Remembering Barbara Cahn

Last Sunday, we came together to celebrate the life of our beloved chair Barbara Cahn, who passed away suddenly on the 17th of March 2023.


Barbara had been a community garden activist for many years before she joined our group. Together with members of the NYC Community Garden Coalition, she fought to save gardens from development all over the city. Once she became a member of LaGuardia Corner Gardens in 2011, she immediately dedicated many hours of her life to working in and for this garden. She quickly turned her plot into a wonderful jungle of kale, tomatoes, cucumbers and flowers, and she was instrumental in making LaGuardia Corner Gardens the open, friendly and welcoming place that it is today. Over the years, Barbara became compost master, assistant bee keeper, rat harassment expert, youth instructor, workshop organizer, representative in countless meetings of various organizations, vice chair and finally, in 2021, chair.

Barbara was truly the life and soul of LaGuardia Corner Gardens.


How much we owed to Barbara, how much we loved her, and how much she will be missed can’t be better expressed than in the words by our long-time chair Sara Jones:

“I am honored to celebrate the life of my dear friend, Barbara Cahn. I’m here to represent LaGuardia Corner Gardeners. Barbara was the vice to my chair for many years and we co-steered the community garden we both loved so much. I called her my “serial volunteer”. She always offered to do, to go, to help in any way; she was always game. I believe a lifetime of community service and activism was instilled in her early on in her Peace Corps days. The Garden wasn’t the only place she gave generously of her time and talents. Barbara weeded at the High Line, worked for public radio, volunteered for the NY Film Festival and was a docent for the Greenwich Village Historical Preservation Society, all while being a ceramic artist.

Time is unforgiving, moving forward relentlessly, leaving only memories, vignettes of adventures we shared.
The Garden was our backyard, an oasis, a sanctuary in the big city. We did a lot more than gardening there. We used it as a creative workshop, inventing and presenting programs. We made stepping stones with shards of Barbara’s pottery, learned composting, experimented with eco dyeing, we went to the Rat academy and she even joined me beekeeping. Barbara and I participated in the Mayor’s Youth Leadership Council, which mentored youth in our community garden. We enjoyed teaching, our passion. We shared the love of books and film and theater. We sat together in many Off-Broadway shows and Avantgarde theaters. We protested together for community gardens at City Hall and marched down 5th Avenue in our pussycat hats. Barbara love New York and all it had to offer.

She taught me so much about de-escalating a situation with a complement. Always speak to a persons strength, you’ll get more co-operation than if you point out their deficiencies.
In 2015 the Garden initiated an open gate policy. I lived on Thompson Street and would open the gate most mornings before work. Evenings, gardeners would gather to water and chat. Barbara, Karin and I would always be the last to leave. Barbara would always close up. Those long summer evenings I thought would last forever, laughing with forever friends.

The pandemic forced me to move from NYC. I was confident leaving the Garden in Barbara’s care. Barbara helped me disburse my belongings when I moved, helping find homes for furniture, housewares, everything. We have everything away. Which was hard work. I was so looking forward to Barbara’s visit to my new gardens, but we unexpectedly ran out of time.

Let’s celebrate Barbara by becoming a little more like her: kind and generous. Let’s remember her laugh and her positive creative energy. Let’s plant something in her memory. Let’s eat kale. Let’s volunteer. I think of Barbara as a seed of generosity. Let’s keep LaGuardia Garden a public space so kindred spirits can connect and create with each other and make lifetimes of magic memories.


Barbara and Sara instructing students for the Youth Leadership Council

Sara closed with a poem by Patti Tana that appeared to have been written just for Barbara.

“Post Humus”

Scatter my ashes in my garden
so I can be near my loves.
Say a few honest words, 
sing a gentle song,
join hands in a circle of flesh.
Please tell some stories
about me making you laugh.
I love to make you laugh.

When I’ve had time to settle
and green gathers into buds,
remember I love blossoms
bursting in spring.
As the season ripens
remember my persistent passion.

And if you come in my garden
on an August afternoon,
pluck a bright red globe,
let juice run down your chin
and the seeds stick to your cheek.

When I’m dead I want folks to smile
and say, “That Barbara, she sure is
some tomato!”

Patti Tana