Garden hero — or partier amid the plants? Or both?

Photo by Lincoln Anderson Jeff Wright in Dias Y Flores garden after the May 5 arbitration meeting, as two other gardeners who don’t approve of his behavior, behind him, looked on warily.

Photo by Lincoln Anderson
Jeff Wright in Dias Y Flores garden after the May 5 arbitration meeting, as two other gardeners who don’t approve of his behavior, behind him, looked on warily.

BY LINCOLN ANDERSON |  It was still unseasonably brisk on the first Sunday in May, as the members of Dias Y Flores Garden gathered around a picnic table in the place’s rear. White-petaled seedlets drifted down from a tree, and on the East Village garden’s floor, freshly fallen pink cherry blossoms lay clustered in small clumps lining the paths’ edges.

But, despite the tranquil natural scene, not all was well in the garden, at E. 13th St. between Avenues A and B, and the chill was not just a factor of air temperature. Along with the falling petals, the cherry blossoms and members’ own vibrant planted plots, there was also an arbitrator, Roland Chouloute, deputy director of GreenThumb, the agency that oversees the community gardens. A few days earlier, Jeff Wright, one of the Dias Y Flores gardeners, had had his membership of 15 years revoked, and had been forced to turn in his key to the front gate. After being cc’d on an ongoing, heated e-mail string of back-and-forths about the flap, Chouloute decided he had to intervene.

Jeff Wright performing “Ten Little Indians” at Dias Y Flores. “Each garden is like it’s own tribe. That’s how I’ve always thought of it,” he said.

Chouloute told The Villager he became particularly concerned when he saw in one e-mail that Claude T. Kilgore, one of the garden’s board members, had allegedly told Wright to “Grow the f— up.” At the same time, Chouloute was also alarmed that Wright was cc’ing local elected officials on his e-mails.

“He’s copying people from the Borough President’s Office, the [state] Senate,” Chouloute said disapprovingly.

A longtime East Villager, Wright was a leader in the effort to save the neighborhood’s community gardens when they came under threat during Mayor Giuliani’s last term. At the height of the struggle, Wright helped organize a major rally in Bryant Park that saw folk legend Pete Seeger come down to play “Guantanamera” for the garden advocates.

But, despite his green cred, Wright has clashed with the board of directors at Dias Y Flores to the point where they recently felt compelled to expel him. Board members say Wright has made it nearly impossible to get anything done due to his obsessive focus on whether various of the garden’s bylaws are or aren’t being followed, and that he has tried to circumvent the board, for example, by signing up new garden members on his own. One person familiar with the situation said simply, “Jeff is an attention-seeking, loudmouth guy, who, when he doesn’t get his way, tries to dominate.” For his part, Wright calls the board a bunch of “bullies,” and charges they have repeatedly flouted the garden’s bylaws, and that he is only trying to ensure they respect the regulations.

‘Wasn’t kicked out — quit’
Some of his opponents at Dias Y Flores say Wright has been kicked out of several other community gardens. But he says that’s untrue, that he has only been booted from one other garden, Green Oasis, on E. Eighth St., and that he merely “quit” some others.

An ongoing issue is the garden’s parties. Dias Y Flores has a mandatory party each month — mainly because Wright got this inserted into the garden’s bylaws three years ago. The obligatory parties include the likes of Labor Day and Halloween, as well as Leftover Day (the day after Thanksgiving), solstice, equinox and Imbolc (a Gaelic spring holiday with pagan roots). Using Facebook, Wright blasts out the invites for the parties, by some accounts, from 250 to 1,000 invites per event.

The parties, however, had recently been starting to draw complaints over loudness from some neighbors. In addition, there were charges that people were getting drunk and falling down and hurting themselves in the garden. Technically, alcohol isn’t allowed in the city’s community gardens, but GreenThumb — which is under the Parks Department — is a small organization and doesn’t rigorously monitor this.

Wright, however, counters that the garden was being mismanaged and becoming cluttered — for example, with an unstable pile of boards for a long-stalled shed project stacked on the ground — causing hazardous footing that was making people trip and fall.

The three incidents
At the May 5 meeting, Everett Hill, a 63-year-old Marine veteran who is a garden board member, referred to the “three incidents” — two people who fell down and injured themselves and one person who tried to jump over a fire pit but fell into it. One woman who was hastily arriving at the meeting quickly spoke up and said she was one of those who fell — she pointed to her forehead, where she had been injured — but said she hadn’t been drinking; that she fell after her foot got wedged between the garden’s paving stones. Wright later identified her as Angela Lehup. As for the other person who fell, Wright said, “He told me he just got dizzy.”

Wright, who plays guitar and sings at the parties, also later told The Villager that it was Jerry Trudell who, while strumming the guitar, tried to leap over the garden’s cement hob — which is usually lit with a fire for the parties.

“The party was over and I said, ‘One more song,’ ” Wright recalled. “This was my fault. He said, ‘I’m Pete Townshend, watch this,’ and he jumped over the pit and caught his foot.”

Hill later told The Villager that he witnessed two of the people who fell leave the party in taxis to go to the hospital.

“I was right here,” he said. “Serious head injuries.”

Lilacs from Chico
All the charges and countercharges were duly aired at the arbitration meeting. Wright had been ordered beforehand by the garden’s board to clear out his plot, but instead he actually added some more plantings to it that very day — including lilacs that he saved from the Chico Mendez Mural Garden, formerly on E. 10th St., before it was bulldozed by a developer back in the late 1990s. In the interim, he had planted them in another garden, El Sol Brillante, on E. 12th St.

The upshot of the meeting was that Wright was reinstated as a member of Dias Y Flores.

“Your suspension is being reversed,” Chouloute announced.

Also, it was decided that GreenThumb, working with the garden’s board, would go over the Dias Y Flores bylaws, modifying them where necessary, and these would be voted on in the fall.

The GreenThumb deputy director also suggested to Wright that he could switch to one of several other local gardens where the memberships aren’t very active. Chouloute later said that Wright didn’t seem interested in the idea, but Wright told The Villager that actually he was, yet also wants to remain active at Dias Y Flores. However, Chouloute told the newspaper, “I’m not going to give him that option.” He added, “He has some good ideas, to be honest — that he could help gardens that aren’t that active.”

A Free Spirit
By all accounts, Wright, 61, is a free spirit.

Originally from West Virginia, Wright is a poet who formerly edited Cover magazine and currently edits another art magazine, Live Mag! He’s also a special-education teacher in the public school system. He has two sons who are engineers, and a granddaughter. He said he’s trying to change the garden’s complexion by bringing in new members.

Speaking to The Villager after the May 5 meeting, Wright said, “We’ve swelled the membership — this garden’s become the premier art and poetry garden in the city. It’s a music garden too.

“This is the East Village,” he stressed. “This is the last bastion of freedom in America.”

Membership war
Traditionally, the time when people could apply for membership to Dias Y Flores was one Thursday evening per month. But Wright charged this was unfair, since Thursday — a big evening for gallery openings — is “a working night” for artists. According to other garden members, though, who accused Wright of “subversive activities,” he was trying to sign up new members on his own, but didn’t have the authority to do this.

Kilgore said, “He held meetings and made it sound like they could join through him — and he sent out minutes from meetings that should come from the board.”

At the May 5 arbitration meeting, it was decided that there would also be one Saturday meeting per month at which new members could join.

Wright’s critics were skeptical that the new people he wanted to bring into Dias Y Flores would be interested in planting flowers and composting coffee grounds.

However, putting an end — at least temporarily — to any plans by Wright of a takeover of the garden by enlisting new members, about a week after the meeting, Chouloute abruptly announced that membership for Dias Y Flores was closed until the end of fall.

‘Free — but within limits’
Kilgore, who moved to the neighborhood three years ago and works in real estate, said he has heard about the wild times in the old East Village, and wishes he had been a part of them.

“We never revoked his membership because of the parties,” he said of Wright. “I love the free spirit. I would have loved to be here 15 or 20 years ago. …

“It can’t be limited,” Kilgore said of the revelry, “but it has to be reasonable. Someone has to take responsibility for it when there is drunken behavior and people get hurt. The thing is, with GreenThumb — we’re not even supposed to be drinking in here. He’s inviting thousands of people to these things.”

Wright said, “There have been charges against me ever since I joined: ‘Drunken parties, drunken parties,’ always ‘the drunken parties….’

“Did he thank me,” he asked of Kilgore, “for bringing people into their little private garden?

“The gardens are really important,” Wright said, “and I’m afraid that GreenThumb is trying to neuter and sanitize them with this power grab that they’re doing.”

Wright said he’s also trying to build up the garden’s membership because he’s always worried that it could be seized back for development. But Hill said that’s ridiculous because the garden isn’t lacking for members, and in fact currently has 68.

Beef at Brillante
After the arbitration meeting at Dias Y Flores, over at nearby El Sol Brillante, a man who asked that his name not be printed said they decided this year not to give Wright a key because he wasn’t doing the minimal things required of members. Plus, he said, he objected to the huge fires Wright would have blazing, as well as Wright’s trademark wolf howling. They change the lock on the gate annually, which is the way they weed out unwanted members, he said.

“He was thrown out,” the man said. “Look at this party — nice, quiet, mellow,” he said, as he nursed a can of Budweiser. A former garden member was having a pre-wedding party. As opposed to a GreenThumb garden, El Sol Brillante is a land trust.

As for Wright, the man continued, “This guy used to take a Christmas tree, chop off all the branches, light it on fire and run around the garden. They used to have a flame 12 feet high” in the fire pit, he said.

Nick Breeden, another El Sol Brillante member, said with a smile, “I like Jeff,” later adding, “He’s a handful.” Plus, he said, his wolf howl is “horrible.”

Both said that, just as at Dias Y Flores, Wright was prone to making a big issue over bylaws at El Sol Brillante’s meetings.

“We used to call him ‘Bylaws Jeff,’ ” Breeden noted.

For his part, Wright denied he was kicked out of El Sol Brillante.

“That’s not true. They just wouldn’t give me a key after 12 years,” he said.

After his Dias Y Flores key was initially taken away, friends of his threw him a party, giving him 30 keys, including one 5 feet tall made out of foamcore. The plan is to assemble these into a sculpture.

Wright said he sinks about $1,000 of his own money into the parties each year, which includes “refreshments, charcoal and logs.”

How the howl started
As for how his signature party howl emerged, he said it was “when we were in the garden struggle — ’95, ’96 — trying to save Chico… . I was looking for a war cry. I tried the rebel yell and the war cry whoop.”

Then he was at a family affair in North Carolina and heard a wolf howl in the distance.

“I can do it for like a minute,” he said. “I like to do it a couple of times [per party] — when someone really cool comes in or goes out. And why shouldn’t I make a little noise, to let people know that we’re in the garden, and using it, and defending it? There’s no law against howling. Excuse me — get over it, it’s New York City. … I love howling. The people who like it are at the party and they howl with me.” “People don’t like it,” Hill said, “and it seems to me, people don’t like it is why he does it.”Wright noted that he sent food up to Hill in his apartment when he was recently recovering from quadruple heart bypass surgery.

Hill admitted he used to do the grilling at Wright’s parties.

Hill said, however, after neighbors started complaining about noise from the parties, he “tried to help” Wright and went over to the Ninth Precinct to find out exactly what the regulations were. Basically, he was told that guitar playing and loud music at garden parties are supposed to end at 8 p.m., except for Fridays and Saturdays, when they can go till 10 p.m.

 

‘Freedom Gate’ gone

Not long after the May 5 meeting, another controversy erupted over the so-called “Freedom Gate” that Wright had stuck in his garden plot. This had been a small prototype section of a new fence that the garden’s board was planning to install. They paid $2,600 for this sample, which came out of the garden’s $5,500 treasury, and were then looking into a grant for the fence’s full $75,000 cost. Wright slammed the process, saying not all members were involved in the approval, and the board ultimately scrapped the project. Wright then took the small mock-up section of the fence and stuck it in his plot, dubbing it the “Freedom Gate.” But the fence recently vanished — and he filed a report for grand larceny at the Ninth Precinct.

This past Memorial Day, per the Dias Y Flores bylaws, the garden had a party. However, feeling his actions are now under the microscope, Wright said that “to be safe” he didn’t send out a mass notice on Facebook.

New zero-tolerance policy
Sitting on a bench inside the garden’s gate, Fran McGorty and Robert Freedman explained they were enforcing a “zero tolerance policy” on alcohol, though they suspected it was being violated.

“It’s a city rule — no alcohol,” McGorty said. “It can be done, but it was becoming unsafe,” she said of drinking in the garden.

McGorty said she is the garden’s senior member, having been with Dias Y Flores since 1983.

As for the missing “Freedom Gate,” she scoffed, “The fence can’t be stolen if it’s not your property. It’s been removed for safekeeping. It’s not a ‘Freedom Gate.’ It’s the property of the garden.”

Freedman said the final straw was the Easter “drunken party.” He said someone had peed in the plot of a gardener named Alex.

Kilgore later explained what actually happened was that some of the partiers had been emptying beer bottles into Alex’s plot and Alex objected, and they then threatened to urinate in his plot.

Photo by Lincoln Anderson Susan Yung, left, and Everett Hill had differing ideas on exactly what kind of “community” is meant by the term “community garden.”

Photo by Lincoln Anderson
Susan Yung, left, and Everett Hill had differing ideas on exactly what kind of “community” is meant by the term “community garden.”

A party of artists
Gathered in the garden’s rear, the Memorial Day party was fairly small and low-key, with only about 15 or 20 people. Most were artists of some sort, including Ron Kolm and Steve Dalachinsky of the loose-knit writers’ collective The Unbearables; Debra Drexler, a visiting art professor from Hawaii; Gary Ray, who formerly ran Darinka, a performance space on the Lower East Side; poets Judy Rifka and Susan Yung; and Patricia O’Rourke, a visual artist from Gowanus. Some were discretely sipping wine from paper coffee cups covered with plastic lids.

One gardener who didn’t give her name, but who everyone else told The Villager was Debra Jenks, was circulating a petition for the “immediate revocation” of the Dias Y Flores board.

It was a little too mellow, so Wright decided it was time to play some guitar and sing.

“It’s the East Village! It’s Memorial Day!” he said with a semi-incredulous expression on his face, aware of the others up at the front of the garden keeping a watch on the party, before he launched into “My Girl.”

“Caterwauling” was how McGorky described Wright’s singing, but he actually wasn’t too bad. He later hopped up on the table and did a dance with another reveler.

Some partiers who were more into drinking had decided to go over to El Sol Brillante, where they found a secluded bench. But when a Villager reporter arrived, one of them promptly tipped off the side of the seat and toppled over onto the ground.

“Whoa! I don’t normally do that!” he said as one of his drinking buddies stood convulsing with laughter and woozily tried to fill his own lidded, paper coffee cup with more wine.

Coat-of-arms controversy
As the party back at Dias Y Flores petered out about 6 p.m., Jenks, who is an accomplished artist, was painting the garden’s “new coat of arms” — which Wright had mentioned to The Villager earlier — on a wall of the controversial shed. It was two large green, crossed keys on a white background.But it turned out they didn’t have board approval, sparking yet the latest garden flare-up.

Afterward, Kilgore said, “They went and vandalized and painted some kind of ‘freedom keys’ on the shed. ‘Coat of arms,’ what does that mean? If it was up to me, I would file a police report. I think we’re probably just going to paint right over it. This could be grounds for immediate removal.”

Other gardeners weigh in
Other veteran East Village gardeners offered their take on Wright and the Dias Y Flores situation.

Elizabeth Ruf Maldonado, a founding member of LUNGS (Loisaida United Neighborhood Gardens) and a performing artist, said, “I think people are standing up for Jeff right now. And I think what they’re standing up for is the spirit of gathering and spontaneous joy. I know that when administrative stuff takes over it can be a downer. I think gardens not only are there for preserving nature but also are supposed to be fun places to relax.

“I’ve been at plenty of events where there will be wine,” she said, “but I wouldn’t want to have an event that was built around drinking in a garden… We have a right to celebrate — I mean, it is New York City.”

Another longtime East Village gardener, who asked that neither her name nor that of her garden be printed, said that howling in the gardens — specifically, at the full moon — is a neighborhood tradition. But she said she didn’t know Wright, or his particular howl, so didn’t want to comment about him.

“We have people that howl like wolves, too,” she said. “That wouldn’t identify him to me.”

In general, the neighborhood has radically changed, she said, noting, “We had some of the loudest rock and roll bands play our garden in the early years and nobody complained. Nowadays, the people here have a lot more money. They want to go out and party on the streets, but when they live there [come home], they want quiet.”

Liz Christy Garden, at East Houston St. and the Bowery, has its factions, too.

“We have a core — I would say, three dissidents,” said Hector Rodriguez. “So you have three that say ‘No’ and 12 that say ‘Yes.’ Tension is just personalities usually.”

Hill has had it
A few days following the May 5 arbitration meeting with GreenThumb’s Chouloute, Dias Y Flores members held yet another contentious meeting. During this one, Wright accused Hill of dispensing garden memberships without making the applicants go through the normal sign-up process. Afterward, Hill told The Villager that’s it, as far as he’s concerned.

“We used to be friends,” he said of Wright. “He comes and lies on me today. I’m sorry to say, I’ve had it. I feel the garden ain’t gonna be O.K. until we get rid of him.

“All I want to see before I die is the garden being peaceable, a new fence and a whole bunch of children enjoying themselves in there,” he said. “You got holidays like Easter, Halloween — you could have thousands of children.”

However, poet Susan Yung, a fan of Wright and his parties, countered, “But there are lots of different places around here for kids to go.”

Yung recalled that, as an emerging artist from Chinatown, it was Wright who gave her her first reading back at the old CHARAS/El Bohio community center.

‘Think of the garden’
But Chouloute said, ultimately, the focus needs to remain on the garden itself.

“He’s too confrontational — his way, or no way,” he said of Wright. “Maybe he enjoys the spotlight. Whoever he really is, it’s not really doing good for the garden. Because people come and go — but the garden stays. At the end of the day, he should ask himself, what exactly is he trying to do.”

Meanwhile, for his part, Wright said he’s being unfairly harassed and that he’ll continue to battle the garden’s board.

“The board is ‘drunk with power,’ to quote another garden member,” he said. “They remain as they have been for over a decade — bullies, cheats, thieves and liars.”

Ron Kuby, the well-known civil rights attorney, and his wife, Marilyn Vasta, a psychotherapist, used to live in the building just east of the garden. In fact, Vasta was a founding member of the garden, and gave it the name Dias Y Flores (“Days and Flowers”) after a song by legendary Cuban folk singer Silvio Rodriguez.

Kuby said Wright recently contacted him for legal representation about the garden. But Kuby, in a telephone interview, told The Villager that he gave Wright basically the same advice as GreenThumb’s Chouloute — if you want to party hearty, find another space.

“The people who are on the board, most of them have been in the garden for 30 years,” Kuby said. “They’re good people. I can see why it’s attractive to use it as a large, outdoor party space. All of us, I think, love large, outdoor, loud, drunken, s—stomping parties. We just can’t have them on 13th St. It’s a residential area.

“It is first and foremost a community garden, an oasis for kids, nature and gardening,” Kuby continued. “If Jeff wants to party and drink — which I totally approve of — he should be allowed to. But my advice to him was: ‘If you want freedom, no limits, hearty party — create your own space.’ I said, ‘I understand your vision, but don’t force your vision on other people.’

“I’m not a prude — ‘smoke ’em if you got ’em, dude,’ ” Kuby said. “But don’t do it where you’re jeopardizing an institution that people worked decades to build. If there are a couple of people having beers at night, no one gets upset. But don’t make it your party space. It can’t work. The garden eventually will get closed down.”

As he sniffed a bush of pink flowers on Memorial Day, poet Dalachinsky offered, “Jeff, he should howl a little less. … And this should be the last line of the article: Don’t forget to smell the petunias.”

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51 Responses to Garden hero — or partier amid the plants? Or both?

  1. Alan Ginsburg, who figured strongly in Wright's poetry training, would be proud of Wright's howling. A little howling once a month is welcome. It wakes and shakes us out of complacency. This is a great article. But also at issue, however, the gardens are meant for the community, not just for the next-door real estate holders. Why is it that creative efforts are so often subsumed by private interests. The reason the board took such action against Wright had little to do with drinking or wild parties. They never suggested the simple solution, enforcing the rules on these issues. The real reason is that Wright proposed term limits for board members and this scared them. One posted on her Facebook wall, "Come to the meeting or else you-know-who could take over the garden." I'm paraphrasing here, but this is the crux of the controversy. Public vs private. To avoid conflict of interest, the board cannot consist of next-door-neighbor property owners.

    • please excuse spelling. GINSBERG

    • Parents Everywhere

      If you can't take the time to get Allen Ginsberg's name correct I seriously doubt that your research is complete on this matter. Wright likes to bring underage girls to his "Garden Parties" get drunk and hopefully get some action, pity him, he's 61 and trolling and creepy to the highest degree.

      • What a creepy comment! What do you consider "underage"? 57? You must be the one revoked Jeff's membership because of "underage" drinking" supposedly happening in the garden. This is really the funniest and saddest. May the Lord have mercy on you.

      • youNeedSeriousHelp

        Agree, this is really creepy. It says more about the person who posted it. No doubt a board member or one of their bully friends.

        • Parents Everywhere

          I bet a nickle to a dollar that the "youNeedSeriousHelp" person is Jeff Wright himself, embarrassed and not realizing that one, people around the neighborhood pay attention and two that he is thought of as a degenerate. I wish I was on the Board but I'm not. What I'am is a Mother who cares about our community and my children when they step outside.

          • youNeedSeriousHelp

            I feel sorry for your children. You are a sick person. And I'll bet you more than a nickle.

    • This is not about term limits. The Board is member-elected and they must be re-elected each year with a majority vote. Any member can be on the Board and there is no limit to the number who can serve. With these parameters, term limits are not necessary. Jeff used to be on the Board, when anybody could volunteer. The members determined they needed to elect their Board and Jeff couldn’t get the votes. Does that tell you something?

      And, such animosity toward the tenants of the neighboring building! How very un-neighborly. Very few of the building’s tenants are members of the garden, they do not use the garden for storage, the garden gets electricity from them, they do not use it as their personal garden (they have their own), and, quite frankly, they seldom venture in if they are not a member. Do they not have a right to be members of the garden? How exclusive. And a Board member that is also on the Board of the building – that gives them no extra power, it helps the garden, they are a liaison. And, about the tenant of that building who is not a member but has a key? Well, that would be a lovely man who tends the garden more than any other; who has been in the garden from day one; who spends more time there volunteering his services than any other; who designed and laid the lovely pathways with a brick and bottle mosaic that draws daily comments of joy from passersby; who regularly turns the compost, lays out rat traps, disposes of the caught rodents; who has worked tirelessly on the shed rather than complain that it is not getting done; who goes through the mixed up trash and recycling and takes it out three times a week; who saves the garden fines when the wrong things are tossed out on the wrong day; who decorates the garden for Halloween and the Holidays, the latter with a lovely display of flickering lights and a prancing reindeer; and, well…do I need to go on? Is this person such a threat?

      What private interests could you possibly be talking about? What conflicts of interest? Name them.

      Enforcing the rules, tried and not successful as noted by drinking at Jeff's Memorial day gathering.

      • funny, a couple from the building next door came over with their glasses of wine a few weeks ago and were baffled when we told them about the new rule, "no drinking in the garden."

  2. "With a shower of rain; we stopped in the colonnade,
    And went on in sunlight, into the Hofgarten,
    And drank coffee, and talked for an hour." -T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land

    What better place to exchange lovely ideas and spend time than in a garden? I really enjoyed stopping by, even in winter when the flowers weren't blooming, and meeting all different sorts of people. Jeff is a lovely man who understands how incredibly important it is to have a place outdoors where friends can meet, mingle, and enjoy away from the hustle and bustle of NYC. xx

  3. Susan L. Yung

    Thank you Lincoln for the photo & great conversation about the LES's history

  4. I've known Jeff since the Cover Magazine days..& my son and I had a really nice afternoon with Jeff & Co. in the garden…. I hope you can work this out..

  5. The community gardens in the Lower East Side are a very much needed part of the life here. They provide us with a lot of what we, city folk would otherwise miss. For some of us, it's the contact with the earth, the joy of planting and harvesting our own food. For others, it's a place to just gather socially – just as essential as we all live in matchbox apartments here. I just want to mention another way Jeff made a good use of the garden space: he organizes annual poetry readings which this gardener enjoys very much in addition to planting and harvesting.
    I had just picked up the print edition of East Villager. Ironically, the headline above this one is: "BUGGING OUT AT THE HOWL! FESTIVAL" Coincidence? I think not.

    • I think you are making positive comments, great. You should also be aware that a lot of other members do a lot of good things for the garden like – participating in National Poetry Month by posting poems throughout the garden; others host poetry readings as well and musical events; having a holiday dance party with invited bands and other entertainment and dancing under the stars; decorating the garden for Halloween and the winter season; securing funding for water painting classes and writing workshops; giving botanical tours; and recently lending the space for rehearsals of a garden dance project…it is all good…and many are involved in making all these things happen for everyone.

  6. "A longtime East Villager, Wright was a leader in the effort to save the neighborhood’s community gardens when they came under threat during Mayor Giuliani’s last term."

    That's very funny. Jeff Wright has never led anything or anyone, anywhere.

    Jeff Wright is a parasite. He latches onto an organization that seems open, then tries to take it over. Dias y Flores is just the latest host.

    • Sorry, Not true.
      As the former President of the NYC Community Garden Coalition, in the 90s which was instrumental to getting the gardens saved, Jeff was there from the beginning.
      Jeff is incorruptible. He sees things for what they are, not what they appear to be.

      This was a very well done and balanced article – well done.

      • Incorruptible? Really? If you take into account his own words below he sounds like a child having a temper tantrum. A leader with no diplomacy, sure Mussolini, Francisco Franco, Bush Jr, take your pick. I wouldn't let this guy lead my dog through Alphabet City. My feeling here is that accusations and delusions flow freely from his mouth mostly without real thinking. I noticed also that the drunk with power comment is unattributed to any real person maybe because Wright pulls defense out of thin air.

        “The board is ‘drunk with power,’ to quote another garden member,” he said. “They remain as they have been for over a decade — bullies, cheats, thieves and liars.”

      • Jeff was not the only one standing up for gardens in their darkest hours. A lot of people were there on the front lines. His recent, untruthful tirades damage the wellbeing of community gardens today, as much as any en masse actions that saved them in the past, only this time he is singularly responsible for his actions, sans a few cohorts.

    • Very true, well put.

      Look at the facts. His key-holding memberships have been revoked from at least two other gardens, rumor has it there are more. He quit? I think not. He just cannot find a way to communicate that actually moves a garden forward, as a whole, as a community that serves more than him. Why? Because that is not his agenda, members see through him.

  7. Throughout the four seasons these past few years, I have been to five daytime events hosted by Mr. Wright at Dias Y Flores. Starting at two pm and ending at six, each was a peaceful, unamplified, creative occasion, with no more than 25-30 people in attendance at a time. Not once was it ever a ”loud, drunken s-stomping party” as insinuated by Ron Kuby (and not once did I ever see him in the garden). Though I have met many interesting and diverse people at these pleasant events, Jeff’s invitations do not go to ‘thousands’ as Kilgore said, and there is meta-data to prove this. Over a period of ten years, three people tripped and fell, but you’d think it was a bloodbath the way they’ve gone after him. (talk about bullies).

    It has been a blessing to enjoy these fun and relaxing afternoons in this ‘community’ garden, but apparantly I was the catalyst for Mr. Wright’s finally getting kicked out. On a chilly Sunday toward the end of an Easter Bonnet event, people were starting to clean up before it got too dark. Someone poured a small amount of leftover beer into the still frozen/dormant dirt behind them, and then out of the blue some guy shows up and has a tantrum. Word spread around the picnic table that he had been spying on the event, and had intervened in an antagonistic manner, at the tail end of festivities, on purpose. To no one in particular, I made a joke — using a pirate accent, I said “I’ll pee on yer plot.” Next thing I know, they take away his key, because someone said that a ‘raging drunk’ person threatened to urinate in his plot. As a long time gardener, I would never harm a plant, and the entire accusation was slandorous. perhaps libelous. I had even stayed late to help clean up after this event. As a resident of the EV since 1981, and an award-winning humor writer, I am not amused at being singled and attacked for making a harmless joke.

    The only issue I have with Dia a Flores, and grill master/board member Everett Hill is equally guilty, is that there is no fire extinquisher on premise, which is far more dangerous than adults having beer or wine with their BBQ. How he and Jeff are now enemies is beyond me, as is most of this tragic story. To make matters worse, when I was informed of the outrageous complaint about me, I shot the messenger, Jeff (was so upset I told him and his garden to go to hell). Days later I ran into Debra Jenks (garden person/friend of Jeff), at a Community Garden event at Cooper. Pete Seeger’s closing words to the audience were “community gardens bring people together.” I told her I needed apologize to Jeff.

    At night, the East Village has been taken over by an altogether different frat/student spirit. How refreshing and wonderful to experience one of Mr. Wright’s alternatively nice events these few times a year. Jeff doesn’t complain about crying babies or screaming children, just a bitter and disagreeable board. Allow him to Howl!

    • Pouring beer in a plot, not respectful, nor was your offer to pee in the plot. That gardener never accused you of being a raging drunk, someone else put that into the storytelling. That gardener was actually expressing a concern about his plot and the fact there were no members present, rather non-members acting disrespectfully. He made it clear he had no problems with parties and did not bring this up to bring an end to them. This is only one story in a long list of complaints about being disrespectful in the garden during parties.

  8. ByLaw Jeff is funny but his real name is
    Jeff Wrong

  9. ByLaw Jeff is funny but his real name is

  10. Jerry Trudell

    This article was a very one sided account of reality, in my opinion. These so called "parties" have been improperly characterized as being boistrous, loud, and offensive to a residential neighborhood. In reality, these backyard barbecues , typically occuring between the hours of 2 and 6 pm, with a few running as late as the unGodly hour of 8, have been attended by a small group of middle aged artists and other middle aged Lower East siders, They resembled the one that the reporter attended on memorial Day more than the ones that the reporter wrote about , which they clearly did not actually attend.. These backyard cookouts have never actually been as large as claimed in the article, as most have been in the dozens , not in the hundreds, and never in the thousands . As a matter of fact, most have resembled the "small group" that was reported on in the Villager article. article. Hardly a loud "party" by any standards, of any community in America. Opponents of these barbecues have greatly exagerated the so called" incidents," and I was not involved in this or any as falsely reported by the Villager. Ron Kuby has never attended any of these, to my knowledge, so his point of view and perspective, and therefore his position, is more based on what he has heard than what he has actually seen. Mine is the reverse, as I have been a regular attendee, and insist that these BACKYARD BARBECUES do not fall into the category that they have been pushed into by this lopsided article and its non informed point of View.
    Please explain to me how an UNAMPLIFIED acoustic guitar can constitute an excess of DECIBELS !!!
    A DECIBEL is how you actually measure loudness in public spaces, and any reading of the DECIBELS created by this acoustic guitar music and a few dozen barbecuers WOULD NOT constitute a higher level than the average volume of ambient street level noise that exists immediately adjacent to the barbecue. I am a musician composer and also have a background in radio and film, so I know what a DECIBEL is . My suggestion to end this absurd and ridiculous characterization is to get a decibelmeter (you can get these) and actually MEASURE the VOLUME. of these BACKYARD BARBECUES to see just how loud they really are. The N.Y.P.D. has these handy devices, so why not ask them to measure the noise at one of these events. . After all, isnt that what our taxes are for, to do things we need to do? ( gee what a funny idea ha ha ha actually MEASURE the volume using the good old fashioned scientific methodology, instead of the" hearsay "methodology..
    It is clear that the reporter was not actually in attendance of any other "party" than the memorial day one, or they would know better than to characterize events as different than the one the attended on Memorlal day, as this was actually much more like the typical "party" than the ones I read about in the article..
    Jerry Trudell

  11. Just for the record, there has NEVER been any amplified music at any of these hootenannys. These HOOTENANNYS have been mostly recycled folk music from the 60s, ,with a bunch of old hippes like myself having a few laughs , singing a few songs and having a burger or 2. (or maybe a vegeburger or 2) .
    Hardly the mad "out of control" scene that hearsay has depicted in the Villager article. All of the punk rock and other loud music is in Tompkins Sq park , and the rest of the bars that surround the gardens. This Decibel level is louder than a thousand acoustic folk guitars !! Get real please, these "parties" are not "out of control" they are in control.
    What is "out of control" is the exxagerated accounts provided by a small group of people, as well as their attempt to stop a perfectly harmless and mellow afternoon barbecue on the Lower East side. I speak as one of the so called "partigoers" and all i actually do is hang out, have a few laughs, and play a few acoustic songs.
    By the way, i dont drink', as all of my friends know, but most people like to have a cold beer with a barbecue, this is America, after all . Regarding the brand new BAN on drinking, it does not affect me, but i still think it is absurd.
    I highly resent the inference that my "partying is LOUD, OFFENSIVE OR OTHERWISE INCOMPATIBLE WITH A "RESIDENTIAL" NEIGHBORHOOD. I also resent the idea that a reporter that hasnt actually attended these "events" should characterize them as any different than the one they actually did attended, as this was more in line with what has been going on. all along, a bunch of middle aged people having an AFTERNOON BARBECUE.!!!

  12. There are some mistakes in the article, about what happened at the parties, no doubt from testimony of a few bitter misguided members, but I take my hat off to Anderson for writing an important article about an issue that touches downtown city dwellers…, for trying to catch the various perspectives, and for getting across the spirit of the letter.

  13. One of the other things I’ve enjoyed at Jeff Wright’s Community Garden events is that they always have a poetic, artistic theme; they’re not meaningless ‘parties.’ A diverse mix of musicians often play a wide range of acoustic music, and it’s friendly and participtatory, not exclusive (which is great for those who just want to sing along, have fun and/or clap). People like Jerry (the above letter writer), an older lady from South America who plays a bongo/drum, violinists and various guitar folk make these occasions really special. So much more peaceful, democratic than some amplified, unidimensional band or dj blaring away/less hoity-toity than one certain board.

    Note to J: I distinctly recall the reporter from The Villager was in attendance at another Dias Y Flores event a couple summers ago, and believe it’s possible (due to a potential conflict of interest) Mr. Anderson might have gone above and beyond in journalistictic, story-telling efforts to portray ALL sides of the story, so as to be objective. There is no doubt this extremely professional reporter doesn’t appreciate hearing our comments about this ongoing saga.

  14. Real Gardeners

    Open Letter

    Dear Mr. Roland Choulote

    Writing today after receiving ridiculous e-mail from Jeff Wright concerning his revoked membership at Dias Y Flores Garden. Good for you guys for standing up to this clown. When I read in this article which he's trying to circulate for pity purposes that he was told to grow the f*** up I almost fell over from laughing so hard. There are many jokes in the world and Jeff Wright is a great example of that in the human form. His slander towards yourself and organization should not be tolerated and I hope that he get's what he deserves. BTW the Parents Everywhere comment posted above should be taken with a high degree of seriousness, a child hurt at one of these "Parties" is a concern I'm sure shared by most members not only of the Board but by the community.

    Thank you for your time and keep up the good fight.

  15. Lori is correct in her observation the issue is not the parties. The article fails to mention the garden had outside facilitators at general meetings during the spring in an attempt to move the garden forward on issues we all agreed were important, in particular completing a shed project that had been stalled since Sandy. Meetings bogged down in disputes over what information should be included in the recording of minutes. The results were parallel versions of minutes being circulated to members–one by the faction then known as the "Steering Committee" and the minutes published by the garden-elected Board of Directors. Reading these minutes would have revealed another story, perhaps too complex for the Villager–the difficulty of dealing with bullying in a democratic context and the ease with which a tiny minority is able to destroy what has been built over long years.

    • Yes, Lori is correct in her observation about term limits and board corruption. Some people have been on this board for 12 years or more (which is truly corrupt). The real fight is over term limits (and I would have made this the focus of the article). Every garden should have them in their Bylaws. Of course, the board does not want them, and they have done everything to keep them off the meeting agendas. They do not want a democratic garden, nor do they practice transparency. They seldom seek membership approval for their "projects." They want to make up the rules as they go, including claiming ownership of all committees, or who can form them. They continue to run the garden like their own private club. The GreenThumb "arbitration" was a joke. Roland Chouloutte allowed the meeting to become an attack on Jeff Wright (attacking the whistleblower is a typical bureaucratic response), and ignored the board's out-of-control bullying and violations. The board of this garden is the real problem here.

      • This is not about term limits. The Board is member-elected and they must be re-elected each year with a majority vote. Any member can be on the Board and there is no limit to the number who can serve. With these parameters, term limits are not necessary. Jeff used to be on the Board, when anybody could volunteer. The members determined they needed to elect their Board and Jeff couldn’t get the votes. Does that tell you something?

        The Board is not the problem.

  16. gardenMember

    Mr Kuby is a bit full of himself. He fails to mention that he has a conflict of interest. His wife belongs to this garden, although she has done nothing to her plot for the past two years (according the to Dias y Flores Bylaws, unkempt plots are suppose to revert back to the membership (hers has not). I have been to many parties in the garden, including the the Easter parties. It was Jeff Wright and his friends who colored and hid Easter eggs and chocolate for the few kids who came. He has been doing this since I can remember. It was also Jeff Wright who created puppet day (for both kids and adults). I have never seen Mr. Kuby in the garden doing anything for children, or anyone else for that matter.
    The real danger to children (and everyone else) in the garden is the new shed construction (which has been gong on for over a year now), and the piles of junk everywhere (the garden has become a private storage facility for the people in the building next door (non-members and friends of the board). The people that keep voting these board members in, are people like Kuby's wife, who get keep their plots, are given favors and can get around the Bylaws because they are friends with the board.

  17. “The board is ‘drunk with power,’ to quote another garden member,” he said. “They remain as they have been for over a decade — bullies, cheats, thieves and liars.”

    So true!

  18. I was a guest at one of Jeff's parties a few years ago- I left the city and don't travel in much so was only present for a few of them. I remember these as wonderful events. We sang Christmas songs and folk songs, Beatle's songs and kids played and adults talked. I loved the howling and general good vibration. The defamation of Jeff's character by some is hard to listen to. He's a spirited person who takes initiative, enjoys a good time and goes out of his way to make people feel good about themselves. This is such a shame because like many situations there is a simple, peaceful resolution waiting to be enlisted. There is a certain comfort and freedom inherent in a party and in celebration- wouldn't want to lose that kind of traditional essence. Not sure why people would or should complain about holiday parties in the city ending at 6 or 8pm.

  19. The saddest thing about the meeting I attended was that some board supporters expressed fear of the parties and those who attended. Most guests, myself included, are neighbors/artists/writers, are we really what New Yorkers today are afraid of? I fear for the city if this is the case….

  20. Thank you Villager for paying attention to the urgent situation of our community gardens. This sort of bullying by those in charge and difficulty in getting a key is rampant in quite a few other gardens as well. Many of them are difficult or impossible to join, they don't post hours and are never open. I would suggest a second article as an expose' on GreenThumb, and why this is allowed to continue under their auspice.

  21. Over and over again I see politics at large being played out in small spaces like artist's alliances and now at Dias y Flores.

    I want to believe that corruption can be rooted out with transparency so I assume that's why no one in power wants it.

    Okay, transparency on corruption in the US Gov't — a lot to ask. In NY State, too much to ask still. Little towns on the Jersey Shore, don't even think about it. But, really? I can't even have transparency in a community garden on the LES?

    This is appalling and disheartening.

    I'm worried about Operation Greenthumb's management abilities. They don't sound like their handling this situation at all well and it's not their first bungle.

    Every day I walk past the filthy, private club that is "Committee of Poor Peoples of the Lower East" community garden. They never welcome anyone into the garden. It's a Latino men's club. They never clean it. Garbage piles up on fence and they just look at from over the tops of their beer cans. The flame trees around it are covered with thorns and were hanging down over the sidewalk at 4.5' making people duck or get their eyes poked out. I called Green Thumb and nothing happened. Six months later I called again and sent pictures and finally they trimmed the bushes. Although it was an artless hatchet job at least no one will get hurt and we can use the sidewalk again.

    How can Dias Y Fores not be grateful to have someone like Jeff Wright in that garden. He keeps it diverse and makes it a space for the creative flavor of the LES. How can the board not value that.

    Thank you to the Villager for the article and I hope I'll read more about this.

    • anyone can walk in anytime. i harbored your sentiment until I overcame my own self imposed trepidation, and went in. all was cool and everyone was welcoming. the bushed over sidewalk were very appreciated by many people as some nature in the city. we have to overcome often racist sentiments, as are semi expressed here.
      It is not an issue of the gardens. a government agency like greenthumb is never going to be helpful to the people ingeneral. and exclusive clicks are not cool either. but we need more gardens!

  22. Laughing Wolf

    As my mother Sun Feather told me, "If you can't join 'em, lick 'em." "Or die trying," Uncle Crazy Horse whispered.
    :P

  23. Because Jeff says it, does not make it so. The garden has 60+ members in any given year, many have been dealing with Jeff for a long time, and most do not share his views, which is a fact he cannot accept. So he just screams louder. He wants things his way, tantrums ensue.

    This is not about term limits. The Board is member-elected and they must be re-elected each year with a majority vote. Any member can be on the Board and there is no limit to the number who can serve. With these parameters, term limits are not necessary. Jeff used to be on the Board, when anybody could volunteer. The members determined they needed to elect their Board and Jeff couldn’t get the votes. Does that tell you something?

    This is not about parties, however; he cannot control himself or his guests. There is drinking, there are people stomping through plots, there are people falling down, falling in the fire pit, and then Jeff leaves the garden unattended while non-members clean up by pouring beer in a gardener’s plot. Every holiday party is hijacked by this behavior and hardly any of the membership attends, once is enough to know not to return. Could there be a little something different for folks who do not want to listen to Jeff?

    At the end of the day, Jeff has spoken his mind, on several issues, and the majority of the members do not agree. The smarter of us, would seek out another garden with a culture more inclined to our view, have some fun, have some peace, leave others to their way, and that is really ok, there is still great and welcomed diversity of character, opinion and personality at Dias Y Flores, be assured! Could all the good members of the garden be corrupted, lying, cheating, and bullying sorts? Think again. He continues to spew slanderous allegations aimed at the Board and GreenThumb. Simply not true. And, frankly, there is not enough here to fuss about for folks with those sorts of ambitions – folks here genuinely fuss about making the garden the best place for the entire community, for all to enjoy.

    And by the way, Jeff was not the only one standing up for gardens in their darkest hours. A lot of people were there on the front lines. His recent, untruthful tirades damage the wellbeing of community gardens today, as much as any en masse actions that saved them in the past, only this time he is singularly responsible for his actions, sans a few cohorts.

    Look at the facts. His key-holding memberships have been revoked from at least two other gardens, rumor has it there are more. He quit? I think not. He just cannot find a way to communicate that actually moves a garden forward, as a whole, as a community that serves more than him. Why? Because that is not his agenda, members see through him. This garden has tried, tried for the longest time to embrace such a negative energy, but now, mark Dias Y Flores as number three for revocation.

    • Who from Dias y Flores was at a demo to save the gardens in 1998 when they were all about to be sold? Why does the board resort to shouting people down and interrupting them and repeatedly taking Term Limits off the agenda? And, for the record, I was actually voted in and re-elected and served three years on the Board.
      I did not act alone in trying to expose the board's arrogance and continuing power grabs and by-law revisions they posted without due process. In fact, ten garden members have already signed a petition asking for immediate dismissal of the board (along with 74 other garden community members). And by the way, "sans a few cohorts," means "without a few cohorts." Maybe you didn't hear about the 13 Concerned Members who were brave enough to oppose the board's dictatorship.
      Were you at the last meeting when 4 boardmembers denied any knowledge of the stolen fence mock-up (that cost the membership $2,600, was never approved by members and has not been in the garden for more than a couple of weeks in the last two years)? These actions reveal the true character of the board.
      And feel free to remain anonymous "arcticsage." It takes courage to do what the 13 have done. It's easy to sit back and pretend the board is benign. And it's easy to swallow their lies. I did not leave the garden without a member in it at any time. None of the allegations made against the board by the Concerned Members have actually been legitimately disclaimed by the board. And let's remember that it was the hypocrite Hill who attended every single party and was always the last to leave. He was the one responsible for the "head injury" he loves to go on about. And the board has never denied the content of any of the alternative minutes either. They just want to run the show without respecting the membership, conceal their machinations and go on running the garden forever ad infinitum. Ad nauseum. And let's remember that I was kicked out the first time for trying to get "Shed completion, shed safety and term limits" on the agenda and for nothing else. 7 months later the board refuses to follow normal procedures and put what is proposed and seconded on the agenda. It's shameful. The gardens are not worth saving if they're run by bullies, liars, cheats and thieves.

  24. @Articsage, who states: “This is not about term limits. This is not about parties”
    How much more ‘out’ can you be? Your exaggerated views on these events are preposterous and anti-social. You, and that wacky, misanthropic board need to get a life.

    “Could there be a little something different for folks who do not want to listen to Jeff? “ Please, he has a handful of events throughout the year (some in the dead of winter). What on earth is your problem? Just because you don’t like this person and these events, no one else can? MOVE! Go AWAY.

    • @Articage, If you are a member, you can plan and have an event any day you want for "your kind of folks.". Plan your own events if you don't like the ones Mr. Wright hosts. What you are suggesting amounts to censorship and discrimination.

  25. Who is a majority in the garden? The board lost the last two votes.
    The last votes the garden held were both initiatives of the Concerned Members. One — to have meetings on Saturdays so more people could join was passed by an almost two to one margin. 12 to 7.
    A moratorium on construction was passed as well, specifically to thwart the board from imposing any more of their secret agenda on the membership.

  26. You will recall that a poll was taken of the membership and there was not a majority to move to Saturday meetings. But, the Board went the extra mile and proposed alternate Thursday/Saturday meetings anyway, in the spirit of working together. The moratorium on construction lasts until the shed is completed, something we all agree on, including the Board. In your mind, the board has secret agendas, in your mind only.

  27. Dear guest number 43, Poles do not count, votes do. Many people ignore poles, that are sent to them in emails. And I certainly would not trust or take seriously the result of any pole conducted by this board, who also determines the results.

  28. youMustBeJoking

    @arcticage If it's not about term limits, why does the board refuse to put the item on the agenda? Why does it matter so much to the board that we do not have them?. Could it be because some people have been on this board for 15 years, and almost all of them beyond three?
    Reply

  29. Over and over again I see state policies at huge being performed out in little areas like artists alliances and now at Dias y Flores.

  30. One of the great challenges of the gardens is to run them as fledgling democracies. GreenThumb is setting a very bad example by stifling democracy rather than nurturing it. How long can they continue their ban on joining a supposedly public space? How long can GreenThumb allow a few privileged diehards to keep members of the community from speaking at public meetings in public spaces? What GreenThumb should have done was enforce the By-Laws and Rules that the garden had. Three strikes and you're out. Every single board member has broken three or more of the By-Laws and Rules. Democracy and popular opinion will win out, if it takes a month, a year or a decade (if the gardens aren't bulldozed by then). Deputy Director Roland Chouloute should be given a chance to resign for his mishandling of this serious crisis and abrogation of democratic procedures.

  31. Long live the garden heroes. GreenThumb can't deny the community the opportunity to join forever and the longer they do–the more attention they will generate. The board has brought this on themselves and they are the ones who should be–and will be expelled democracy will prevail. Chouloute needs to be replaced.

  32. How can the poets and writers and musicians and visual artists ever thank Jeff enough for his selfless bringing together of this community at the community gardens. What better use could there be of the garden? We have felt happy, and included.

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