This month, North Brooklyn Farms opened to the public. The farm produces herbs, flowers, and seasonal vegetables on a former parking lot in Williamsburg, New York. The diversified urban farm aims to be a model of urban farm ecology, and to improve the standard of living for residents of North Brooklyn through increased access to healthy produce and educational programs.
North Brooklyn Farms is located on the site of the parking lot of the former Domino Sugar Refinery in Williamsburg and run by the enthusiastic duo of Henry Sweets and Ryan Watson (Watson pictured above). The farm is part of the newly opened Havemeyer Park and shares space with a dirt bike track and emerging grass fields.
All produce is grown in raised beds, partly because of potential soil contamination of the site partly due to years of use as a parking lot, and partly due to the farm’s temporary nature. The management company that owns the space plans to develop the site into a residential and commercial complex starting next year, at which point North Brooklyn Farms plans to pick up their portable fields and relocate to another spot in the neighborhood.
The farm currently has between 37 and 46 square meters (400 and 500 square feet) of raised beds. A wide selection of herbs is grown along with eggplant, squash, and rows upon rows of kale. The farm also has a flower section and a section where native plants salvaged from the site, like a perennial sunflower and mullen, a local medicinal plant, are grown.
North Brooklyn Farms uses organic principles and aspires to be a model for urban sustainable agriculture. To reduce prevalence of pests, Sweets and Watson use companion planting; for example, growing eggplants and marigolds in the same beds. The farm also tries to source sustainably and reuse materials. Next to the raised beds, butternut squash, collard greens and blueberries are growing in barrels discarded from a local produce shop, lined with old sacks from the Brooklyn Roasting Company.
The two young farmers have been working with a team of dedicated volunteers all summer to get the farm established. One volunteer is Frederic Taieb, a 35-year-old former banker turned massage therapist, mobile food truck vendor, and urban farm enthusiast. Taieb has lived in cities his whole life, and nine months ago he was working on Wall Street trading U.S. treasury bonds. “For seven years, I was inside in front of the computer all day and in my free time I would go to a gym to work out – inside,” says Taieb. As a volunteer for North Brooklyn Farms, Taieb has spent days outside working with his hands, and learnt new skills – like how to drive a small tractor, build a brick wall and plant sunflowers. “I feel stronger, healthier and happier, “ says Taieb with a broad smile.
The North Brooklyn Farms team aspires to help New Yorkers reconnect with the food system and will be hosting educational workshops teaching basic farming and food skills to urban school children as well as community workshops. The farm plans to be open to the public as much as possible and will be running farmstands every Wednesday and Saturday.
When open, North Brooklyn Farms gives visitors the opportunity to pick their own kale. Watson stands by to give advice and help people pick the ripest kale stems – unsurprisingly, most New Yorkers have little experiencing harvesting crops. Watson asks each customer if they have ever picked kale before. When the answer is, “I’ve never picked anything,” he smiles and says, “Perfect, you are exactly the type of person we want.”