Red Hook Community Urban Farm, Brooklyn, NYC

Red Hook Community Urban Farm, Brooklyn, NYC

Eco-Agriculture/Permaculture

Overview

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PROJECT SUMMARY: The farm is located in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn, surrounded by a 25-foot tall chain-link fence. It occupies an old asphalt playing field under the jurisdiction of the New York City Parks Department.

Operating year-round and employing dozens of youth from the surrounding low-income neighborhood, the Red Hook Community Farm produces more than three dozen different crops over the course of the year.

The thriving farm in such an unlikely setting is the brainchild of Michael Hurwitz and Ian Marvy, who are both in their early 30s. In previous jobs with social service organizations in Red Hook, they grew frustrated watching the system let so many talented lives go to waste. They worked with kids who had been in juvenile detention facilities and were now on their own, with no support system and little incentive to improve their lives. To help fill that void, Marvy and Hurwitz in the spring of 2000 co-founded a non-profit group called Added Value, which aims to foster “capacity development.” They decided that starting a sustainable urban agriculture enterprise could not only help provide job training to local young people, it could also benefit the community at large.

The 2.75-acre asphalt lot in Red Hook occupied by the farm has been owned and operated for the past 80 years by the New York City Parks Department as a 24-hour football and baseball field for three shifts of Brooklyn ’s waterfront dock-workers. Last year, Added Value arranged a deal with the Parks Department to turn it into a working farm that would employ youth from the surrounding low-income neighborhood of Red Hook, educate school kids on sustainable food-growing practices, and produce food.

TECHNIQUE: (Ecological Polycultures, Biointensive principles, educational farming, experimentation with winter farming)

The managers of the Added Value farm employ polycultural farming techniques. For instance, they plant squash, beans and corn in close proximity, in keeping with the ancient intercropping technique known to some Native Americans as Hodne Shone, the Three Sisters. The three crops create a synergy for one another. The beans grow up the corn stalk, while the squash leaves provide ground cover and keep moisture in the soil.

This past spring, the strawberry bushes grew to two-feet tall and yielded incredible harvests. Other crops are planted in special media, such as lettuces grown in woodchips.

The farm also produces a mix of traditional northern Mexican crops such as pepiche, papalo, and vertilaga. A giant variety of the zucchini, or what the Caribbeans in the neighborhood refer to as ‘yardlongs,’ grow a yard long even in Brooklyn .

Some plants are cultivated on the farm not for harvest and sale but to illustrate a point. A patch of organic cotton, for example, is grown for display and educational purposes only. Visiting school children plant wheat in the fall, then come back periodically to see how it grows at various stages of development. Then they harvest it, thresh it, grind it, do a whole-wheat versus white lesson, and finally, make one little tortilla.

The farm produces greens straight through the winter. Farm workers cover the soil with Reemay garden blankets, and top that with 5 ml. plastic sheeting stretched over small hoops. Thanks to the regularly scheduled snowfalls that mark a typical Brooklyn winter, almost no watering is necessary during this time of year.

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