It was more than a little depressing to see the first North Brooklyn Farms get clobbered by bulldozers last fall, even if everybody knew it was coming. But as of this weekend, the farm is back and better than ever with Sunday night dinner parties, a fireworks viewing, and a host of other community events extending through the tolerable months. But best of all is that North Brooklyn Farms, now the Farm on Kent, will be an accessible plot of nature for the neighborhood’s residents.
“We’ve gotten up on the roof [of Domino] a couple of times and when you look out over the neighborhood you really see there’s no green space,” co-founder Ryan Watson explained. “People are really hurting for it, and that’s why we really wanted to limit some of the vegetable growth and set aside space for this lawn.”
The farm, across the street from its original location at Havemeyer Park, is eerily quiet, which is surprising not only because the Farm on Kent is located almost directly under the JMZ, but because the crops are growing in the shadow of what’s left of the Domino sugar refinery, where bulldozers and steel claws are slowly making progress in turning the ruble into sparkly glass towers. “It’s kind of an oasis here,” Ryan said. “We have this space for the next three years, is what we’ve been told — it could be longer, but that’s what we’ve got going.”
Two Trees, the developers behind the massive project that’s slated to continue for the next decade or so and will result in the construction of approximately 700 new residential units along the Williamsburg waterfront, has granted the farmers a temporary lease on the land. “This site was where the Domino sugar refinery was,” Ryan explained. “But this is the first time this property has been made accessible to the public in over 150 years. At one point, the majority of American sugar production came through this factory, so this site has a really big historical significance to the neighborhood and the country as well, considering the role of sugar in our history.”
North Brooklyn Farms has made an effort to use some of the old materials found at the site including cobblestones and pieces of blue stone. “Last time these cobblestones were laid they were being run over by horse and buggy,” Ryan said.
It’s hard to imagine but Ryan told us that at one point, Kings County was once the second largest producer of produce in the U.S. “It was number two behind Queens County,” Ryan explained. “There’s this funny irony in the fact that this was once agricultural land, became factory land, and is now reverting back to agricultural land and being made accessible to the public.”
But NBF is also looking toward the future in trying its best to accommodate the interests of all types of residents. There’s a blacktop bike course (known as Brooklyn Bike Park), picnic tables and a kitchen, as well as plans for a shady grove, a mushroom farm housed inside a shipping container, pick-your-own produce, and a lawn where people can simply hang out. Ryan has even designed what he calls “grass bowls,” prototyped at the previous site. “It’s like a really beautiful place to hang out with friends, drink a beer,” he said, plopping down inside one of the bowls.
“We run the space to be accessible to the public,” Ryan confirmed, explaining the dining area would be accessible to everyone outside of the events. Besides the Jimmy Carbone dinners, NBF will also run some to-be-determined barbecues. “They’re going to be more casual events,” he explained. “We’re also going to do seasonal parties. We have a Halloween party, we do a harvest carnival which is really, really fun. We had a square dance and a live string band last year. It was very much a country carnival vibe in Brooklyn.”
The space will also be used for yoga classes, meditation courses, and gardening workshops. “We want to give people who sit in front of a computer all day the opportunity to come out here, use their bodies, and get connected with the Earth,” Ryan said. “We want people to have a disconnect from the hecticness of the city. You can sit and watch the bridge at rush hour and see all the traffic and be removed from it, and watch the butterflies and the dragonflies just fly around.”
And of course, a wide variety of produce will be sprouting. Both volunteers and patrons will help pick the produce, which can be bought at the farm stand on Wednesdays and Saturdays. “We have kale, we have an Italian heirloom eggplant called Rosa Bianca, and a couple different varieties of cherry tomatoes over here, butter-head lettuce, cucumbers for pickling for our Sunday suppers, okra as well, and some arugula popping up here,” Ryan recounted.
Most of the plants, save for the annuals, are from the old park. “We took everything up to our friend’s place upstate over the wintertime,” Ryan explained. “We’re in the final stages of getting the trees back down here from Pennsylvania.”
And though the new site does share a lot of the same amenities as the previous location at Havemeyer Park, this space is much larger. “We grew thousands of pounds of produce last year, and this year we have ten times the space,” Ryan said. “And because our lease only went to September of last year, we didn’t have those extra months of growing.”
We’ve seen Two Trees’ renderings for a public park planned for the development, but we wondered if perhaps residents would prefer that the Farm on Kent become a permanent fixture? It’s not far-fetched to think that maybe Two Trees would consider keeping the farm after all.
“It depends. Two Trees, they’re very good at responding to community requests in a way I’ve never seen any other developer do, and one of the requests of the community is addressing the lack of green space,” Ryan answered. “It’s out of our control– everything in life is temporary and three years in New York City is a very long time– but we recognize that if we work really hard, that speaks for itself, and the memories that are created here, that’s all that we really care about.”
The Farm on Kent will be open to the public Tuesday through Friday, 11 am to 8 pm and Saturday and Sunday from 11 am to 9 pm.