Garden revokes his membership again, throws away the key

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  |  Accusing him of “creating a hostile environment” at Dias y Flores, the E. 13th St. garden’s board members last week voted unanimously to revoke the membership of embattled member Jeff Wright.

Another gardener, Debra Jenks, an ally of Wright’s, also had her membership revoked.

The board sent them letters Saturday night informing them their memberships were ended.

The garden’s board had also revoked Wright’s membership a little more than a month ago, but the action was rescinded on May 5 by Roland Chouloute, GreenThumb’s deputy director, after Chouloute led a tense arbitration meeting at the garden.

However, Claude T. Kilgore, a board member, said the latest revocation was based on “a number of destructive activities that occurred even since our arbitration.”

The lock on the garden’s gate has now been changed, and members have been coming by to pick up their new keys.

“The overwhelming impression is a sense of relief and peace,” Kilgore said. “The garden looks great! The shed is nearly complete. We’re happy and excited to move on with all of the garden’s summer programs.”

The plants in Wright’s plot were all reportedly removed and potted. He has been given time to come pick them up, and if he doesn’t, they will be planted in garden common areas.

Among Wright’s latest violations, according to the board, were failing to post a notice about his Memorial Day party on the garden’s shed a week in advance, plus “vandalizing” the shed by conspiring with Jenks to paint a new “coat of arms” on it, without the board’s O.K.

In addition, Julie Friesner, another Dias y Flores board member, said that a video by The Villager of Wright’s Memorial Day party posted online showed there had been alcohol — technically a violation of GreenThumb rules.

On Memorial Day, the garden’s board had decided to crack down with a strict “no tolerance” policy on booze. The Villager video showed Wright playing guitar and singing an original impromptu song, “Ten Little Indians” (“How Many Indians?”) The camera panned across the crowd a couple of times, showing others clapping along and garden member Annie Wilson walking by with her African rock dove, Lovi Dovi.

But, toward its end, as Wright was winding up the song, singing, “I’d follow Crazy Horse any day…” the video inadvertently captured one of the revelers removing a bottle of white wine from a blue plastic bag on the picnic table. He is seen discretely hiding the bottle from sight under the table, then furtively refilling his coffee cup, before placing the plastic lid back on the cup. Partiers that imbibed — there were about two dozen poets and visual artists in all at the fairly tame event — used lidded paper coffee cups, trying to avoid detection.

(The Villager had not even noticed the man’s actions until Friesner mentioned it to the newspaper this week. Clearly, the Dias y Flores board watched the video intently for any violations.)



The Dias y Flores board says this “coat of arms” painted by Debra Jenks on the garden’s shed on Memorial Day — without board approval — is vandalism. But Jeff Wright warns painting over it would violate the Visual Artists Rights Act.


Asked what he’ll do now, Wright told The Villager, “As John Paul Jones said, ‘We have not yet begun to fight.’ ”

He charged that he is the one who has been harassed by the garden’s board for whistleblowing.

Wright e-mailed GreenThumb’s Chouloute stating, among other things, that his plants had been “illegally destroyed.”

“They have again revoked my membership and the membership of another garden member based on outright lies and misinterpretations of our bylaws and rules,” Wright wrote Chouloute. “We expect our memberships to be restored as I have broken no rules, just as I had not last time.

“This time the board members have destroyed my plot and dug up all my plants without warning. I am sending you a bill for $300 to take care of this and I fully expect my plants to be replanted.”

Wright also charges that the shed was painted gray previously without proper approval. If his new “coat of arms” keys are painted over, he warned, there will be consequences.

“I want you to understand,” he wrote Chouloute, “that painting over artwork is a crime under the Visual Artists Rights Act and artists can be recompensed according to their reputation.”

Wright also objected that he and Jenks are being unfairly accused of hosting the Memorial Day party — even though he did send out the invites for it.

If anything good can come from all this garden mudslinging, it may well be its artistic legacy. Wright is a poet and the editor of Live Mag!

He told The Villager, “I have written a play based on the situation called ‘Clubhouse on East 13th.’ The play has been accepted for the Boog Festival in August.”

Also, when Wright’s Dias y Flores key was first taken away a month ago, his friends all presented him with keys at a “key ceremony,” which apparently was filmed.

“The ‘Key Ceremony’ will have its film debut this fall,” Wright said. “The 41 keys from the ceremony will be made into a mobile by Judy Rifka, Ford Crull and myself and should be in the fall show at the Theater for the New City.”

It’s not clear at this point if GreenThumb will attempt to hold another arbitration after this latest meltdown amid the mulch.

Chouloute last month told Wright he would find another garden for him in which he could throw his monthly parties, which have become an issue over the past few years.

“It’s not the parties per se,” Friesner told The Villager. “It’s extreme disruptive behavior. He formed an unelected steering committee to oversee the elected board. It’s really just that he was trying to take over — that’s what this was all about.”

But the parties were also an issue.

Friesner, who lives next door to the garden, recalled, “The Martin Luther King Day party, I came home around 7 p.m. and heard someone playing guitar and singing at the top of his lungs, ‘I’m a drunken pirate!’ ”

Somehow, that didn’t exactly seem to be in the spirit of Dr. King, she said.

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28 Responses to Garden revokes his membership again, throws away the key

  1. Actually, I heard that the garden voted to have monthly parties…its just that Jeff made a mission of it and created some really fine celebrations that will be remembered. His goal, and I followed its development and know the intention, was to get more people in to enjoy the garden…a diverse crowd of all ages, races, and persuasions. Dr. King would have appreciated that. And that was the spirit, especially, of the MLK day party. It's unfortunate that Ms. Friesner passed by and remembered just this one line from a song and bent it to serve her dislike of Jeff.

    • laughing wolf

      Julie Friesner — next time we’ll sing a song just for you: “Ding dong… the wicked witch… the wicked witch.” How can you possibly cry about people singing on a national holiday in a PUBLIC space at 7pm. You are seriously ill. It’s NOT your private backyard. I guess your mother never taught you to share. In the end, you’ll lose because you’re myopic. Blind. Can’t see the garden for the people. That’s COMMUNITY garden. And Sanford Ellowitz needs a lesson in manners. You don’t call people fascists at meetings and you don’t steal people’s plots.

  2. Ceci Anderson

    Mostly all of the co-op owners and the "Quoted—real estate broker guy (Kilgore)" want Jeff Wright (American Icon and Pet extraordinaire off of 13th street. Another gardener from another neighborhood garden told me that Dias Y Flores Board Members who have real estate interests have made Jeff's expulsion their season's mission. Raymond Choloutte ought not have his name engaged in the press with the expulsion of artists and poets as has had the co-op owners he promoted in his first meeting wtre he promoted the backing of the (Real estate interested co-op) board. A deeper meaning is gleaned by studying what happened to artists from the Weimar Republic.
    Sadly Ron Kuby, A good Lawyer, constructed a myth to deflect that his wife owns a loft in the co-op building–who knew that he could be driven to obliterating a cultural icon from the historically unsavory, unlucky 13th St. Shame on Ron and Marilyn Vasta the uber real estate lord. Shame on Roland Cholutte for being heavy handed like baby doc to promote rel estate over public land. Please change yourself Roland!!!

    • cece anderson

      That"s Poet Extraordinaire!

      • cece anderson

        OK, Evidently Ishmael Houston Jones has been an artist and dislikes Jeff, but he is so bitter and he really has not been living on the block before 20 years ago when it was not gentrified. How is he reaching out to the community as a former danver? As a parent I know nothing of his work with children at Dias Y Flores. Thee are rarely any small children there ever.

  3. If anything good can come from all this garden mudslinging, it may well be its artistic legacy.

  4. Jeff always seemed to like Houston-Jones and on the handful of times he introduced me over the last decade, I got the vibe that the feeling wasn't mutual…don't know what his problem was, some personal vendetta or professional rivalry? His "private" wink wink letter to the board and Debra Jenks lowered my opinion of him in an instant. A friend described Jeff to me as someone who never had a bad thing to say about anyone. It's too bad that this garden business HAS changed him..but it's also exposed some issues of corruption that needed airing.

    • Guest 2 guest

      Re: Jeff to me as someone who never had a bad thing to say about anyone–
      Does "bullies, cheats, thieves and liars” count?

      • Please read the comment you are responding to. It says that this garden business HAS CHANGED HIM.

      • BULLIES, CHEATS, LIARS AND THIEVES! Right on the money, (and also poetic).

        Why does 13-year-and-counting-board-member Julie Friesner, who owns a coop in the building next door, and is also on the board of that coop, constantly complain about the noise in the garden (at 7:00 on a weekend)? Who does she really serve? She has a conflict of interest as far as I can see.

  5. Isn't there a law that one must be discreet, i.e. have alcohol in brown paper when on a public street or area? Anderson makes an issue out of people drinking "furtively" as if we are living in a time of prohibition. That he assumes that the coffee cups he saw are filled with alcoholic beverages, this is equally unfounded. Did he actually examine the contents of each of these cups he saw? I'm not much of a drinker, but on a hot day, yes, there will be people hydrating. Jeff advises people to bring their own cups to avoid littering the place and the earth with plastic. Nevertheless, I was never aware of a rule prohibiting alcohol in the garden..the issue was never brought up, to my knowledge, in the decade or so that I visited. I never thought about it. It became an issue when so many joined the parties and there was little room to congregate among the stacked lumber, debris, and furniture…especially if one is tipsy. So if things have changed due to increased patronage of the garden, then you rearrange the furniture or let people know if there is a rule against drinking. You don't shoot the messenger.

    In an article I was just reading in NYTimes about housing projects in Brownsville, the author relates an incident where a little girl was stopped on the stoop and an officer checked her drink to see if it was alcohol but it was ice tea. "If you happen to be having a glass of wine on your stoop in Cobble Hill, the chances that a police officer will tell you to stop are roughly equal to the chance that a schnauzer will pass on an excellent stock tip." said the article (6/2 Metropolitan section). Similarly, in this gentrified EV community garden, their was never a rule enforced about drinking. No one cared. The board members themselves may have enjoyed a glass of wine in the garden on occasion.

  6. In your heart you know he's Wright.

  7. “Alcohol — technically a violation of GreenThumb rules.” WHAT EXACTLY does that mean, and/or does it mean ANYTHING? I understand that NYC Parks forbids alcohol in PARKS, i.e., Tompkins, Washington, Union Square, etc. It is clearly stated in their rules.

    WHERE IS IT WRITTEN that alcohol is not allowed in Community Gardens? It does not appear to be an actual law for ANY of them. Who is Green Thumb to claim it’s “technically a violation”? This no ‘singing, drinking, dancing, card-playing’ mentality is simply backwards and creepy. GT and the current board members Dias Y Flores sound like a religous CULT, and they are imposing their misanthropic and hostile beliefs on others in the community.

  8. Perhaps the Board should examine images from Central Park to see if anyone is drinking, and focus their interests/religous views on people, places and things OTHER than Community Gardens.

    From a popular/normal website: Every year, Philharmonic in the Parks offers performances at parks in Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island. While these performances offer the chance to hear amazing classical music, more importantly it's an opportunity to gather with friends and enjoy drinks, snacks and conversation with the New York Philharmonic providing a soundtrack.

    Things to Bring:
    •Food and drink (alcohol is generally tolerated, but there are police around, so keep it low-key)
    •Candles (it gets dark as the night goes on and it can be difficult to see your companions)
    •Jacket or Sweater (after the sun sets, the temperature can drop and you'll be happy to have it)
    •Bug spray to keep mosquitoes away (citronella candles can also do double duty)
    •Balloons are a good way to help you find your friends (cell phones work too) [Please dispose of your balloons in the trash -- releasing them into the air is essentially littering and can be harmful to wildlife.]
    •Blankets to sit on (a plastic garbage bag makes a great liner between your blanket/beach towel and the moist

    • I went last summer and the summer before to Gov'ners Island outdoor events where they sold beer and other concessions for people to enjoy at picnic tables.

  9. Laughing Wolf

    Is it true that there is a giant party there every July 4 and it’s in their bylaws?! Maybe see you there.

  10. Am I missing something? Is garden membership really newsworthy?

    • I can understand your lack of empathy. I had a home in the Hamptons once and looked down my nose at the NYC community gardens.

  11. RE: Board out-of-control: Hi Lincoln, a few corrections to your article. I was never sent a notice by the board revoking my membership. As far as I'm concerned, I am still a member.
    Second, the painting of the keys above was done by Jeff Wright. The original key painting was mine, but the board painted over it. I did it on Memorial day (designated "clean up day" by the board who made sure they had plenty of junk in the way of people's use of the garden on a holiday). The original key painting was done in commemoration of the key ceremony, where 41 people brought Jeff Wright a key to the garden after he was unlawfully booted out by "the board." It was also in response to a board member in the garden ordering me to "do some work."
    As far as the Memorial Day gathering goes, it was just a meeting of friends for a BBQ, not an organized party, although a Memorial Day party is written into the Diaz y Flores bylaws.

  12. BULLIES, CHEATS, LIARS AND THIEVES! Right on the money, (and also poetic).

    Why does 13-year-and-counting-board-member Julie Friesner, who owns a coop in the building next door, and is also on the board of that coop, constantly complain about the noise in the garden (at 7:00 on a weekend)? Who does she really serve? She has a conflict of interest as far as I can see.

  13. dyf gardenMember

    Ron Kuby's partner who owns a coop in the building next door, has not touched her garden plot in years. According to the Diaz y Flores Bylaws, plots not attended after June 1st revert back to the membership. Board member Claude Kilgore's plot was unattended to as well after that date. Yet the board had the audacity to rip out all of Jeff Wrights plants from his plot shortly after unlawfully revoking his membership for a second time. These people are just plain vile.
    Mr. Wright is right-on when he calls them Bullies' liars, thieves and cheats.

  14. Wright is fighting the good fight against the bad guys. The board should get the boot for their unbelievably bad behavior. And so should Chouloute for allowing them to continue. I couldn't believe it when I got to the May meeting and tried to join only to find out that Chouloute had put out a proclamation just hours before saying no one could join. When GreenThumb realizes its mistake and opens up that garden again, I will join for sure. It's up to the real East Villagers to save it.

  15. Mr. Fraser,

    My plot is not available. If as I have heard, you have been foolhardy enough to put plants in my plot in the spirit of a venal vulture — I strongly suggest you remove them immediately. Why would you want to put your character and your illegal opportunism up for judgement in the vortex of a heated controversy?
    You you who call people fascists at meetings, you who refuse to uphold our By-Laws and Rules, why would you want to drag your name into the controversy?

    Your fellow garden member,

    Jeff Wright

    • Sanford Ellowitz is the culprit who is foolhardy enough to think he can take over my plot. (Not Mr. Sanford Fraser, sorry). Ellowitz is a patsy, playing into the hands of the bullying board. Get your stuff out of my plot, Ellowitz, if you want to keep your name out of the nasty fray.

  16. this garden land sounds to me like a good place to build a community center… which LES does not have, eh?
    all this mishegoss reminds me of Soho in the late '70s — the annoying sounds of musicians practicing and dancers landing on the floors drove the new residents crazy… welcome to the gulag of silence

  17. laughing wolf

    Sanford Ellowitz, as chief bulldog of the bullies, has been "rewarded" Wright's plot. What an ignominious distinction. Were other garden members offered the plot as well? I think not. Favoritism is alive and well in Bullyville, aka Dias y Flores COMMUNITY garden. Wright proposed that his plot be turned into a community plot at the last meeting and this proposal must be voted on before Ellowitz can claim it. Ellowitz should try to keep a low profile. His salivating partisanship knows no bounds. He has no regard for the By-Laws and Rules of the garden. Shame on you Ellowitz.

  18. Evidently, Dias y Flores Community Garden is being very poorly served by its board of directors. How on earth can someone complain about singing at 7pm(!) on Martin Luther King Jr. Day? As a boardmember, Julie Freisner should have been pleased that the garden was being used at all in January. Instead she showed her true interest – keeping people out of what she obviously considers her private backyard. Her building even has a private entrance. It is scandalous.

    And GreenThumb Deputy Director Roland Chouloute is clearly culpable in backing selfish persons like Freisner instead of someone like Jeff Wright. Wright has invited many people to experience the gardens. As someone who lives uptown, I have come down to the Garden many times to meet other artists and interesting folks at these well-run events. This is some of the only true community I actually experience in NYC.

    Along with the Concerned Members of Dias y Flores, Wright has helped make it one of the easiest Gardens to become a Member. Thanks to Chouloute however, it is now one of many gardens that are impossible to join. Shame on GreenThumb! — what is your purpose?

    When can I join Dias y Flores to help right this wrong?

  19. Andrea LeHeup

    From where I stand on the sidelines as a sentient objector to the ludicrous nature and actions of not only the inept Dias y Flores board of directors who cannot or will not follow their own bylaws to govern the garden in fairness, but also Mr. Roland Choloutte's unrighteous dictatorial decree to close membership to the garden. Is this even legal?

    Hello? Are we still in the East Village, or is this the set of a provencal town of 200 people who's clicks and good ol' boy networks rule the land? Sorry Dorothy you're not in Kansas anymore. You're in the great city of Oz, i.e. New York City and our community gardens are in place so that people who live here can come celebrate nature, share stories, poetry, and sing with friends and family with food and drink. Truly, if singing and playing acoustic musical instruments is considered disrupting the peace at 7pm on a weekend, so be it! Perhaps you may consider moving to the tranquil suburbs. Our city community gardens are not owned by private co-op boards nor residents who border these plots of city property. There seems to be a conflict of interest perpetuated by corruption to serve one's own needs in order to take-over this free garden space on 13th St.

    Jeff Wright, poet, artist, and garden activist has stood up and fought to protect community gardens for many years as a long-time resident and this treatment he's receiving is absurd. As Jeff has said, he has only begun to fight this situation and hopefully this spirit evokes the same in all of us. The East Village is home to many artists, poets, writers and musicians and we will not allow our freedom of expression to be quelled by a few dowdy curmudgeons who would otherwise like to form their private social club at the garden.

    I have come to realize that we need more people like Jeff to push back against corrupt systems be they political or corporate, to speak out and hold the people who make rules but do not follow them accountable for their actions. I'm happy to consider Jeff a friend and support him in his efforts.

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