Boerum Hill, Brooklyn used to be a Native American maize field. Our urban sprawl has left no evidence of its existence. We joke that New York neighborhoods are in constant flux, but rarely do we examine the extent of the words, “This neighborhood has changed.” Gowanus artist and resident, Christina Kelly, critiqued and challenged this phrase by planting urban corn gardens in Canarsie and Boerum Hill, namely at the intersection of Smith and Bergen. Christina cites that this particular area was cultivated by the Marechkawick Indians, as mentioned in a 1640 land grant to the Dutch citizen Frederick Lubbersen. The gardens are a nod to the historical resilience of New York City living.
Christina got the idea for the maize field project when we met two years ago while working together at a wine bar in Red Hook. Finally planted at the end of May, I asked Christina about the community’s response to the maize, “Very positive in Boerum HIll. I get a lot of people coming to talk to me, [thanking] me for doing the project, and to also just chat about their gardens.” She collected the Haudenosaunee/Iroquois corn and bean seed from a botanist in Connecticut and ran test gardens at Lefferts Historical homestead in Prospect Park as well as on the Waterpod, a sustainable floating habitat that launched from Governor’s Island one year ago.
My hungry eyes couldn’t help but ask what will happen to the sprouting crop. Christina continued, “I want to see if anyone comes forward [with] an interesting idea for the harvests. The harvest should have a community vibe to it.” Fearing that the gardens would be vandalized or rampaged by squirrels, Christina grew back-up Gigi Hill blue flint corn seedlings on her roof. So far, no harm has come to the installation. There’s something to be said about a community that embraces and cares for a symbol of its past, especially since it is a plant that can feed people and provide air to breathe.
If you have ideas for a harvest feast or want free Gigi Hill corn seedlings to start your own historical garden jaunt, you can email me at Jenn@hooplahoop.com.
For more information about the Brooklyn Maize Field Project, check out the links below!