Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Bike Bloc, Community Gardens and Vehicles for Social Change between Mayday and Smiling Hogshead Ranch

My first few nights back in town, I rode my bike out to see my friends at various locations over 
town, such as  the 169 Bar, Coney island, ACT UP, etc., even road out to Queens where my friend 
Gil showed me a vacant plot of land owned by the MTA where he and a few of his friends had started 
an urban farm, called Smiling Hogshead Ranch three years ago.   On my way over to Queens, i dropped 
by the Mayday Convergence space for a prop making session for the Bike Bloc, a working group preparing for the Climate March September 21.  They have a ride this Saturday the 13th

The space was teeming with energy and people, signs and art.  

We were there for a meeting of the bike bloc. 

Their mission states:

OUR MISSION- Bike Bloc is an open group dedicated to creating a massive bicycle presence 
on the march and in the streets during the weeks of action. We acknowledge that changing one's 
personal carbon footprint isn't enough to combat climate change, so we use our bicycle mass of 
people-powered transportation as a physical demonstration of our commitment to fight against the 
fossil fuel industry and to demand clean renewable energy.
We hope to engage the larger cycling community in a conversation about climate justice and to see 
biking as a step towards deeper investment in fighting the global crisis with people power.
Why Bikes?
Bicycles have been vital resources in the climate justice movement in New York City as clean, healthy 
sustainable transportation, as energy generation in Occupy Wall Street and cargo as they were used
 In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy for cell phone charging and carrying food and supplies out to 
devastated areas when cars were not viable.  Also, bicycles are celebratory vehicles for liberating and 
enjoying public space.  Other countries such as Holland and Germany are reliant on bicycles for transportation 
to make their cities more livable and breathable. We want to encourage the use of bikes as part of our 
fight for climate justice here in congested, crammed New York City!

The Possibility Bike Parade!
Our Possibility Bike Parade will include a wide array of bicycles expressing the ingenuity, creativity and 
power of grassroots organizing.   We invite cyclists to join the parade chasing down a massive dinosaur 
skeleton float up in "flames"- representing the toppling of fossil fuel industry.  The mass of bicyclists will 
win the day!
Here are some of the ways bikes will be part of the People's Climate March:
- bike trailer platforms will transport some larger floats
- Pedicabs can carry folks who may not be able to walk in the march
- we are building bikes that can be used after the march is over
- we are building bikes with youth so they develop the skills of building and have their own bikes
- we are transporting sound systems to play music
- we will ride a roving hydration station carrying water and some supplies to keep marchers healthy 
and hydrated
-  we are accepting donations of bikes to loan to out-of -towners to help them move around the city for 

Bike Bloc will also have an illuminated bike ride and training this Saturday to promote and spread the 
word through the streets of NY.  
Bike Bloc at People's Climate March  posted the following message:
Hey everyone! We have an awesome, illuminated ride planned for this
Saturday to light the way for all great folks coming to NYC for the People's Climate March! Join us for a training on cyclist rights, riding in a group, bike choreography from NYBike Dance if you want to take part in some of our
bigger bike structures in the march! And then decorate your bike with lights
and join us in the streets to promote the march, dance and shout for climate justice!
5pm training and choreography
7pm bike decorating
8pm leave for ride
Meet at Jay and York streets in Dumbo, BK

Later that night, i'd end up riding from the Mayday Space Bushwick to Queens, where my friend Gil 
showed me his community garden.  THe next week, he'd have an opening for the space he'd  
been working on for three years, called Smiling Hogshead Ranch.   New York is always opening 
up to me.  Between Mayday and Smiling Hogshead, it offered a new way of looking, a new angle 
from which to view the city and its possibilities for reinventing itself. From the Bike Block to Smiling 
Hogshead, people all over the city are looking at the world around them and trying to find a way to 
have a meaningful impact on a sustainable future for this space. 

March 6th, Gil send out a statement on the three year anniversary of the garden.   It offered a short 
history of the garden. 

In the late winter of 2011, a dozen gardeners convened on a trash strewn 
parcel of land in an industrially zoned area of Long Island City. Then and 
there, we quietly decided to transform the place into an urban garden. 
Since then, working together with so many collaborators, we have done 
just that. Smiling Hogshead Ranch is the result of three years of planning, 
organizing and hard work....

As we gear up for our fourth growing season we heed the advice of the 
calendar and “march forth” together in the important work of restoring 
the commons, connecting people with soil and creating the world that 
we choose to live in.

It has been a long, cold winter. The ground is frozen and crops are 
dormant. But that has not stopped us from organizing and preparing 
for spring. The Hogshead organizers have been busy and are proud 
to announce that, with the help of our pro bono legal team at DLA 
Piperand the Lawyers Alliance for New York, we recently registered 
Smiling Hogshead Inc. as a non-profit organization with the State of New York. As we have not achieved federal 501c3 tax status, we also applied for fiscal sponsorship and hope that it will come with an insurance policy. If that application is accepted, Smiling Hogshead Ranch will have all the pieces in place to enter into our Garden License Agreement with the property owner...

 If you would like to get more involved with Smiling Hogshead Ranch and 
help with any of these behind the scenes activities, please send us an
We would love to work with you!

Touring the space, gil pointed out that he hoped the space could also be 
a place for cycle repair and organizing.  

At my first organizing meeting at MayDay, we ran into my old friend David 
Solnit, a San Francisco organizer whose helped organize countless events 
such as this over his quarter century long history as an organizer and puppet 

David Solnit showing off  his art for the Climate March. 

We talked about how the action should embody the message that 
sustainable urbanism, should be inviting and welcoming, 
not scary or shrill.  Thus, more fun, Less Carbon would be the 
abiding principle of the bike bloc. 

Hunken and Solnit - two fellow CiRCA clown block 
veterans from a decade ago.  

Throughout our meeting, we talked about a few simple talking points and slogans:

We need sustainable energy.  We should have been doing then twenty-five years ago. 

We need system change, not climate change.
Social change, not climate change.
The point of course is that we are biking for health, freedom and fun.  
A bike is a fun part of the solution, and a means to a more sustainable world. 

Why bikes – they are , liberating, and freeing.

Bikes are human power not carbon power.

Cycles as solutions
Bike for fun, for your future.

By the end of the meeting, we came up with Four Slogans for Banners

The revolution will not be motorized.
Bikes – Vehicles for Social Change
Don’t Drive Yourself to extinction
Join the Climate Justice Revolution.

Monca mentioned about her favorite HG Wells quote:
“Whenever I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of 
the human race.”

Wendy suggested we add the word 'decarbonizing'  as part of thinking 
about ways to 
make everyday cycling a reality for every New Yorker!

By the end, a group of us from Public Space Party made 
plans for riding up to do outreach for the bike block at the 
Smiling Hogsehead Ranch. 

The next Saturday, we did just that, meeting in Tompkins 
Square Park  and making our way out to Queens. 

Escaping from the rain on the way to the farm.
Photo by Barbara Ross

  Gil Lopez described some of the logic behnd his efforts at :

what I meant to say during the Smiling Hogshead Ranch Ribbon Cutting Ceremony on Saturday, September 6th 2014…
“Thank you all for coming out on the Saturday afternoon to celebrate with us here at Smiling Hogshead Ranch. I want to make sure to thank Saleen and Paula for coming out. Also, Beyond Brewing Company, Singlcut Brewery, The Queens Kickshaw, V-Spot Restaurant and the Regal Vegan for
supporting us with food and drinks for the event. Our friends
Kelly Fragale and Robert McMinn are offering some nice music
 to get into a festive mood this afternoon.
I am absolutely honored to be here talking on behalf of all the
amazing people who have actually made the Ranch what it is
today. We have been working since early 2011 to create this
place. What started, for me at least, as an urge to get back into
 the soil after a growing season lost. Then discovering that the
quickest way to garden in NYC just may be to start a new garden
 from scratch. I was brand new to the city, I barely knew the
landscape and had only met a handful of like minded people.
After conveying my need to start a garden before putting my
name on a waiting list for a community plot, Stephanos Koullias
roped me into a group of realy great Western Queens folks that
wanted to get stuff done.
If these founders didn’t do this, than who amongst us would have?
 I hope you are all saying to yourself, ME. I could do this. I Would do
 this. Everyone of the folks that we just applauded are just regular
people who decided to do something. It doesnt have to be starting a
garden, or participating in any sort of direct action or even heavy
lifting nnecessarily but I encourage all of you to think about where
your passions lie and spark your imagination, ignite your issue, fuel
 your fire with knowledge. Do it individually or find a like minded group.
 but do it!

So let me speak breifly about direct action. Since everyone here
right now is participating in this particular one, you should understand
 it more clearly. Doing something like “guerrilla gardening” as cringe
worthy as that term is to some of us, is a form of direct action known
as Alternative Cooperation. Generally this is where an end goal is
envisioned (usually not one that would normally be allowed to happen
 by law or by rule) and you go ahead and create that reality without
permission because you know it is worth it. We have created a really
 nice little farmden here. But, in my mind at least, this is not the end
goal. So, while we have permission now to actually BE here, we still
have our eyes firmly set on goals in the distance. So the direct action
continues, I would like to thank you all for coming and bearing witness
to our ceremonial ribbon cutting. This is our street theatre du jure. It is
hard in today’s political arena to garner the attention of the infotainment
industry. But we try, and your presence, your tweeting, your liking, your
spreading the word helps.
It was early March, 2011. I met most of the folks Stephanos had gathered
right over there (motioning) by where row 14 is now. We talked about the
results of the soil test, we talked about the legality of it and how we would
share the cost and work. We agreed to move forward, the following
weekends we cleaned the trash, cleared the brush, worked the soil,
removed stones and more rubbish… about that rubbish, one of the most
 oft asked questions is, where did the name “Smiling HogsHead Ranch
come from. Well I was in class on the particular day that Alan found a pigs
skull, but I remember everyone suddenly refering to Sunnyside Railyard
Garden simply as Hogshead over emails. I liked the brevity of it but
someone thought it was creepy and decided the Hogshead needed to be
Smiling. Still not enough sylables for others, we became a Ranch.
Back to the time line… Spring turned to Summer and we continued to
weed and water. That first Autumn we had a nice Fall harvest. At that
time Ocuppy Wall Street was setting hearts and minds aflame across
the country and was not lost on us. We decided to give it a go again the
 following year, with even more passion and urgency.
Then, in the heat of the 2012 Summer, I got a call from the MTA’s Real
Estate Division. Who, what, when, where and why, it was a litany of
questions. I thought the fun was over. Early on, we had decided not
to ask the property owner if we could remove the trash and plant a garden.
Honestly, until that point, looking at the property record card on the City
clerk’s web site, it was really unclear if this lot was owned by the company
 that operates these billboards (motioning) here and the MTA had an
easment, or vice versa. But I calmy explained, in my most professional
voice that, “whover owns the land, we knew they wouldn’t have let us
move forward with this project. And we knew that we weren’t going to
hurt anything any more than we where going to help. So we waited for
 the chance to ask for forgiveness.” The voice on the other end began
 to yeild. It is true, we would never have let a group do this in the past, he
said. But we are decomissioning the remaining line on that property soon
and we
don’t have any plans for the parcel. Some of us have heard about this
urban agriculture but thats not our business at the MTA. So we where
actually kind of pleases to see this happening already. They wanted
to let us continue to do the work we where doing but we had to sign a
contract. Later that day, sitting in my inbox, was a hastily cobbled
together Garden License Agreement.
It was so messy, written to me, Gil Lopez, as the licensee. With
language I could barely get through, I believe it is called legalese.
 The founders mulled it over and decided we would stall for a bit.
But we no longer had to be so hush-hush, the property owner knows
now, nothing left to hide. So we announced workdays on Facebook
and Meetup groups like Crop Mob NYC. As new faces came and
worked with us interest grew, teachers wanting to bring their school
groups, non-profit organizations asking to team up and do green jobs
 training programs. Sure we hosted a couple school groups and
intertained the jobs training idea, but in the end, a certain amount of
legitimacy was needed to really make these things happen. So we
 regrouped and decided that it would be best if we figure out how
make this real. We had reached out to 596 Acres early on and now
Paula Segal really helped us revise and interpriet the Agreement.
 It was revised and we came up with a game plan to make it happen.
We needed to incorporate, so a legal entity that represents the group
 can purchase insurance and be named as licesee on the GLA. I won’t
bore you with the details but we finally found an insurance company that
would give us a quote, we finally found the money to purchase the policy,
 we finally incorprated and we finally found a 501c3 fiscal sponsor to
accept the money from our benefactor. We finally got our stuff together
 and incorporated as a non-profit. We negotiated the Agreement and on
August 1, 2014 we recieved a countersigned contract from the MTA.
All that paperwork was a distraction for some, an annoiance to most.
We came together for multiple reasons, paperwork was not one of them.
 We rationalized the learnign curb involved with all this legal legwork
because, New York City has too many vacant lots for there to be wait
lists for community garden plots. If this is what has to be done than so
 be it, we stupped up to the plate, now that we where on base it would
be crazy to just run back into the bullpit.
What we are all here today taking part of is a truly urban farm. The Ranch
 different from a community garden, this industrially zoned area we standing
in is also a different type of community, with a different ebb and flow. Yet it
weaves together so many aspects of the city, from the nearby Long Island Expressway, Newtown Creek, the soon to be completed Skillman Ave. bike
 lane, the Sunnyside Railyard across the street, warehouses, manufacturing, materials processing and handling facilities, Fresh Direct, FedEx, Queens
NYCHA up the street and the NYPD next door. It’s different than your
neighborhood and the Ranch is different than most community gardens.
But this area is bristling with vital activity, we want to add to and enhance
 our neighborhood.
I have a vision of Smiling Hogshead Ranch as a collective of collectives,
 running a farm, offering some bike workshops and basic services,
reclaiming organic biproducts from nearby kitchens to build and clean
 the soil, maybe grow some delicious mushrooms on some spent grain from Singlecut and Beyond Brewing, how about a community tool lending library,
we want to host more community events and hope to build an ampetheatre
next year, (motioning) back there between that building and the, currently
active, elevated freight rail.
We also dream of taking over that rail spur once it is deactivated and
transforming it into a green industrial park. Not an industrail park your
probably imagining somewhere in the suburbs, but a literal “industrial”-
“Park”one that is redefined by the ideals of the landscape urbanism that
 have informed the creation of places like the HighLine and Brooklyn
Bridge Park. But not as polished or purely recreational, but truly re-creating
 industry in the next itteration of the green, come sustainable and now
 reginerative ilk. To reimagin our “waste” streams and see them as they
really are, resources that we are wasting. Imagine the stormwater coming
 off the elevated portion of the LIE a couple blocks away being diverted
 from the sewers, where they just combine with real sewage to create
our urban phenomenon known as Combined Sewage Overflow into the
 Newtown Creek. Instead, we could have that water go through a series
of natural filtration processes, known as a water purification chain.
Starting with a settling tank to separate out solids, then, living filters
that grow algea (an up and coming fuel source) which begin cleansing
 the water of dissolved contaminats, followed by planted areas where
microbes in the plants rootzone continue cleaning the water, eventually
 that water can support fish, which in turn excrete waste, otherwise
 as nutrient, that can feed plants. Since the water has now been cleaned
to the nth degree, these plants could potentially be edible crops, and if
not, hey biofuel and plant plastic. Now we cn terrace the slopes and
have rice paddies if we like, as demonstrated on Randalls Island Urbgan
farm that we visited this morning on our urban ag bike tour. Water then
flows down to irrigate the rows of crops we currently have growing and
then, anything lect over could be fed back into the Dutch Kill. It would be
 the first source of freshwater to the Newtown Creek in decades.
What I have just described is one means of bioremediating polluted water.
It is not a new idea and it is not a radical idea, it’s just a little out of the
ordinary. But it could happen. As much as the city is embracing green
infrastructure, I’m sure it will happen, it’s just a question of  who, when
and how. Well we want this bright green future! But we want it now,
in the present. There is no time or reason to wait. We are already
informally bioremediating the soil with the mycelium of mushrooms
 back there (motioning) underneith the railroad tracks. We would
 love to partner with an environmental science school with the right
lab equipment to run tests and provide the scientific and academic
facts to support and formalize this experiment. We would like to prove
 that this can work so the idea can proliferate. Until the means of
scientific proof comes, we will continue to do what we know is the
right thing, we will continue to educate anyone interested in the minucia
and details of our many projects and programs.
Which leads me to highlight Smiling Hogshead Ranch as a keystone
In the urban ecology of our city’s green infrastructure landscape,
the Ranch is developing air, water and soil remediation techniques
while building cultural meaning and social capital by reskilling a
segment of the citizenry that are ready to step up their civic
engagement and ecological awareness. We appreciate, respect and
utilize the good work of the many city agencies such as Parks, DDC,
 DOT, DSNY and so many other agencies. Now as a nonprofit
 organization on sanctioned land we know the line does not end
at the governments doorsteps for improving our living standard.
NYC is an interesting city and I have been amazed at all the
private/public partnerships. As a nonprofit encouraging stewardship
of our natural recourses in the city, we are joining the ranks of
TreesNY, NYRP, City Parks Foundations and others that galvanize
 the citizenry for the betterment of our own communities, interpersonal
 relationships and individual wellbeing. But we are not those
organizations, we are a little more scrappy, a little more progressive
 and maybe a little more of the moment. But our moment has come and
 our time is now.
As individual citizens, we must take personal interest in our
surroundings and neighborhood conditions. If we leave it up to the
 state to take care of us we begin traveling down a slippery slope of
dependance. But the state must also let us take active interest in our
communities conditions. 596 Acres is providing a lot of information
 for people and offering transparency tools for better governance.
25 wins for 596 Acres in NYC. Hogshead is just one manifestation
 of what can happen when passionat people work together towards
something bigger than themselves.
We have just begun, the hardest part of making this dream come
 together is sustained imagination of what can be and cultivation
 of THAT world in which we want to live in.
So here we all are, celebrating what has happened thus far.
Today we bask momentarily in the glow of the past, but we will
not let our gaze fall from the horizon. Now that we have entered
into this Garden License Agreement with the MTA we are no
longer tresspassers on this property and we can officially offer farm
 tours to school groups, we can partner with other non-profit groups
 to expand our programming for things like green jobs training and
refugee garden therapy programs. With the relatively sure footing of
 a year to year agreement we can start building programs that can
support our values and goals while striving for a financially sustainable,
 education based, urban farm business model. We can make
infrastructure imporvements to the property secure in the knowledge
 that they will not be bulldozed without warning.
The city’s open spaces may be maintained by the Parks Department,
 the streets by DOT, empty residental lots by HPD and the water by
Nestle. But these spaces, these resources are ours. Unless we claim
them and make use of them, we run the risk of forgetting who they
actually belong to and possibly losing them altogether. But all is not
lost. Our story is one case amongst many that are demonstrating a
 positive shift in the undercurrent of our society. But it is up to all of
us, not only the renegades or the squatters. And we here at the Ranch
 aren’t some shade ball band of hoodlums. Well, no more so than any
of you and your circle of friends are. But we where the ones who made
 this happen, through the calculated use of rulebreaking, good ol
 fashioned hard work, some charm and lots of enthusiasm. We have
transformed this forgotten corner of the city into something worth
…So here we are, cutting this ribbon in ceremonial fashion. I have
only so many pairs of scissors and the ribbon is only so long. But
 I want to ask our invited guests, founding and current members
please join,
Founding Members: Shirley Chai, Jen Kline, Stephanos Koullias,
 Justin Lau, Alan Lewandowski, Gil Lopez, James Nowakowski,
Peter Richter, Leanne Spaulding, Becky Thorp & Mia Vlah

Board of Directors: Gil Lopez, President; Mia Vlah, Secretary;
Colin Anton Samuel, Treasurer; Geoffrey Brock, Operations
Co-Director; Jenelle Malbrough, Operations Co-Director; Kelsey
Ripper, Governance Officer; Justin Lau
Current Members: Rose Moon & Chris McHale, Andrew &
Tricia Graham, Gordon Douglas, Jennifer Plewka, Kevin Slesenski,
Shirley Chai, Peter Ives, Christopher Nacinovich, Dee Dee Maucher and the previously mentioned board members.

Alright, here we go again, for the camera and for posterity, symbolically
repeating for all to witness what we have already done with shovel and
 seed, a secret and a smile. We have already cut throught the red tape,
through a stack of legal paperwork and financial hurdles, through the
doubt and through the pessimists. This time with less trash, less illicit
activity, this time with more beautiful plants, more moments for learning.
 More friendly faces gathered around and cheering us on.

Talking with Gil afterwards, i told him that i  loved hipoint that the space 
was not trash, it was full of trash. 

"We have to rethink our relationship to trash," he explained.  

From Adam Purple to Smiling Hogshead, regular people are transforming the 
public spaces of New York.   After the ceremony, we strolled through the majestic
 space where kids were playing and the community was out enjoying being together. 

We can do great things together.  

This, of course, is the point of the bike block and the climate march. 
Gil plugged the march at the end of his talk at the ribbon cutting ceremony. 

Several of us from Public Space Party walked around giving out flyers.

The next day, after Judson, number one and two and i went back to MayDay to 
make banners for the march planning, painting all afternoon long. We talked about the horizontal,
 playful feel of the march, hoping we could maintain that feeling as we get closer to the action. 

The Climate March is around the corner.  So we trained t from 14th to Mayday to 
paint banners all afternoon and help organize for the next ride with the gang from
 the bike block. Number one and two worked on banners for the general march . 

Davd Solnit kept reminding me that the kids had panted ten banners while i  had only done one with the bike block. 

Banner making from the eyes of an eight year old. 

And remember, there's a ride ths weekend:
"Light Up the Future" Bike Ride and People's Climate March Bike Bloc

When: Saturday, September 13 at 5:00pm
Where:  Corner of York Street and Jay streets, Dumbo Brooklyn in Bridge Park 2

Thousands of people are preparing for the People's Climate March in NYC. Let's light the path for them. 

Join us for a bike bloc training, bike decorating and illuminated night ride the week before the march to spread the word and prepare for the largest climate march in history! 
5pm- 7pm- training
-know your rights as a cyclist
-how to ride in a group
-bike choreography (important if you want to be part of the more elaborate art bike structures in march)

7pm- decorate your bike with LED string lights 
*Bring your own light bling too because we may not have enough for everyone!

8pm- Light Up the Future Bike Ride into Manhattan calling for a fossil-free future!

Join us for the training and then bring all your friends to ride in the march with us to celebrate clean energy and a sustainable future.
People's Climate March
September 21st at Columbus Circle.
Bike Bloc meets at 10:30am in "Solutions" section of march (towards middle)

The revolution will not be motorized.
See you in the streets!

Organizing Team:  
Public Space Party and Cargo Bike Collective

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