For nearly seven years, Williamsburg’s North Brooklyn Farms has provided Brooklynites with a welcoming space to eat, drink, and idle on a grassy stretch of the East River. A functioning urban farm, it’s also served as a venue for comedy shows and weddings, the site of a mobile sauna pop-up, and a spot for people to commune with nature, and each other, in a space that is fully public but feels deliciously private. It feels especially sad, then, to announce that the farm will close down in December to make space for a new stretch of Domino Park, owned and operated by the farm’s landlords, Two Trees Management Company.
The farm launched in 2013, headed by farmers Ryan Watson, who recently left to start a cidery upstate, and Henry Sweets. They signed a two-year lease on a space in the former parking lot of the Domino Sugar Refinery building, an incongruously massive brick structure looming over the rest of downtown Williamsburg. Built with the help of over 30 selfless volunteers, the farm became one of New York’s only agricultural parks. They began renting their current space on a year-to-year basis in 2015, with the knowledge that Two Trees would eventually take it back from them.
Sweets is careful to keep an eye on the big picture. “A lot of people want to paint this really simple narrative of ‘big, bad developer pushes out community garden,’” Sweets said. “But it’s kind of a played narrative, and if you really want to understand the mechanisms that are at work, you have to understand the subtlety.”
He knows that they’ve been lucky. “A lot of developers would never let people like us do this on land that they own,” he said. The Farm has developed an amicable relationship with Two Trees over the years, which led to the offer of their current, more spacious 320 Kent Avenue location. Marina Trejo, a project manager at Two Trees, commented that the Farm is “proof of concept that vacant urban sites can become oases that bring joy, respite and even sustenance to communities.”
Like a reed in the wind of downtown Williamsburg’s rampant development, Sweets won’t be putting up a fight. Instead, he’ll focus his energy on finding a new home for the Farm, in North Brooklyn if possible. It’ll be a difficult feat, he’s fairly certain. Sweets says he’s reminded of the ‘80s video game franchise Carmen Sandiego, the titular character of which would often pick up giant landmarks like the Everglades and move them from one place to another.
“Where are we going to move this half-acre urban farm in Brooklyn, in one of the most expensive cities in the world?” he said, smiling.
The farm started out as a way to provide free, public green space in a city where most people tend to be disconnected from nature. A plush central lawn with picnic tables provides ample seating, the on-site garden supplies produce for the seasonal farm stand and local restaurants, and chefs Kenneth Monroe and Emma Jane Gonzalez run the Farm’s programs and events, like the plant-based Sunday Supper series. On top of all of this, however, it’s also the type of space that’s increasingly hard to find in New York City – one that feels “a little bit unstructured and natural and organic, and that inspire[s] people to think about what’s possible in their lives,” said Sweets.
The Farm was recently forced to stop hosting dance parties, weddings, and corporate events due to noise complaints from neighbors, though they don’t see this as a problem. If anything, it’s a chance to refocus their attention on food events, like Sunday Supper. They’re now able to operate sustainably on food events alone, Sweets said, though he admits to missing the dance parties.
There’s also more than enough optimism to go around. “However it moves on from here, I know [there] will be a new chapter,” said farmhand Ethan Boyd. “It will probably be even better than what we’re standing on right now.”
While no concrete plans exist yet for the Farm’s future, Sweets says he will have news to share in the fall. Until then, the farm will continue to offer a full schedule of programs and events, from a weekly yoga class to the Sunday Supper series. The Farm is also open to the public from Tuesday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. and the farmstand is open on Saturdays.
Images courtesy of @NorthBrooklynFarms.
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