Homegrown in New York

Though Mr. Estrada calls himself a farmer, his bounty sprouts from the unlikeliest of settings: a patch of green wedged among the bodegas and public housing projects of the South Bronx. There, in a community garden where Mr. Estrada is one of dozens of urban farmers, he fills a box of soil no larger than a child’s sandbox with the things he used to grow with his father on a farm in Puerto Rico.

“If I knew what I know now, I would have helped my father a lot more,” said Mr. Estrada, 74, a retired cook. “There would have been more food.”

Mr. Estrada is able to carry on his family’s agrarian tradition in a teeming metropolis as a result of New York City’s thriving network of community gardens, which is being expanded at a time when an onslaught of development has made these public green spaces more valuable than ever. The community gardens are a refuge for immigrants and those without farms or country houses to escape to in the summer as well as a homegrown source of fruits and vegetables in food deserts like the South Bronx.

This summer, the Parks Department’s GreenThumb program — the nation’s largest community garden program — has grown to 553 gardens, up from 501 in 2009. Most of the gardens sit on city-owned or other public property, and are maintained by community groups and a dedicated corps of 20,000 volunteer gardeners

 In many neighborhoods, community gardens have fiercely loyal protectors who have mobilized in recent years as the city has targeted gardens in Harlem and elsewhere as sites for affordable housing, and private developers have also eyed them.

Bill LoSasso, the director of GreenThumb, said the program had increased its efforts to create more community gardens across the city, especially in largely immigrant communities where many newcomers have roots in agricultural areas. Its budget has increased to $2.9 million annually from $720,000 three years ago, and its staff has nearly doubled to 35 people, who provide training and support and free materials like plants, shovels and wheelbarrows.

“Sometimes when you arrive in a new place, you don’t have a network you can tap into for support,” Mr. LoSasso said. “By joining a community garden, you’re joining a network of neighbors who are coming from diverse backgrounds who can help new members of their community to get settled.”