A Plum of a Day!

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Beach Plum Day, September 18, was absolutely wonderful! To our friends at OppenheimerFunds, Briermere Farms, Smiling Hogshead Ranch urban farm, and Hunters Point Community Middle School, we HarborLAB volunteers can’t thank you enough! We further readied the HarborLAB boat launch area for planting, taught kids about indigenous beach plums in the classroom and outside, built nurseries from wooden pallets, and helped kids start growing beach plums in pots made from soda bottles.

Much of this summer has been dedicated to creating a welcoming, green shore that fosters boat access, provides a peaceful oasis of indigenous flowers and fruits, and is a safe and useful space for educators. We call this the HarborLAB GreenLaunch.

A special thanks to HarborLAB volunteers Dorothy Morehead (interim chair of the Newtown Creek Alliance and Chair of the Queens CB2 Environmental Committee), who drove to Riverhead on Long Island’s East End to pick up beach plums, beach plum jam, and wintered-over beach plum pits. She also provided us with cacao shells to aerate soil and become compost. Briermere Farms owner Clark McComb donated the fruits and seeds, and is advising us each step of the way. Gil Lopez, HarborLAB’s edible landscaping designer and president of Smiling Hogshead Ranch, led the gardening portion while volunteer Mairo Notton, a skilled designer and fabricator, oversaw the assembly of our new shed, including leveling the ground. In both cases, 18 OppenheimerFunds employees formed the bulk of the work teams, and many of the materials were found on site. HarborLAB volunteer Lynne Serpe, who initiated and directed the Greening Queens Libraries program, was a guide and manager for the day’s volunteers. We also thank Hunters Point Community Middle School Principal Sarah Goodman for growing such a strong relationship with HarborLAB over the past two years and to science teacher Mary Mathai for engaging two of her classes — 50 students — in Beach Plum Day!

Why beach plums? As grassroots environmental pioneer Dave Lutz puts it, “Maybe New York City shouldn’t be called ‘The Big Apple,’ but ‘The Little Plum.'” When European explorers arrived in this Algonquin nation, the shores were resplendent with white flowers in spring and fat cherry-sized plums in late summer. In their journals, both Giovanni da Verrazzano and Henry Hudson remarked on this aspect of our estuary’s beauty. The fruits are a favorite with birds migrating through our region, and those that stay. These hardy plums still grow, even in sand dunes, in wealthy retreats like the Hamptons, Martha’s Vineyard, Block Island, and Cape Cod. Why not on the Newtown Creek?

Enter the HarborLAB GreenLaunch project! Beach plums are a central component of this unique grassroots engineering and conservation endeavor. Schuman Properties generously provides HarborLAB with 125’ of waterfront on the Newtown Creek. Using our own creativity and guidelines published by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, we’re creating the Newtown Creek’s first marine-to-uplands native habitat restoration! This work also stabilizes the shoreline, resiliently securing the property and its surroundings. Other elements of the GreenLaunch include a Field Station for student observations and experiments, butterfly-supporting meadow flowers, indigenous fruit trees, boat storage, a composting toilet, water collection systems, raised beds and containers (for fruits for human consumption), and scientific innovations for alternative energy, water purification, an estuary library, and more. HarborLAB volunteer Roy Harp is heading up many technology efforts.

HarborLAB Facilities Manager Patricia Menje Erickson is overseeing the implementation of the GreenLaunch project. Citizens Committee for NYC was the GreenLaunch’s first funder, and we seek support from the Hudson River Foundation, local elected officials, sponsors, and other grant giving organizations. Erik Baard conceived the GreenLaunch and drew its rough, working design. We continue to strongly urge New York City to turn the dead end of Vernon Boulevard into a bioswale pocket park to extend the contiguous green shore.

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