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Essex Crossing’s Rooftop Farm Takes Fresh Produce to New Heights

urban farm and better view_optA new farm on the Lower East Side is proving that rooftops are for more than sunset cocktails and illegal barbecues. Essex Crossing Farm, which opened today at 125 Delancey Street, will grow fresh, affordable produce for local vendors and residents. It’s part of Essex Crossing, a mixed use series of buildings hosting market-rate and affordable housing as well as the sprawling Essex Street Market. At 10,000 sq. ft., Essex Crossing Farm will be the largest urban farm on the island of Manhattan.

“Food that’s grown right here and harvested is more nutritious and more tasty than any food you’re going to get anywhere else,” said Linda Bryant, founder of Project EATS, a main partner of the farm and the host of the opening. Bryant started Project EATS during the 2008 global food crisis, when food prices around the world hit a dramatic high.    

Essex Crossing Farm is located atop the Essex, an apartment building with 50 percent affordable apartments and market-rate studio apartments starting at a totally reasonable $3,492. The farm features rows of individual lots growing produce such as turnips, beets, radishes and spinach, and looks out over sweeping views south to the Lower East Side and north to Midtown. Project EATS plans to grow at least 10,000 pounds of produce at the farm each season, a quota set by another one of their farms, across from Marcus Garvey Apartments in Brownsville. The public can get Essex Crossing Farm’s produce at their “Farmacy,” currently located in Essex Crossing Park, at Broome Street between Clinton and Suffolk. 

urban farm better radishes_opt (1)

Despite the farm’s posh location, Project EATS says the goal is to get affordable-housing residents both fresh produce and leisurely activities a few steps from their home. Essex Crossing will have 561 affordable units total at its buildings. Affordable units open now include 11 condominiums at 242 Broome Street, 98 rentals at the Essex, 104 rentals at the Rollins, and 99 senior rentals at the Frances Goldin Senior Apartments. Under construction are 84 affordable studio rentals strictly for elderly residents in a new development at 140 Essex Street, and 121 affordable rentals at 180 Broome Street. In addition to giving affordable-housing residents cheap produce options, Project EATS plans on hosting rooftop events specifically for these residents, including free yoga, group farming sessions, and free Saturday breakfasts inspired by the Black Panthers’ “Free Breakfast Program,” which provided free breakfast to children before school.

“The ultimate goal of ours is to really help to support and strengthen the ties between residents,” said Bryant. “We see each other as a unit of people working to make the best possible place for us to live.”  

Bryant says events open to affordable-housing residents will begin towards the end of August, and others will be open to the general public. A collaboration with Seward Park Educational Campus will allow students to plant produce at the farm. 

Nonetheless, for all the bridges it is building with local schools and residents, Essex Crossing Farm still has work to do in bridging the divide between Essex Crossing and the public housing residents across the street. “When I first came down here, it seemed like the NYCHA residents were concerned about this as a development and how that was going to impact them,” said Bryant.

urban farm view photo_opt

The development at Essex Crossing did not come without skepticism from residents of the housing authority’s Seward Park Extension complex or from other Lower East Side activist groups. According to Bowery Boogie, new development at Essex Crossing sites cost the neighborhood 500 parking spaces. Essex Crossing has also been cited in broader arguments against high-rise developments that activist organizations such as the Lower East Side Organized Neighbors Coalition say are changing the architectural and neighborhood character of the Lower East Side. The Essex is 26 stories tall.

Still, Project EATS is confident this gap between NYCHA and Essex Crossing can be alleviated through complementary events and free vegetables. “That’s going to be a wonderful challenge,” said Linda. “We’re going to go across the street and say, ‘We want you to come over here and join us and we’re going to come over and join you.’ It’s about building bridges and community.”

Essex Crossing Farm was created in collaboration with partners including developers Delancey Street Associates and the nonprofit Project EATS, which already owns ten urban farms across the boroughs. The project’s primary goal is to provide produce that fits each community’s desires and price point. Farms in neighborhoods like Brownsville and East New York, for example, have offered produce like callaloo and okra to please their largely Caribbean populations. 

Essex Crossing Farm’s “Farmacy” is currently open Wednesdays and Saturdays from 11am-4pm. It will move to a permanent location at Market Line, Essex Crossing’s bazaar-like food hall on Broome Street between Clinton and Essex, this fall.   

Correction, Aug. 1: This post was revised because it was imprecise about the number of affordable units at Essex Crossing.

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Street Artist Sara Erenthal Takes Her ‘Raw, Primal’ Self-Portraits Indoors

Sara Erenthal (Photo: Meryl Meisler)

The Storefront Project is currently covered in upcycled canvases. Sara Erenthal, one of the city’s most notable and prolific street artists, has moved her works to Orchard Street. 

If you take long, aimless walks around Brooklyn like I do, you’ve likely come across Erenthal’s work at some point. She draws those graphically simple female faces, recognizable for their triangular cheeks, oversized eyes, and little red mouths. The faces are all hers, she says—but she calls them “subconscious” self-portraits, depictions of herself that have been stylized away from strict identifiability. “It’s not a very literal representation, but a representation of emotion,” she told me. “My voice.” 

This isn’t the only style she works in, but it’s what she has become known for. She’s also known for repurposing found objects into canvases, “upcycling” them. Her portraits often materialize on discarded things, the mattresses, refrigerators, and wood panels that dot the city’s gutters—and they can vanish as quickly as they appear, whenever intrigued passersby feel moved to take them home. “I’m making art accessible, giving people a chance to pick up an original piece,” she said, of the benefits of this practice. “And I’m cleaning up street corners!”

Because her style is abstracted, almost cartoon-like, the portraits can feel quite universal. Many women, the artist reports, have expressed that they connect with her self-depictions, and it’s not hard to see why that would be. Erenthal frequently pairs her faces with small, sincere quips, messages like “Perfectly Flawed,” which she once wrote on a hairline-cracked mirror. Or “Lift Me Up,” which appeared on a prone, hingeless door. The themes she’s most interested in include “displacement, survival, and liberation,” which she explores all over New York through feminine figuration. There’s something wide-reaching about this practice, like she’s conducting an investigation into female power and pain, writ large. 

But with Backstory, the solo exhibition she and curator Nina Blumberg opened at the Storefront Project last week, Erenthal is sharing very personal experiences. The exhibition consists of self-portraits in the recognizable style, largely on repurposed surfaces like thrift-store paintings, art prints, and old photographs (they’re for sale at gallery prices, but still maintain many of the qualities of her free public art). They work together to tell viewers about Erenthal, a self-taught artist who was raised in Borough Park, Brooklyn, in an ultra-Orthodox Jewish community. She left home at the age of 17 to avoid an arranged marriage, to live a secular life, and to chase her creative impulses. Echoes of the religious part of her past recur in the exhibition: a self-portrait laid over an old photograph of an Orthodox person, for example, is called “You Can Take the Girl out of the Village.” 

Other lived experiences and eras appear, too, with equal clarity. Erenthal explores intense romance in pieces like “I’m Infatuated,” in which a self-portrait is laid over a blooming white flower. And her journey toward discovering her artistic style appears in “I Didn’t Want to Draw Apples,” a piece in which portraiture literally trumps still life. The exhibition’s title takes on multiple meanings, with all of this historical digging in mind: the upcycled canvases each have a backstory, because they were once something else, but Erenthal’s personal backstory is on display, too. Each image becomes a chapter in a larger autobiographical narrative.

Still, even with all this intimate excavation, there’s something inclusive or relatable about each of the faces in Backstory. As with the street portraits, there’s enough interpretive malleability in their features to allow for broad identification. “It’s just a very raw, primal, human expression,” Erenthal mused, when I asked why she thought her own repeated visage spoke to so many people. “There’s no definition of race or nationality…it’s feminine, of course, but it could be anyone.” In this way, her somewhat generalized iconography can speak very deeply to individualized experiences. Her own, of course, particularly in Backstory. But also—in this gallery, or in passing on a street corner—almost anyone’s. 

“Backstory” is on display through August 18 at Lower East Side gallery The Storefront Project. The gallery is open to the public from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m., Tuesday-Sunday.

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The Last Little Skips Show and More Art This Week

(image via The Living Gallery Outpost / Facebook)

BYO Art
Opening Tuesday, July 30 at The Living Gallery Outpost, 7 pm to 9 pm. One night only.

While art space The Living Gallery originally started in Bushwick, it has since expanded to a smaller outpost location in the East Village. To celebrate that space’s two-year anniversary, the gallery will be hosting one of their signature “BYO Art” nights, which are exactly what they sound like. Rather than entering into a space where some elite artists has their work on display, BYO Art welcomes anyone who makes art to bring a piece and hang it on the walls. There’s a $10 suggested donation, but any sales made will go directly to the artists in full.

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Oat Milk Soft Serve Comes to Williamsburg

(image courtesy of Whipped Urban Dessert Lab)

You might have to take a shuttle bus to get it, but you can now enjoy a frozen treat made from the latest trendy dairy substitute: oat milk. The Boston-based, woman-owned Whipped Urban Dessert Lab has now officially set up shop in Williamsburg’s North 3rd Street Market, where they’ll be serving oat milk soft serve to cool your overheated soul.

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New CBD Bill Could Be Even More of a Buzzkill For Bodegas

CBD products at L Stop Gourmet

On the heels of the New York City health department’s ban on CBD-infused food and drink, the State Assembly wants to crack down on where bodegas and other mom-and-pop CBD stores are getting CBD from in the first place. A bill approved by the New York State Assembly and awaiting Governor Cuomo’s signature is attempting to better regulate the industry by introducing licensing, lab testing and production requirements. The bill was spearheaded by Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo (D-Endwell, 123), who says that the CBD industry is seeing “increasing consumer demand and interest” and needs to be put under control. Still, for some bodegas, the measure is just another hit to a product that’s already been hard to get off shelves. More →

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Performance Picks: Free Comedy, Burlesque, and Mud Wrestling

THURSDAY

(image via Savannah DesOrmeaux / Facebook)

Ghost Town
Thursday, July 25 at Pete’s Candy Store, 7 pm: FREE

Ghosts are probably feeling not too thrilled lately. They’ve gone from being known for being spooky spirits to being associated with the kind of people who just stop texting you out of nowhere, which I can’t imagine feels great.  Furthering this ghosting narrative (but in a fun way) is Savannah DesOrmeaux’s Ghost Town, a comedy show about dating, and of course, ghosting. It mostly functions as a typical stand-up show, but the host will also choose one comedian from the lineup to divulge their own experiences with being ghosted. This month, the candidates include Natasha Vaynblat, Chike Robinson, Jenny Gorelick, Kelsey Caine, Marie Faustin, and Shannon Coffey.

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These 15-Year-Olds Are Sweeping Brooklyn and Putting Your High School Band to Shame

If you haven’t yet heard of Brooklyn-based Control the Sound, get ready because their high-energy mix of funk, rap, and rock will have you bobbing your head and dancing while wondering, “Wait a minute, just how old are these kids?”

Elijah, Carter, Audrey, and Kai are basically all 15 (Audrey is 14 but her birthday is in October), and after seven years of jamming together, they’re winning over audiences. “We’re definitely getting more fans now than we were before,” bass player and singer Audrey Frechtman told Bedford + Bowery. 

Audrey Frechtman

After their last live show, Maplewoodstock in New Jersey, a group of kids approached the band to swoon over them and request pictures. “It felt like a moment when we truly were being recognized,” said Frechtman. “It was really nice because it hasn’t really happened before like that.”

The weekend prior to that, they didn’t let a little downpour dampen their energy during a performance at Caracas Arepa Bar in Rockaway. They’ve played venues as varied as Brooklyn Bowl (opening for DJ Questlove), Littlefield, Brooklyn Museum, Rockwood Music Hall, the Queens Night Market, and even MCU Park in Coney Island. 

As fourth graders, they were all individually into music. It was their parents who nudged them to start a band. Now, they’re “their own little friend possy,” said Steve Frechtman, Elijah’s father and the de-facto manager for Control the Sound. Steve helps organize the band and makes sure they stay focused, which is necessary because they’re, well, teenagers. 

Elijah Frechtman

They get together to practice in the basement of drummer Carter Nyhan’s home in Park Slope. They’ve made it their own little music studio; signs and posters about festivals and gun violence are plastered on the walls, and cables crisscross the sound-absorbing carpet. A motivational message scribbled on cardboard with a black sharpie catches the eye: “Anyone can be cool… but awesome takes practice, yes it does.”

The close friends are tied together in various ways. Audrey is Elijah’s cousin, and Carter and Elijah are so close Elijah drops by Carter’s house unannounced. Trumpet player Kai Blanchard is a self-described introvert who is grateful that the band has forced him to step up and be more confident. “I struggle with socializing,” he said. “I feel like I’m getting better at it.” 

Kai Blanchard

According to Elijah, who plays guitar and is the lead singer, the off-stage synergy between band members has really started to pay off this year. “I can tell when Carter is going to hit a stop just by the way he moves his arms,” he told B+B. “You just develop this connection which is almost psychic, when the band can just stop on a dime without really rehearsing it and it’s awesome. It’s so much fun.”

Asked what excites him about drumming, Carter says, “Something is very appealing about banging on sticks when you’re a little kid; it just kind of tumbled from there and I’m still playing today.”

Watch our video, above, to hear more from Control the Sound.

Photos and video by Jo Corona.

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Crawl Into A Human-Sized Nest (and More Art This Week)

Leonard Suryajaya, Good Neighbors, 2018; Courtesy of the artist, © Leonard Suryajaya (image via Aperture Foundation / Facebook)

Delirious Cities
Opening Thursday, July 25 at Aperture Foundation, 7 pm to 8:30 pm. On view through August 29.

The theme for this year’s Aperture Summer Open exhibition is all about cities, as you may have guessed, but specifically, it’s about ways to use the photographic image to illustrate the ways in which a city is diverse. Featuring 23 artists from around the world, the spread of photos predictably runs the gamut. Using their lenses and more, these photographers reveal the many types of people, religions, outfits, urban design schemes, food, and even animals that can be found in various urban centers worldwide. Hey, it’s cheaper than a plane ticket.

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Beat the Heat With These Performance Picks

FRIDAY

(image via The Nobodies / Facebook)

The Mx. Nobody Pageant Presents: NOPE
Friday, July 19 at The Vault in Brooklyn, 11 pm: $5

Descend into the dark depths of basement venue The Vault in Brooklyn (formerly known as Tilt) tonight, and you’ll find a night of merriment presented by The Nobodies, a drag collective that often dabbles in inclusive pageantry and also, wrestling. Tonight, they’re throwing a show and party with drag and burlesque acts by Emi Grate, Sweaty Eddie, Qualms Galore, plus host Ariel Italic and tunes from DJ Accident Report. Expect acts that are weird and attention-grabbing, and if the heat is making you want to stay in and veg out, know that this starts at 11 pm, a time when the cursed sun will definitely not be out. 

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