Agriculture Ecology Growing Organic Soil Urban

Soil like Dirt

Thanks to Sukhdev for sharing this documentary with me about New York City Garden Activists. Quite a lot of the film’s focus is upon things which happen in gardens, rather than growing. This is a typical media bias. It’s impossibly rare to come across any commentary which connects the dots between farming and culture.

However, the featured Adam Purple is definitely an interesting figure. I’d be including him and “The Garden of Life” in the book in greater depth were I, (a) not already discussing an arguably more interesting guerilla gardener, (b) as Sukhdev points out, Purple was, regrettably, an unsavoury character.

Purple’s “Garden of Eden”, built by him single-handedly over five years starting in 1975, was a well-known open, community garden on Forsyth Street in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. The garden began when the city and the neighborhood were blighted with urban decay. A building was razed in 1973 on Eldridge Street behind Purple’s apartment, and he decided to plant something with his companion, Eve.

The process of clearing the lot took some time since the couple would only use hand tools. Modern machinery was considered “counter-revolutionary.” He would haul manure from the horse-drawn carriages around Central Park and created a highly fertile topsoil. The garden was ready to be planted in the spring of 1975. The garden was designed around concentric circles with a yin-yang symbol in the center. As buildings were torn down on either side, Purple would add new rings to the garden, allowing it to grow. By the end, it was 15,000 square feet featuring a wide range of produce, including corn, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, asparagus, black raspberries, strawberries, and 45 trees including eight black walnuts. He regularly bicycled to Central Park to collect horse manure to use as fertilizer.

Wikipedia entry

In the film, Purple is shown with an enlargement of a photograph from the September 1984 edition of National Geographic. My curiosity got the better of me, and I tracked down a copy of the issue on eBay for a few bob. It’s a truly glorious photograph.

Adam Purple looking down upon “The Garden of Life”

The article which it is a part of, “Do we treat our soil like dirt?” By Boyd Gibbons, with photographs by Steven C. Wilson, is excellent. I thought I would go ahead and share it here. I love the illustrated soil cutaway especially.