On Monday I caught up again with Connor who is one of the staff at Farm School NYC. We meet in Domino park, a waterfront park which apparently until recently was just the river. We’re in Williamsburg, North Brooklyn, which I’m told is the heart of Brooklyn gentrification.
I’ve met up with Connor to hear more about the workings of Farm School NYC and to tag along to a Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training (CRAFT) event they’ve organised on mushroom growing at the North Brooklyn Farm. The farm is located right beside the base of the Williamsburg bridge, the regular noise of trains passing overhead dominates the space. It’s a beautiful site upon which mushrooms are produced in a container by Smallhold, a hi-tech network of mini organic mushroom farms. The site of the farm occupies an uncomfortable space in the gentrification of the immediate area. On one side of the farm sits an area waiting to be developed with the Williamsburg bridge behind it, on another Domino Park, on the third side is the old Domino Sugar Refinery (and all it’s colonial ties), and on the last is the first of the three blocks to already be redeveloped. This whole area is part of the same re-development. The development will include two towers of up to 55 stories – a change on a past allowance of shorter towers as a result of a promise of more ‘affordable housing’ (a term which in the UK for sure is fairly meaningless). Williamsburg’s gentrification has been pushed forward by the re-zoning of land enabling changes of use to residential. This process of re-zoning is happening across Brooklyn. (Check out this podcast I’ve been listening to about gentrification in Brooklyn). As a food grower in London who’s been reflecting on (and listening to others reflect on) the connections between food growing and gentrification in London, seeing these parallels brought home else where hit hard (see The Community Food Growers Network’s write up on a recent event on this topic).
Moving on to the real reason I was there. CRAFT started in the Hudson valley, in upstate New York in the 90s. It’s run by a network of organic and biodynamic farms to organise farm visits and workshops for farm apprentices, to give them a wider experience of farm set-ups, to provide learning opportunities and to build connections between future farmers. Today we’re at North Brooklyn Farm to learn about container mushroom growing. It’s a nice session which serves to remind me of desires we’ve had at Forty Hall Farm to get mushroom growing going at some long-term point in the future, but mostly it leaves that awkward reminder that you always have to ask which community community gardens are for.