Brook Park reaps year-end harvest

Each year, Brook Park Community Garden enlists neighborhood youths to learn about urban gardening and grow their own produce.

Raising chickens at Brook Park.
Raising chickens at Brook Park.

Mott Haven’s biggest community garden looks ahead to next season

Wrapping up its annual harvest of tomatoes, green beans and serrano peppers, Brook Park Community Garden turns to composting and nature teaching as the weather cools.

Each year, Brook Park Community Garden enlists neighborhood youths to learn about urban gardening and grow their own produce. This year’s harvest has been bountiful, as young people rushed to collect the last intake of kale, tomatoes, green beans, apples, watermelon and serrano peppers before the winter frost set in.

High school students Kaina Garcia, 16, and Serena Rose, 15, came to Brook Park for the first time this fall through buildOn, a program that gets youth to volunteer in their communities. Garcia said that she enjoyed working with her classmates as they built a compost pile out of leaves, dirt and vegetable scraps.

“I like nature a lot,” said Garcia – including what she just learned about composting kitchen scraps into fertilizer. “I never knew about decomposing, that you can use orange peels, eggs and other plants to decompose.”

This year’s harvest has been a success, said Harry Bubbins, director of Friends of Brook Park, although the group measures only the yield of Serrano peppers. The hot pepper program enlists youths who received court orders for community service as an alternative to time in jail to harvest the peppers used in The Bronx Greenmarket Hot Sauce, which is sold at several Whole Foods locations throughout Manhattan, for part of the sales profit.

“For any anti-recidivist campaign, people need to have some kind of money,” said Bubbins. “You can’t just tell them to stay out of trouble when there’s no jobs for people.”

Hundreds of other students come to Brook Park occasionally for field trips in which they help garden and learn about plants, animals and sustainability on weekends or after school.

The rest of the garden space is divided into plots used to grow other fruits, herbs and vegetables. Teachers from local schools will often bring students to learn about the garden on a field trip or adopt a specific bed for gardening throughout the year.

buildOn Manager Jon Mucciolo said that he is always happy to see students’ interest in volunteering grow as they learn more about gardening alongside their friends. All the harvested crops except the peppers are usually divided among the gardeners or donated to neighborhood charities and food programs.

“We take students out to do service throughout the week, on the weekends,” said Mucciolo. “We want the students to come out into their own communities and we empower them to do service to make a change.”

Edwin Garciawho is a longtime resident of Mott Haven and spends long hours sitting in the garden while the young people work, said that it is inspiring to see them develop an interest in gardening and give back to their community by donating fresh produce to soup kitchens.

“I see they’re doing something great for the neighborhood,” said Garcia. “It’s very important.”

Now that it has become too cold to garden, Friends of Brook Park has school kids visit the park to learn about science and the natural world through programs that teach composting, sustainable living and orienteering skills. The garden also keeps a coop of chickens, which students from the local schools tend to year-round.

“Now is the new season, so now we’ve got to get ready again and integrate the schools in groups again,” said Bubbins.