Bay 84th Community Garden—A Diamond In the Rough

 Bay 84th Community Garden—A Diamond In the Rough

Spencer at Bay 84th Community Garden.

Tucked on the back end of Beach 84th Street, steps away from the overhead “El” train line, is the Bay 84th Community Garden (Bay 84th CG). Once a dumping ground for all things debris and garbage post-Hurricane Sandy, the new Bay 84th CG is a testament to the power of community resiliency and collaboration. And now under the leadership of Spencer, (who prefers the one-name moniker), the garden is expanding its mission as a communal healthy food resource and engagement space to serving other critically pinpointed needs in the community.

Bay 84th Garden before

Under the jurisdiction of NYC Parks and supported by GreenThumb, the nation’s largest urban gardening program, Bay 84th CG was founded in 2018 by a trio of local activists, Rhuanda McDowell, Claudia Steinberg and Paula Segal. At the time, they all lived near the abandoned land, surviving Superstorm Sandy and its aftermath. However, according to Spencer, they band together to transform a plot of dumped-on land to a garden oasis that would inspire growth and resiliency in the community.

“The area was pretty much a dump, but these three ladies were determined to make it a green space for the community to not just pick healthy vegetables, but also to experience growing their own,” Spencer said.

In 2018, NYC Department of Sanitation was assigned the unglamorous, but arduous task of clearing all the debris that accumulated on the land since Hurricane Sandy. Then Jet Blue volunteers came in to prepare the 104 by 75-foot space for gardening, including building and painting all the beds and the pergola. Also, The Mission Continues, a veteran volunteer organization, built the garden’s two larger 8 by 12-foot garden beds.

However, once the space was green and flourishing—tragedy struck. The nearby bungalow Steinberg and Segal resided in was hit by a horrific fire and deemed uninhabitable, forcing them to leave Rockaway. Then in 2022, McDowell passed away.

However, Spencer, a grade-school childhood friend of McDowell, who, at the time of her passing, served on the garden’s board as treasurer, vowed to continue her friend’s legacy by keeping the garden alive and flourishing.

Bay 84th Garden now

She shared, “Wanda and I grew up together. We basically considered ourselves cousins with our families always bringing us together, though she lived in the Bronx and I in Harlem. Decades later when I found her on Facebook, we were amazed to discover that we were both living in Rockaway. Then once I joined her work with the garden, I was hooked. I’ve never done gardening. I was so excited by all the things that grew in the space. It almost felt like our produce grew overnight. There’s nothing like fresh vegetables and fruit, you know? They weren’t sprayed with all those chemicals supermarkets use to keep their produce looking fresh. Plus, oh my goodness, the taste of fresh veggies is like none other.”

Today, Spencer is still pushing on with the garden, keeping Segal’s, Steinberg’s and her childhood friend, McDowell’s dream and legacy alive and blossoming.

This year, Bay 84th CG’s team painted the garden beds bright and cheerful as the old beds, according to Spencer, were “a cemetery green color.”

In addition, this summer, the team held a children’s book drive, which was so successful, they expanded it to a back-to-school drive, generously gifting Rockaway Beach Autism Families books and supplies for their back-to-school barbecue. Also, they have hosted fire safety events for the community with the FDNY Foundation.

Bay 84th Garden produce

On Saturday, October 14, 12 p.m. to 4 p.m., Bay 84th Community Garden is hosting a Fall Book Swap/ Starter Plant/ Clothing Giveaway/ Barbecue.

As the garden continues to flourish, Spencer said she is so grateful for the unwavering support of the community. “With more of us coming together, so much can be done to help food-insecure families and other needs in the community.”

To join the garden as a member with a personal gardening bed (4 ft. by 5 ft.), it’s $50 per year. Currently, seven beds are available for interested potential new members. The garden’s two larger 8 ft. by 12 ft. beds, allocated for all in the community (including one reserved for children), are open to the public from April 1 to October 31. Opening hours are Tuesdays to Fridays, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Members are not restricted to these hours.

The Bay 84th Community Garden is located at 3-22 Beach 84th Street. For membership opportunities, and more info call: (347) 444-5477 or visit on Facebook: Bay 84th Community Garden.

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