What are benefits of urban agriculture? It can provide fresh produce for the community, while reducing transportation emissions by growing food locally. It provides an outdoor space for residents. Additionally tending to the garden can provide a means of getting physical activity and some sunshine on good days. A community garden can bring the community together, and connect people with nature and with the cultivation of food.
In the modern world we are so distanced from the source of our food that most of us never recognize the cycle of life that we as humans are a part of. Being involved with growing food reconnects us with nature and reminds us of all the components that go into sustaining our existence. We see the connection between the sun, the earth, the microorganisms and warms, and finally the plants that we cultivate. When composting is added to the process, we complete the cycle by adding organic matter from food waste back into the earth, to be recycled by seeds that grow into plants that we may again consume. We begin to see the interdependency of all life on earth.
An Urban farm created by North Brooklyn Farms within the now diseased Havemeyer Park brought to life the potential of urban agriculture and its benefits to the community. The Havemeyer Park was built on an empty lot that used to be the parking lot of Domino Sugar Refinery. The Refinery closed in 2004, and the land was left unused for many years. In 2012 developers purchased the property. They opened up the lot to proposals for its short-term use, before any permanent plans would be implemented. North Brooklyn Farms was one of the winning proposals.
During its short existence the farm was open to the public, and aimed to engage city dwellers in the process of food cultivation and to help connect people to nature and the land. The farm grew a variety of vegetables as well as flowers. On the farm North Brooklyn Farms hosted Sunday Suppers, where the community came together to enjoy a three course farm-to-table dinner made from produce grown on the farm. They also provided education to school kids. The end of the farm at Domino Refinery came in September of 2014, when the Havemeyer Park was bulldozed to make room for a major development project.
The plan for the Domino Sugar Refinery is some 55 story buildings, which will accommodate housing, office space, “community facility” space, and a pre-K school. As plans for city development put an end to the tranquil public space that was Havemeyer Park, we see a manifestation of the challenge to maintain a connection to nature within the urban setting.
We know that in the more affluent, and the increasingly gentrified neighborhoods developments for housing and business are inevitable. Yet, many neglected neighborhoods exist in the outskirts of the city, where urban farming has great potential to grow. As urban Farm enthusiasts, are we willing to travel the distance to use vacant lots in low-income areas such as East New York?
Where urban agriculture has the potential of serving low-income neighborhoods, there is a need for a more dedicated labor force. According to a New York Times article, “at any given time, perhaps 10 percent of the city’s current stock of almost 600 registered GreenThumb gardens is growing mostly weeds”.1 Many gardens depend on one or two dedicated individuals to sustain them. So in these neighborhoods, while community gardens and empty lots with farming potential are plentiful, there is a deficiency in dedicated individuals to sustain and maintain the urban agriculture. If the energy and talent that went into building Havemeyer Park was carried out into these neighborhoods, the possibilities for the growth of urban agriculture would be limitless.
NYU Urban Farm is influential in the urban agriculture movement, because through the introductory course it cultivates urban farmers, who will be prepared to contribute to turning unused urban space into food-producing urban farm.