By Brendan Krisel
HARLEM, NY — Elected officials are calling on Amtrak to meet with a Harlem community garden that claims the transit company has poisoned its crops and caused thousands of dollars in property damage.
City Councilman Mark Levine and Borough President Gale Brewer accused Amtrak of spreading "toxic chemicals in our community, catastrophically damaging at least one community garden and potentially affecting the health of the surrounding neighborhood," in a letter addressed to the company's President and CEO Richard H. Anderson.
Volunteer gardeners at the Riverside Valley Community Garden — located on West 138th Street and Riverside Drive near the Amtrak tracks — reported the contamination of peach, pear, apple, and fig trees, fruit-bearing plants, multiple flowerbeds and vegetables ready for harvest, according to the letter. The contamination occurred after Amtrak sprayed a "highly toxic, broad-spectrum herbicide" on a railroad right-of-way near the garden — which is also known as "Jenny's Garden."
"Residents and garden members are rightly furious, and fearful of a repeat incident," Levine and Brewer's joint letter reads.
Volunteers told AM New York in September that many of the contaminated crops were meant to be donated to the Broadway Presbyterian Church.
"The majority of the stuff we were going to donate — eggplant, okra, beans, collards, tomatoes, Swiss chard, cucumbers — is all contaminated," volunteer Laurie Brown Kindred told the newspaper.
A composting program in the garden's greenhouse may have also been compromised by the herbicide, elected officials said.
An Amtrak spokesman said that company officials toured the garden with a landscaping contractor after receiving notice of the claims.
"Amtrak assured Jenny's Garden and the Parks and Recreation Department that Amtrak will work with its contractor to take care of the garden and leaf damage to some of the plants. The contractor turned over the documents to the Parks and Recreation Department on the types of chemicals it used and would further asses any damage to the garden. We will continue to work with Jenny's Garden and other partners to investigate the claim and work on a resolution," an Amtrak spokesman said in a statement.
Levine and Brewer called on Amtrak to provide the community 30 days notice before the next spraying and to work with the Riverside Valley Community Garden to discuss compensation for damages.
The elected officials also urged Amtrak and community members affected by the herbicide spraying to establish an agreement that would allow community members and groups to be responsible for manually maintaining their own properties and eliminating the need for Amtrak to spray herbicides.