An Artist Grows Maize at the Corner of Bergen and Smith

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Every week artist Christina Kelly gets on her bike and follows the old Indian path from her maize field on the corner of Bergen and Smith to its companion she tends out in Canarsie.

Ever wondered what lies under the concrete, deeper than the gravel and pipes, below the heavy metals and beyond our remembering? Kelly did. She looked around Brooklyn and saw no trace of the lands where the Lenape Indians once tended the crops they called “the three sisters.” But on old maps she discovered the footpaths to fields, now sealed beneath hardtop, where, in the 17th century, corn grew tall, bean vines climbed their stalks and the broad leaves of squash plants shaded out the weeds below.

Kelly wanted to revive the memory of the maize fields that once grew here, to remind us that displacement is not a recent phenomenon. So at a busy Boerum Hill intersection, outside a Domino’s, she planted “Gigi Hill” blue flint corn, an Iroquois variety, while out in Canarsie she sowed a Lenape blue flour corn known as Sehsapsing. An heirloom grower out in Ohio supplied those seeds; he expects six ears of the crop in return.

By late summer, the blond cornsilk was superimposed against the red, white and blue of the pizza chain’s sign. People sipped coffee and thumbed their smartphones in the shade of the stalks.

Kelly picked a ripe ear and pulled back the husks to reveal jeweled kernels of amethyst and garnet, crowded juicily together. The Invisible Dog Gallery up the road donated water, but still the Indian Hannah Beans and native White Bush Scallop squash planted below the corn suffered when the summer brought drought: “It’s either sun, soil or water,” sighs Kelly.

For those who work the earth, some things never change.

As for her next project?

“I’ve been thinking about Iberian pigs,” she says. “How much roof space would they need?”

Marie Viljoen

Marie Viljoen lives in Brooklyn and believes in food, flowers and plants you can eat (and drink). Join her on a seasonal forage walk or find her daily posts on Instagram @66squarefeet

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