ISSUE 90  |  The Modern Root Cellar

Moveable Feast: A Pop-Up Farm in Brooklyn

September 16, 2013 10:00 AM

BY Jeanne Rostaing

North Brooklyn Farms is a pop-up oasis of kale, tomatoes, and eggplants growing in a former parking lot near the Williamsburg Bridge in the shadow of a defunct Domino Sugar factory. Built on pallets, the raised beds can be lifted and moved to a new location if the property owners develop the 8,000-square-foot lot.

Knowing the garden’s site could be developed next year, the farm’s founders, Ryan Watson and Henry Sweets, came up with the plan for a pop-up edible garden.

Photographs by Rebecca Baust for Gardenista.

Above: Until last spring, the farm was just another unsightly wasteland in a post-industrial neighborhood particularly devoid of green space.  But then the owner of the lot, Two Trees Management, a New York City development company, offered to let it be used…temporarily.

Above: Co-founder Henry Sweets at work.

Above: Three projects were chosen to share the 55,000-square-foot site: Havemeyer Park, Brooklyn Bike Park, and North Brooklyn Farms.  The understanding is that Two Trees plans to take it back in a year to begin a massive residential and commercial construction project. 

Above: Many people might have had second thoughts about creating a farm under these conditions. But Watson and Sweets came up with an ingenious solution.  Their crops would be moveable.  They created a pop-up farm by building raised beds on top of industrial wooden pallets.  If they have to go elsewhere, the beds can be moved with a forklift. 

Above: After they had the idea, Ryan and Henry worked with Palette Architecture to make a design and obtained building materials through the Build It Green project, which recycles discarded construction elements in New York City to keep them out of landfills.  

Above: A core group of about ten people broke up the asphalt parking surface, built the raised beds, lugged soil, and planted the crops on an 8,000-square-foot section of the site.  They supplemented the work force with special volunteer days, but Watson and Sweets estimate they have each put in hundreds of hours.  As Watson put it, “We worked beyond the hardest we had ever worked in our lives. We were totally absorbed into this world.”

Above: A visitor picks kale.

To make money to keep the farm going, Ryan and Henry are holding special farm-to-table dinners cooked on site by a chef who creates a menu based on the available crops. Three days a week they run a pick-your-own farm stand and help customers choose and harvest vegetables.  

Above: For many people in the neighborhood, especially the children, this is a first opportunity to see vegetables outside of a grocery store. The farm has been embraced by its neighbors.  People often stop outside the fence to chat and seem to regard the farm as their communal backyard. Watson and Sweets are hopeful that the community will follow them if they have to move to a new site.  

While tending the crops still requires a lot of work, the partners now have a bit of leisure to sit in the evening, to watch the sun set and catch a breeze with the hulking old brick Domino factory in the distance. 

For another portable urban garden, see A Community Garden on Wheels in Berlin.