Chicken farming is alive and well in Bed-Stuy.
Ena McPherson chose a seemingly unlikely place to begin construction of a chicken coop last Saturday at an empty lot on the corner of Throop and Willoughby Avenues. But Bed-Stuy is home to dozens of community gardens, and as an organizer of two in the area already, McPherson is adding this one to the list.
The chicken build was the starting point for the community space, but McPherson plans to bring the garden beyond poultry.
“It isn’t just going to be a chicken coop,” she said. “It’s going to be an urban farm with flowers and vegetables in raised beds, as well as a chicken farm, starting off with a dozen chicks.” McPherson also mentioned the possibility of a fish pond, using the slate that is scattered throughout the lot.
The event attracted volunteers from all around Brooklyn interested in self-sustainability and community agriculture. Delores Harris has a beehive in a community garden in Brooklyn Heights and makes her own soap. She said that she is particularly interested in urban farming and learning to be self-sufficient.
“I want to grow what I eat and I do it just for fun. But I end up giving it to the neighbors, because there's so much left over,” she said, laughing.
Jose Luis Quinones came on Saturday afternoon because he is interested in building a chicken coop and wanted to see how it could be done. Quinones helps run a community garden in Coney Island with 31 people, 20 chickens, goats and rabbits.
He is from Puerto Rico and used to garden with his grandmother, so he said he is used to getting his hands dirty. But he also views these events as more important than just getting things done.
“It's not just to build, it’s to teach the neighborhood,” he said. “I’d like to teach people to build, because it’s so easy and anyone can learn, and it can help get kids jobs.”
McPherson is also motivated by the idea of getting kids more involved with the community through these kinds of events. “It’s empowering for the kids because they can see what they accomplished,” she said. “They can say they were a part of it.”
The project is part of the idea of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), which provides fresh produce from local farms for people in the community.
The lot at Throop and Willoughby is owned by Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), and while HPD supports the plan to turn the lot into a community garden, the project is not yet fully protected because it is so newly formed.
“HPD could say ‘that's it’ and decide to build a five story building or condos right here,” McPherson said. “If we make it an asset to the community it will be harder for them to kick us out.”
So far, McPherson has had a great deal of support from community organizations like Green Thumb and New York Cares, which donated $1100-worth of supplies for the chicken build.
Despite this backing, the project is still short on the necessary tools needed to create the fully functional urban farm that McPherson is hoping for.
“We're short on resources because we're short on funding,” McPherson said. According to McPherson, the project is supported by Green Thumb but is officially in the jurisdiction of the New York City Parks Department. “If we make it a viable project, we’ll be under the jurisdiction of Green Thumb,” she said.
Once the coop is finished, there is still work left to do. McPherson plans to build and plant with volunteers every weekend throughout the season until the lot is transformed into an exciting spot for residents to come hang out and relax.
“We hope this is just the beginning of something wonderful.”