It takes a village to build a special space. In North Brooklyn Farms’ case, it took about 30 neighbors and two zealous farmers to construct what has become one of New York’s only public agricultural parks and a fixture of Williamsburg’s coveted waterfront. That was almost seven years ago, and now, in what seems an unthinkable but perhaps inevitable reality given that their lease is up this year, 2019 will be the last season for North Brooklyn Farms in its current iteration.
North Brooklyn Farms launched in 2013 as a two-year project, headed by city farmers Henry Sweets and Ryan Watson, in the vacant parking lot of Williamsburg’s historic Domino Sugar factory. What began as a space funded solely by “little garden parties” soon transformed into something bigger. A full 35,000 square feet of nothing but silky grass, sumptuous gardens and inviting picnic tables: It’s the secret you want no one to know about—that is, until you tell everyone.
“When we started, it was kind of an experiment,” Sweets explains. “It was a food project, but it was also a public space project. The longer we’ve been doing it, the more we’ve realized how important this kind of space is to a community.”
When the farm transitioned to a larger plot of land in 2015, people from all over the neighborhood came to help. Among them were chefs Kenneth Monroe and Emma Jane Gonzalez. Today, Monroe and Gonzalez run the farm’s regular events and programming, which include their plant-based Sunday Suppers, workshops, yoga and annual events like their Fourth of July barbecue (see this year’s calendar here).
Since Watson’s recent departure from the farm (he now runs a cidery upstate), the crew’s adopted an all-hands-on-deck mentality in tending and harvesting the farm’s offerings, which this year promise herbs, medicinal plants, turnips, carrots and red mustard greens, all of which will go toward their last season’s events.
December marks the official end date of North Brooklyn Farms’ Williamsburg location, which will, when it’s vacated, eventually fold into Domino Park. Sweets and his team are actively searching for a new space in Brooklyn that also features an indoor component for a full-service restaurant. And to round out their final season, “We’re getting back to our roots,” says Sweets. That means eliminating weddings and corporate events to focus instead on community programming and working with local chefs.
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For the past seven years, North Brooklyn Farms has provided a space outside the expectation of a transaction, where people can interact with food and nature free of charge and kind of just exist in the midst of Williamsburg’s rampant development. In a neighborhood where luxury condos are sprouting faster than new trees, “giving people a sense of ownership of the space” is important to Sweets. This past year, the farm became member supported, and already they have upwards of 120 supporters.
“One of the things that makes this such a special place is the people who built it and care about it are around it,” says Sweets. “If you create the space, the community will congeal within it.”