Bushwick: An Urban Farm In Limbo

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Bushwick: An Urban Farm In Limbo
A plea for help outside the Bushwick City Farm. (Marvin Richards Jr./The Brooklyn Ink)


Visit 354 Stockton St. and you will be met with tall sunflowers, ready to greet you as you enter Bushwick City Farm. The fence that encloses the garden is covered with sprawling ivy. A swing set and slide anchor the green space inside. Numerous beds filled with fruit and vegetable plants line its borders. Posted on the fence just outside the garden are three plaques from the Citizens Committee For New York City, commemorating the three straight years Bushwick City Farm has won a grant from the organization: 2015, 2016, and 2017.

But in early August, Bushwick City Farm received a letter telling the organizers to vacate the premises by Aug. 31. It is not clear what the owner intends to do with the land, but some believe development is the intention, as Bushwick has seen so much growth lately. NYC property documents show the owner of the property is Toxo and Arrow Property LLC, of Forest Hills. No phone number is listed. According to the NYC Department of Buildings, there are no current zoning documents or jobs associated with the property. Farm volunteers said they have tried to contact the landlord, without success so far.

Meanwhile, the deadline has come and gone and volunteers still arrive every Saturday and Sunday to tend to the garden. Their steady work also serves as a gesture of hope that the garden will remain open to the community. They’ve put together a YouTube video and are encouraging supporters to call and write local officials to help save the farm.

Laurel Leckert, one of the volunteers at the garden, explains the farm’s mission. “We have only one main goal at this point and it’s to stay in the space we’re in and to keep doing what we’re doing. We’re trying to get the city to buy the lot.”

If the efforts to keep the farm going are fruitless, it will become the fourth green space within five years in Bushwick to be shut down. DNAinfo has published reports on a few of these green spaces, including The Secret Garden, founded in 1981 by the late Avellar Hansley. The garden used to be on a lot on Linden Street but was sold to condo developers, Heritatage Real Estate partners, for $8.75 million.

Another garden is in litigation in an effort to save it from development: Eldert Street Garden. According to DNAinfo, the organizers of that garden had permission from the owners of the land, Alianza de Damas Unidas de Brooklyn, to work the land. As first reported by Gothamist, a nonprofit owns the land but had the property mysteriously sold out from under it in 2015 by a past member of its board.  The nonprofit and garden are in court to contest the sale of the lot. But until the matter is settled the fate of this Bushwick greenspace is in limbo as well.

On Bushwick City Farm’s Facebook page, the organizers provided a list of local government officials and representatives they have asked supporters to contact on behalf of the garden.

Leckert says the farm has reached out to the Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and to City Councilmember Robert E. Cornegy Jr. for help in getting funding to purchase the plot. “We’re also working with lawyers at the Urban Justice Center and they are amazing. They recently had a similar case with Maple St. Garden,” Leckert said. The Maple Street Garden is a recent purchase by the city to save the green space.  Brooklyn Borough President, Eric Adams, earmarked $1.3 million in city funding to purchase Maple Street Community Garden in Prospect Lefferts Gardens and transferred it to the Parks Department, as reported by The Commercial Observer.

Kegan Sheehan, the Director of Policy and Communication for Cornegy, said the city’s hands are pretty much tied. “The issue with Bushwick City Farm is that it is on a privately-owned lot. There isn’t much we can tell a private individual; that they can’t make money off their lot if they see fit.” Sheehan said. He also noted that from the councilmember’s initial interaction with Bushwick City Farm representatives, he didn’t get the impression that they’ve had a discussion with their landlord to talk about the future of what has been a free lease for the farm. “So until we have more information from them and the landlord, it is really not the councilmember’s place to step in and arbitrate the situation,” Sheehan said.

When pressed on what councilmember Cornegy is doing or has done in the past to preserve green spaces, Sheehan discussed a 2015 effort by the councilmember in conjunction with the New York Community Garden Coalition, which led to the saving of more than a dozen community gardens. According to DNAinfo, 15 of these gardens were already owned by the Department of Housing Preservation and Development and were going to be used in alignment with Mayor Bill de Blasio’s affordable housing project. “The councilmember was able to get through a plan to rezone these lots for use as community gardens.” The lots were then transferred to the purview of the Parks Department, via council funding that came  through the GreenThumb Program, he said. “This move has been able to preserve these community gardens in the district,” Sheehan said.

Sheehan also discussed a bill that will be introduced on Oct. 26 in the land use committee. According to the New York City Council website, Bill 1661, would require the Department of City Planning to develop a comprehensive urban agriculture plan that addresses land use policy and other issues, to promote the expansion of urban agriculture in the city. “This will be a comprehensive effort to discuss not only community gardens but also food insecurity and opening green spaces,” Sheehan said.

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