From Abandoned to Abundant

2002 Garden Crusader Winner:
Grand Prize

Teresa LeCount
Teresa LeCount with volunteers at Bissel Gardens in The Bronx, N.Y.
In the 32 years Teresa LeCount lived on Bissel Avenue in the Bronx, she'd seen the neighborhood slowly deteriorate. Crime, drugs, and garbage dumping were all on the rise. A five-block abandoned area near the subway station typified the downturn. "First just garbage and stones were dumped there. Then old furniture, cars, machines and tires were randomly dumped in this area," says Teresa. "Something had to be done."

Don't Dump the Bronx
Working with Borough President Fernando Ferrer, Teresa started the long and arduous process of cleaning up this abandoned area. It took volunteers 2 years to clean up the 90,000-square-foot, five-block area. "Many neighbors were skeptical because they thought after it was cleaned up, people would just go back to dumping on the site again. I was determined not to let that happen," says Teresa.

Bissell Gardens
Teresa founded the Bissel Gardens as a non-profit organization to oversee the use of the land. Now one block is a community garden where residents rent plots and grow their own vegetables and flowers. "We have people from all over the Bronx coming to our community garden because they feel safe here and can grow their own food," says Teresa.

MORE: Read about all of the 2002 Garden Crusader winners.

A second block of the gardens is used to grow food organically for the hungry. They donated more than 4,000 pounds of organic produce over the last three years to area churches that feed the hungry. Other areas of the gardens have been landscaped into a park-like setting. Teresa has organized the growing of seedling trees on portions of the land and has donated thousands of young trees to the Department of Parks & Recreation for urban reforestation.

Organizer Supreme
Teresa is continually contacting area agencies as an advocate for the garden. "Since I have multiple sclerosis and I'm confined to a wheelchair, I can't do the work myself, so I organize others to help," she says. This has included bringing in community service volunteers from the local court system and volunteers from the Bronx Academy of Dance, American Express Company, and Fordham University to teach classes and help with garden maintenance.

With a background in teaching and finance, Teresa has an interest beyond just gardening. "I am most interested in preserving our urban environment. The two biggest resources we have are people and nature. Bissel Gardens gives both a place to flourish. People come to the gardens, feel safe, see trees, birds, butterflies and find a refuge from the city," she says.

Future Gardens
The other three blocks in Bissel Gardens are planned for future gardens. One will be a children's garden/play area where classes can be taught for kids. Another block is becoming a farmer's market allowing area farmers to sell residents healthy produce. The fifth block will become an education and environmental area where classes can be taught about nature and preserving the environment. "I hope to make this garden an AmeriCorps site as well, bringing in educators to teach our children about the environment and gardening on a regular basis," Teresa says.

Even though the land is secured through a long-term lease with the city's Department of Transportation, Teresa would like to see the land preserved forever as a land trust. "Bissel Gardens is a tool to convey to people the nice things in life. We need to preserve it for future generations to enjoy," she says. Based on what Teresa's accomplished so far, Bissell Gardens should continue to be a green center in the Bronx for years to come.

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