David Saltman
David Saltman

As today’s guest blogger, David Saltman tells of his discovery of some inadvertent guerilla gardeners. He did some on-the-spot investigative reporting for ‘the improvised life’ and photographed the story with his i-Phone. Thanks, David!

“I was walking down the street in New York City recently when I ran smack into a cornfield. It was no hallucination — big, fat cornstalks were growing out of a tiny sliver of ground at the foot of a stone hillside in the northwest corner of the city. I walked further and saw another abundant patch of corn, then plantings of beans, herbs and a grape arbor, all butting up against the granite bluff on top of which sits my 25-story apartment building.

David Saltman


Continuing down the hill, I saw seven or eight men in ties, sitting in a small clearing. They had moved fallen logs to make makeshift benches.


They sat in their outdoor “living room”, talking and laughing, directly in front of a line of parked Lincoln Town Cars. I knew these guys — they’re all taxi drivers, and this was their hangout, where they wait for calls from their radio dispatcher.


I asked them who planted the corn.

“We did,” one said proudly. “All of us.”  The others smiled and nodded in confirmation.

They told me their story: one of their brethren brought some seeds and seedlings in the spring, and they planted them without really knowing whether anything would grow in this soil. Every day, they took turns watering, using buckets and watering cans filled at the nearest fire hydrant. By summer’s end, they had an abundant harvest. Every week in late summer, one of them brought home the new corn, beans and the rest, and their wives took turns cooking a communal feast.

The men were so taken with the idea that they planted two more locations in the city — one along the tracks of the Metro-North Railroad…


and one in a patch of ground designated a “sitting area” on city maps, bordering the Henry Hudson Parkway.


It’s been a good harvest year for them. And their pride and satisfaction is too big to measure.”

(Also check out David’s story “Eddie Would Go” about the great, heroic surfer Eddie Aikau.)

Related posts: How to Be a Guerilla Gardener
Creating Your Urban Homestead

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6 replies on “new york city’s taxi farmers

  1. This isn’t a tree growing in Brooklyn, it’s a corn growing in Riverdale, with the same kind of spirit that pushes up and out in the most unlikely of places. How cool that the taxi drivers said, what would happen if we planted something here? And it took root, and gave you the same sort of surprise. Thanks David.

  2. Great story! It is an extension of community gardens. Reclaiming the wild portions of landscape is also good sense health-wise and economically!

  3. Thank you for this evocative story. I find the farming/growing aspect of life in this endlessly remarkable city, and the myriad ways people find in which to put down their roots (in all senses), endlessly compelling. And touching. You can find examples everywhere–from these taxi drivers in Riverdale (I have written often about taxi driver culture, but this was new to me); to the fruits and grape vines spilling over the walls of backyards in Brooklyn’s Italian neighborhoods; to the community gardens in Floyd Bennett field; to casitas in the South Bronx and East Harlem; to seeds sprinkled in fertile vacant lots; to the silky corn stalks I have seen growing in the front gardens of even trendy Manhattan brownstones. In all these ways, and whether we come here from places where gardening is part of life, or were born in the city with only a potted plant to tend, we fight against the concrete and steel footprint of the city we so love. We can’t, and wouldn’t want to, return the land to the state shown in Mannahatta, http://themannahattaproject.org/about/overview , a project of The Wildlife Conservation Society, that shows Manhattan as it was in 1609, just hours before Henry Hudson came. But we do seek contact with the soil, however we can, because even the most ardent New Yorker (and I count myself among them) is endlessly in need of the spiritual nourishment that comes with the magic of a handful of earth and things growing. Of course, there is, too, the physical nourishment such plantings provide. And, on that subject, consider the following, a current project of the Municipal Art Society, http://mas.org/ , an attempt to figure out if the city can become self sustaining: Designing Urban Farms to Feed New York. http://mas.org/designing-urban-farms-to-feed-new-york/ . Or the Vertical Farm Project – Agriculture for the 21st Century and Beyond, http://verticalfarm.com. Yes, these are at the other end of the spectrum, but no less intriguing and, I think, no less worth our attention. Cara

  4. Just wanted to let you know that I tweeted this post (@raganella7) and it got quite a response!

    @Cara De Silva – I’m going to the MAS urban farms discussion… maybe I’ll see you there!

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