Farm To Table in Brooklyn NY
Urban farms have always been fascinating to me. Having lived in big cities for most of my adult life, having access to a piece of land where people grow food and work with their hands in the dirt, reconnects me to my childlike self.
When I was holding workshops in Shanghai about urban composting, the joy people felt from playing with dirt or earth was one of the biggest and happiest feedbacks I received.
So when I received a message from my friend in NYC telling me about Oko Farms, I booked their Farm To Table dinner immediately.
The concept was simple, you spent a couple of hours with the farmers and volunteers of Oko Farms harvesting the vegetables from the farm, prepping them for cooking, supporting the chef in preparing the meal, and ending the day with a nice meal during golden hour with a view over the Manhattan skyline.
The farm is located in Williamsburg just by the East River. When I arrive I see Yemi and Toyosi working on something next to the greenhouse.
“Hey, is this where I need to be for the farm-to-table dinner?” I ask.
Yemi turns and says: “Yeah! Wanna come and help me peel some of these beans?”
“Sure thing,” I say as I put down my camera and my bag.
As we’re peeling the beans, I start to ask questions: tell me about the farm, tell me about you, when did you start this, where is your other farm, do you do these dinners often, what grows here, how many people and volunteers work here, and many more.
I learn that Yemi grew up in Nigeria where food is just healthy food. Fruits are snacks, vegetables are part of every meal, which wasn’t the case when she was working for a non-profit in the U.S. where vegetables were scarce in their diet. Also, healthy food was another way of saying expensive food.
Her work required her to source food to cook for some people the nonprofit was supporting, but the budget wouldn’t allow for a lot of organic options…
“Having a farm was just easier to source the food, but also to educate people on delicious and healthy food,” Yemi explains.
“Our first farm is up in Brunswick. We finished building this one in Brooklyn last year.”
I am thinking to myself how cool this all is.
Yemi’s farm is an aquaponics farm, which means that they primarily rely on fish waste to fertilize their plants. To do so, they feed the fish a varied diet including watercress, water hyacinth and other leafy greens grown on the farm, black soldier fly larvae, and fish pellets.
Their farming practice is rooted in Traditional Ecological Knowledge i.e. they use low-tech, easily adaptable, and accessible growing techniques rooted in symbiosis.
To manage pests and diseases, they utilize Integrated Pest Management (IPM) techniques and work closely with Cornell Cooperative Extension whose staff supports them with pest management practices.
We’re still chatting when Michael comes up to help with the vegetables, and Yemi tells me he’s this evening’s chef. He’s also a baker, which means he brought fresh sourdough for the evening as well.
I can smell firewood in the air, and Michael confirms that they are going to attempt to cook over an open fire for the evening… Woah. This evening is just getting better by the minute.
After being done peeling the beans, Yemi takes another volunteer with her to prepare the other vegetables, while Michael has me harvest some herbs and onions in the gardens.
He explains that there are quite a lot of vegetables and herbs from West Africa growing here as well. Different types of eggplant, basil, and even peppers.
The sun is starting to set when we’re all gathered on the other side of the greenhouse preparing the food. The fire is burning, and cooking our beans in coconut milk, while Yemi is preparing a Nigerian tomato stew that smells divine.
Cries of euphoria when suddenly we discover that a special variety of some of the squash they planted came out green just as they had hoped. I take a closer look at the texture and color of the vegetable and it looks beautiful. “Let’s roast them over the fire”, Michael suggests. Yemi agrees.
The sun is almost set when Toyosi drapes a typical Nigerian tablecloth over the outside tables, mint-infused water sits in a large gallon of water, and compostable tableware sits on the table waiting for the multiple dishes to be served.
On the menu, we have beans in coconut milk, a special tomato/ garlic stew, red beet salad, roasted squash, toasted sourdough bread, a salad, and more.
There are honestly few things that I love more than moments like these: golden hour, a bonfire, a home-cooked meal, and great company… the incredible view over Manhattan was just a bonus. ;-)