money and other aspects of the deal, including even general directions of thought about it.

“I think the community will be delighted, and we’re working very hard to complete this [dissolution deal] as soon as we can,” she said.

The property transfer includes five gardens and two other Dorchester parcels that were never turned into gardens.

The announcement of the deal was made at BNAN’s annual Gardeners Gathering at Northeastern University. At the event, Mayor Thomas Menino praised BUG for the transfer, saying it will “make a difference for gardeners,” according to a copy of his remarks provided by the Mayor’s Office.

Founded in 1976, BUG was a pioneer of urban gardening and long operated from a JP headquarters on Chestnut Avenue next to the Community Farm. Citing fund-raising problems, it went into virtual shutdown in 2000. But it also did not officially dissolve, putting the gardens and the cash reserve into limbo.

For years, complaints from community gardeners were met with BUG promises of imminent dissolution and ownership transfers that never happened. BNAN was among the groups BUG held fruitless discussions with in those earlier years.

In 2006, the Group B activists staged an attempted coup of BUG. They noted that BUG appeared to be violating its bylaws in various ways, including by holding no annual meeting and not responding to membership requests.

The coup failed, but BUG entered discussions with Group B members, including an exchange of proposals for transferring the gardens to new owners. BUG initially proposed a Dorchester gardeners’ group. Group B proposed BNAN, a possibility that BUG leadership apparently thought was off the table due to its earlier talks with BNAN.

BUG’s new talks with BNAN obviously worked out. Asked what was different this time, Embers could not specify anything.

“I think we both began to see how this could be a win-win,” she said. “It was finally an idea whose time had come…It’s a gain for all parties, especially the community.”

Asked whether she has any thoughts about Group B and its efforts, Embers said, “No, I really don’t have any comment, except there are many friends of BUG who want to see the gardens thrive, and I think that’s what’s happening.”

The new garden ownership will involve BNAN and its affiliate organization, the Trustees of Reservations.

Embers said there is no set timeline for decisions from the Attorney General’s Office and the court on the dissolution plan. She said BUG is getting free legal representation for the dissolution, saying that is “fortunate…as a grassroots community organization that most of the time didn’t have two dimes to rub together.”