Wednesday, June 20, 2001

Val Navaja tended to her marungay, a leafy plant used in
Philippine cooking, on Saturday. She has had her Foster
Community Garden plot for two years, but a redesign
to the gardens threatens to phase out some 60 plots,
including Navaja's, in the next two years.

Foster Community
Garden redesign
battle taking root

Residents object to a proposed plan
that would force them to plots elsewhere

By Lisa Asato

Foster Community Garden members are battling to save their plots.

A city official told them their gardens would close in two years as part of a master plan to redesign Foster Botanical Gardens.

At previous public meetings on the master plan, the city told the group that if the redesign affected the roughly 60 100-square-foot plots, gardeners would be relocated to another site, said Stephen Wong, president of Foster Community Garden.

But the gardeners, some of whom have tilled the Foster Gardens soil for 20 years, now find themselves collecting signatures and writing Mayor Jeremy Harris and City Council members to save their gardens.

Nathan Wong, city community garden coordinator, touched off the action when he told the group at its June meeting that the gardens would close in two years, no new applications for vacant lots would be accepted, and gardeners would be able to apply for other plots in Manoa and Makiki.

Under the city program, anyone can sign up for a garden plot at various city parks and can use a plot once it becomes available.

But city spokeswoman Carol Costa said talk of the shutdown is premature because the only thing that has been done is that a consulting company has drawn up a master redesign plan.

"We're two to three years away. It's a long time off," Costa said. "There's been absolutely no decision by the Harris administration on any closure or movement of the community garden.

"All we know is that the sunny area where the gardens are right now, the consultant thought it would be an ideal location to move the orchid collection. Beyond that, I don't know anything else about the plan."

Ronald Vigeant, who grows eggplant, carrots and Chinese parsley in the plot he tills with his son, said the site is a community meeting ground where folks, mostly senior citizens, come to talk, tell stories and share gardening secrets. He said he is concerned about the senior citizens, some of whom shuffle down the street on walkers and would not be able to access plots in other neighborhoods.

"One guy has an oxygen tank, but they make it to the garden (anyway)," he said. "Tell me how they're going to make it to Makiki or Manoa."

Lynne Matusow, chairwoman of the Downtown Neighborhood Board, said consultant PBR Hawaii presented the board with its master plan for Foster Botanical Gardens at its Jan. 4 meeting, and members raised concerns about the senior citizens who work the plots and keeping the gardens.

Matusow said the board plans to hear the gardeners' concerns at its July 5 meeting, 7 p.m. at the Pauahi Recreation Center, 171 N. Pauahi St. The board has also asked the city Parks and Recreation Department to send a representative.

E-mail to City Desk

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