Inhabitat is thrilled to announce that New York City urban farming group Brooklyn Grange is launching its first location outside the city — at Kearny Point in New Jersey. The location holds its own storied past: a former World War I and World War II shipbuilding yard in an industrial area that’s spiraled downhill, Kearny Point is undergoing redevelopment under recycling corporation Hugo Neu. Inhabitat caught up with Brooklyn Grange COO and co-founder Gwen Schantz and Hugo Neu CEO Wendy Neu to learn about the project’s emphasis on not only economic revitalization but also the restoration of local ecology.
At Kearny Point in New Jersey, Brooklyn Grange will help with landscaping, converting just under three acres of sod into a native meadow. In addition, the group will help transform about an acre of former parking lot space into a demonstration garden, complete with a vegetable patch and children’s play area, as well as host plant sales and educational workshops. Although none of these gardens will be on rooftops, Brooklyn Grange does plan to host green roof workshops using a Kearny Point roof.
Schantz told Inhabitat, “We know what these industrial spaces can become and how they can be reinvented. We’ve seen the evolution of the Navy Yard. When we talked to the people at Hugo Neu about their vision about Kearny Point, we really got it. It resonated with us.”
Neu is one of the people behind that vision. She told Inhabitat that Kearny Point, which is between the Hackensack and Passaic Rivers, was once a main economic driver for the area as “one of the most productive shipbuilding facilities in the world.” During World War II, 35,000 people worked on the 130-acre site. But after the war, the shipbuilding industry died in the United States. Hugo Neu acquired Kearny Point in the 1960s and dismantled ships, but that operation shut down around 1985. Until recently, Kearny Point was an industrial warehouse distribution facility.
“Hurricane Sandy was a defining moment for us because we were approximately four feet underwater. We’d never had any kind of issue with flooding. My late husband and I know climate change is coming and the environment is changing dramatically, and we had to think about what we were going to do with this site,” Neu told Inhabitat.
After her husband passed away suddenly, Neu joined forces with Steve Nislick, former Edison Properties CEO, with the goal of doing “something transformative.” The new vision for Kearny Point includes offices for startups, coworking spaces, and a waterfront opened to the public.
“The opportunity to take a heavy industrial site like this and integrate all the new technology – wind, solar, stormwater – and be able to show we can have people growing businesses without having to harm the environment but also actually improve it at the same time is, to me, a very compelling opportunity,” Neu said. Brooklyn Grange is “an indication of just what the possibilities are.”
The project’s native meadow serves as a prime example. According to Schantz, when people try to convert land into meadows or gardens, they sometimes kill what’s growing there with pesticides. Brooklyn Grange is taking a more natural approach: they’re suffocating grass and enriching the soil with the help of recycled materials, such as leftover cardboard from a nearby shipping company and wood mulch from a local tree service, both of which the urban farming group inoculated with blue oyster mushrooms. Once this process is complete, they’ll plant native flowers and grasses.
“Our approach is, let’s take this strip of land which has had a rough history along a railroad track, it has not been loved the way it could be, and give it a new lease on life and make it a place where insects and birds can feed and nest, and restore it the way it might have looked before there was a shipyard here,” said Schantz.
How will Kearny Point handle natural disasters in the future? Neu said that not only are they raising the site up two feet, they’re creating at least 25 acres of open space and putting in bioswales to boost the site’s resiliency.
“We’ll have underground parking that will serve as reservoirs for water that comes onto the site. We’ll remove as many impervious surfaces as possible, which is huge in terms of the amount that gets discharged into the Hackensack, and we’re going to do everything to improve the quality of what gets discharged,” said Neu. “I want to minimize our impact as much as possible. We have to be able to figure out how to have people prosper without destroying the environment and further degrading it.”
Brooklyn Grange’s first plant sale will be Sunday, May 20, from 10 a.m.to 4 p.m. “We’re really excited to be reaching out to our neighbors across the river,” Schantz said. “We know there’s already a culture of gardening here in the Garden State, and so we’re excited to bring some of our urban farming techniques and our general mindset of sustainable, organic gardening to the local community and hopefully get people excited about growing their own food.”
Images courtesy of Valery Rizzo