Rockaway 4th Annual Community Health Fair

andTransition Convergence



MATH and Transition NYC are joining Battalion Pentecostal Assembly and Community Service of Far Rockaway to expand their traditional June health fair.  Years of post-Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts have taught this community the importance of becoming more resilient to future storms that climate change will bring, as well as other disruptions.  The event will aim to enhance community food security and knowledge of how to creatively and constructively manage waterfronts throughout the Rockaways.  To meet this expanded definition of community health resilience, we're jointly producing the Rockaway 4th Annual Community Health Fair and Transition Convergence on June 26 - 28.


The weekend will start on Friday night with music, food, a celebration of Rockaway's diverse international cultures, and introductions to the themes of the weekend.  On Saturday we'll present a full schedule of talks and vendors on conventional and alternative health.  Also, there will be presentations on an array of resilient responses: gardening, healthy food preparation and preservation; energy efficient buildings; capturing and filtering water, natural remediation of flooded and polluted soils; and much more.  During church services on Sunday morning there will be Transition and permaculture events, with demonstrations and celebrations from 3 PM until closing. Throughout the spring we will promote the festival with Transition events and the creation of gardening, resilient community design and art projects, for which we are asking residents and community leaders to propose locations.  There will be no charge for them, and the projects will be a permanent addition to their property or the community. 

Creating garden design templates for sites in the Rockaways


With Pastor David Cockfield's greenhouses next door to the church. Battalion Pentecostal Assembly is already a leader in urban agriculture.  Through the fair and associated projects we will build on that to make food production more common throughout the Rockaways.  At the following links you'll see pictures of several locations that BPA and residents have offered for installation of permaculture and community gardening projects this spring, to be showcased in June.  

Our virtual panel of leading permaculture designers, listed below, are reviewing the sites.  We're posting their suggestions on options for each site on this page, which will be applicable to similar sites in the Rockaways or anywhere else. We'll work with BPA and residents to select design choices for these sites.

Then we'll schedule work days this spring, to be led by experienced gardeners.  Residents and volunteers will learn together while installing the projects.  We don't have a budget for supplies, so we will need your suggestions as to where we can get donations of:
- for raised beds, either wood or urbanite (chunks of cement, concrete, rubble)
- clean soil for the beds
- compost and bark chips
- seeds and plants

Volunteer garden design workdays

Installing permaculture design projects during the course of a gardening workshop is called a 'permablitz.' See short videos of a Transition Houston permablitz and an urban food forest permablitz.   

Our garden sites so far

Gallery of pictures and background info on The Rockaways

BPA parking lot and hoop houses (greenhouses) next to the church

vacant yard between the BPA parking lot and a house owned by the congregation

road median in front of the church and a vacant lot across the street. 

back yard


Photos and information are being collected from other spaces. 

If you have any questions contact Transition NYC Hub.


Our virtual panel of permaculture experts - followed by their guidance on the site


Jono Neiger is a founding partner of Regenerative Design Group with 24 years of professional experience in permaculture, ecological land design, site planning, community development, agroforestry, land management and conservation, and restoration. Mr. Neiger teaches widely around the northeast and southeast at colleges, workshops, and conferences on the topics of permaculture, ecological design, sustainable water use, and productive conservation, and holds a core faculty position at the Conway School of Landscape Planning and Design and is the founding Board President of the Permaculture Institute of the Northeast.

Scott Kellogg is the co-author of the book “Toolbox for Sustainable City Living: A Do-it-Ourselves Guide;” Educational Director at the Radix Ecological Sustainability Center, an urban environmental educational center in Albany, NY; the primary teacher of R.U.S.T. – The Regenerative Urban Sustainability Training, an intensive weekend workshop in urban ecological living skills. He is a graduate student in the Ph.D program of Science and Technology Studies at RPI. He has a Masters in Environmental Science from Johns Hopkins University.

Gil Lopez is community organizer at Flux Factory and Brooklyn Botanic Garden, co-founder of Smiling Hogshead Ranch, an urban farm in Long Island City, Queens, and a permaculture instructor.  His work focuses on environmental justice and food sovereignty, bike/ped issues, reskilling the populace, the soil food web, democracy in the workplace and collective living.

Monica Ibacache, co-director of Beyond Organic Design, is a permaculture educator and designer, and was certified as a permaculture teacher by David Jacke and as a teacher of permaculture for children.  She was one of the key organizers of the 2014 North American Permaculture Convergence, and has spent years working with diverse and marginalized communities, here and abroad, in the areas of education and development.  


Sean Walsh is Principal and Lead Designer of AppleSeed Permaculture New Jersey.  Based in north coastal New Jersey, he holds a M.A. in Sustainable Landscape Design & Planning from The Conway School, with additional training in ecology, community food systems, agroforestry, permaculture design, and carbon farming. Sean teaches, consults, designs, and implements design projects for clients within the greater New Jersey area who are interested in creating patterns of ecologically and socially sustainable land-use.



Wayne Weiseman is a Permaculture teacher, designer, consultant and author.  He has worked as a schoolteacher, as a consultant in curriculum and professional development, primitive wilderness instructor, builder, herbalist, renewable energy expert, and farmer.  He is the director of education at Kinstone Academy of Applied Permaculture, and is a member of the board of the Permaculture Institute North America.

Wayne Weiseman:


"Since a soil test has not yet been completed for the site, and we don't know its history it would be good to study the history of the site in general, and assume there may be lead contamination.  In that case, digging the site could distribute traces of lead more widely. Lead can be taken up into leaves, but not fruits - so tomatoes, squash and peppers could be safe from lead where salad greens could contain lead. Any leaves that we will use for compost, mulch etc. might also contain lead, etc.

To avoid any possible lead contamination, build raised beds on top of the soil.  Start with layers of overlapped cardboard boxes.  Use lumber or stone to build the raised bed walls. Urbanite - waste pieces of cement, concrete or road surface - can also be used but it can alter the acid/alkaline balance of the soil in the beds. Ideally, fill the beds with finished compost and they will be ready for planting.  If compost is limited, put decent topsoil on top of the cardboard and finish with compost.  Build some big compost bins nearby to prepare compost to be added to the beds in the coming year. After designing the site so gardeners can easily walk around between the raised beds, consider how the design will support ongoing public education. It is important that we create a master plan and a timeline for development.  This will act as a template for the other sites in the picture. All of these things stated here are preliminary for putting all of this on the ground." 

Scott Kellogg:


"I mostly concur with Wayne's recommendations.  If soil quality is in question I would have a preference for constructing raised bed gardens 12 inches deep.  This is sufficiently deep to prevent the roots of most annual vegetables from accessing potentially contaminated soil below.  If we are especially concerned, a layer of weed blocker or landscaping fabric could be put down first.  I would also recommend being wary of the sources of garden soil, make sure it's from a quality source and not just "clean fill" which may be worse than what's already there.  


As Wayne said, there is a general tendency for contaminants (lead, at least) to concentrate less in the fruit tissues of plants than in roots or leaves.  For this reason, EPA recommends planting woody perennials and fruit trees in soil with low to moderate lead levels over vegetables - we may want to consider some fruit tree plantings, beach plum or rose hips especially if salt intrusion is an issue.  Here's a link to an EPA document that's a good overview of soil safety issues: 


In regards to testing, there is unfortunately no single comprehensive test that can detect all of the 80,000 plus registered toxic chemicals.  Comprehensive testing will range into the thousands of dollars, so I don't recommend it.  Instead, a basic soil test done at Cornell or UMASS will give us good soil nutrient information and will also test for Pb and possibly other metals.  These tests range from $25 to $35, so are much more affordable and can help us make recommendations about landscape use.  


In lieu of precise and detailed information (which is the most common situation), there are basic precautions that can be taken in addition to raised beds.  These involve putting down a ground cover between garden beds (wood chips are my favorite) that will prevent contaminants from becoming dust borne or being splashed into cleaner soils.  Creating a local composting operation/business would be a great way to begin doing soil repair, as well.


We'll have to assume that there are residual organic pollutants on site, especially if flood waters did reach the area.  Most of these, in theory at least, should break down through microbial processes over time.  The best we could do is try and facilitate this through additions of microbial inoculates and stimulants (compost and compost teas, possibly spent mushroom substates) and promoting healthy soil conditions overall."

Sean Walsh: 

Edible planting choices for the medians that would minimize risk of contamination from lead and other soil pollutants are perennial woody fruiting plants -  berries or fruit trees - such as beach plum and juneberry, also known as serviceberry.  The variety called running serviceberry only grows two or three feet tall.  Northern bayberry fixes nitrogen and its leaves are closely related to the kind available in the supermarket.  Prickly pear cactus might do well also.  

Many non-edible perennials would do better and be much more attractive than the grass now in the median, while offering environmental benefits. Native wildflowers such as purple coneflower (also known as echinacea), joepyeweed, irises, and milkweeds would support bees and butterflies.  Some native grasses might have been used for cordage by the original residents of the Rockaways many centuries ago. 

There could be three or more guilds of plants in alternating sections of medians:
 - A rain garden community that contains wildflowers and other perennials that can tolerate periodic inundation, such as echinacea.  This is only possible if NYC Parks Department agrees to cut drainage channels in the curb to allow rainwater to enter the soil of the median, turning sections of it into a rain garden - a water detention basin for runoff.   

- A sand plain shrub community including beach plum, bayberry and prickly pear cactus.
- A beach dune grass community used for propagating the seeds used in seedballs, with native wildflowers or vegetation with visual aesthetic benefits.  It may be found that some species will thrive in more than one community.

Here's a few general questions about the sites that will help neighbors and residents sort out design options. 

For the median site:


How is this site currently used? What is it’s primary function? What does it do well? What does it do poorly? What is missing from this neighborhood?

Can this median serve to connect rather than divide the people on the opposite sides of the road?

Is there an opportunity for curb-cuts, bioswales, rain gardens, etc (blue-street infrastructure)?

Is there an opportunity for traffic calming, pedestrian crosswalks, or other people-friendly uses? 

Prioritize maintaining clear visibility for drivers, especially when approaching pedestrian crosswalks or other high-use area. 

How can the median connect to the empty lot? Who are the potential users of this lot?


For the yard space:


How does the house connect to the yard?

Who lives in the house? 

Consider accessibility to the yard project for people using a wheelchair.

Who will maintain the project in the yard?

Is there an opportunity to capture rainwater off the house roof?

How do the sun/shade patterns affect your design?

What is the historical use of the site? How might that use affect site use in the present and into the future?

What can this site offer that is unique in the area?

How would the local people measure success of this project?



Gil Lopez:


Before looking at the specifics of a project, it's important to start with an open discussion with the residents and neighbors.  Find out what residents really want from the site, what their priorities are, and how the site is going to be used. There's also a choice between a design that produces fast, visible results and one aimed for the long term benefit of both the site and the surrounding community.

Have a discussion with the site owner and neighbors.  Ideally, if it's a community project, hold a series of community meetings in which residents discuss what they want and rank their priorities. Do they want locally grown produce - or a community green space with benches, a free library and a dog park?  Permaculture offers many design resources, but if the residents really want conventional landscape choices, then permaculture and food production options may not be the best choice for this situation.   

Find out how the owner and neighbors will access and maintain the site.  Is it just the site owner who will have access, or will it be many people? Will it be open to everyone? If permission is required to access the site, how will that be requested and granted? How much effort will the site owner and users put into maintaining the site? What skills and resources do they already have or can acquire? Do they have tools and the ability to water the site?  

For fast results on urban sites, raised beds are a good idea.  The downside is that you have to import soil and other materials to build them.  Consider a shift in thinking: set aside the first full year to rebuild healthy soil on the site. There's a lot of fear and misunderstanding about our urban soils which needs to be addressed. We have lots of food waste, leaves and wood chips to be composted on site, which will remediate the soil already there.  The project of collecting compostable materials from within the neighborhood, and teaching neighbors to do the same on their sites, will build good relationships as well as healthy soil, and possibly green-collar jobs.  Many books and programs will show you how to make compost from the combination of kitchen scraps from homes and possibly from nearby businesses for the green, the nitrogen-containing part of compost, and yard waste like leaves and wood chips, for the high-carbon browns. If you're really scared of the soil underneath you can put down a barrier layer, but humic acid from compost neutralizes and sequesters contaminants. The next year, you can garden in the new layer of soil that you've created directly on the site, without having had to build raised beds. Community volunteers who built the soil on that site can move on to new sites nearby, and teach more residents how to compost and rebuild the soil.   


If you decide to build raised beds you'll need lumber to build the walls - 2 x 4s or 2 x 8s.  They'll rot and have to be rebuilt every few years.  Walls made from stone, or the combined building debris called urbanite - bricks, cement and concrete chunks - will last much longer.  Avoid anything that has been painted or might contain asbestos. Raised beds can range from 8 - 16 inches deep of soil for vegetables, and could be as much as 24 inches deep if you have heavy feeders.  Fill the raised beds with soil, and put whatever compost you have on top. Sean's plant choices on the median sound good.  Other species to consider include native strawberry, persimmon tree, and members of the vaccinium family, which includes blueberries.