Your land is their land

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In the backyard of Zac Fisher’s Ditmas Park home, there’s a cabbage patch where the lounge chair should be.

And where most people put the barbecue, Fisher has collard greens.

And where neighbors and friends would gather at a big metal table, there’s a hydroponic lettuce nursery.

Fisher doesn’t do any farming — “If I did that, nothing would grow,” he said — but instead has chosen to participate in what could be one of the greatest urban agricultural movements, if not the only urban agricultural movement, since the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

Fisher put up one-quarter of the initial seed money (that’s figurative and literal, of course) and turned over the day-to-day operation of his 600-square-foot backyard to Stacey Murphy, founder of BK Farmyards. In exchange, he gets 25 to 33 percent of the crop.

It’s sharecropping, but with a Brooklyn accent.

“Actually, that was our slogan originally — ‘Sharecropp­ing, Brooklyn-style,’” said Murphy, an architect by trade. “But we worried that it would be offensive, so we went with ‘You have the land, we grow the produce.’”

Murphy, a Michigan native who now lives in farm-free Brooklyn Heights, started BK Farmyards in May and already counts two Ditmas Park backyards as her partitioned plantation. Six more landowners say they’ll turn over their yards next spring, when they can get a full growing season.

“I had to come to New York City to become a farmer,” Murphy said, showing off three rows of produce that run the gamut from Swiss chard to tomatillos to herbs to eggplants to beets.

The concept is simple: there are tens of thousands of unfarmed acres in Brooklyn, but all that arable land is imprisoned in backyards of roughly one-seventieth of an acre.

If neighborhood backyards are farmed collectively, Murphy says, she can build community, grow healthy food without pesticides or transportation, and make enough money to plough into more and more farms.

It isn’t easy. As with the sharecroppers of the post-Civil War era, Murphy’s start-up costs are high, mostly for soil (“Good dirt is hard to find,” she said) and building raised plots and irrigation tubing.

And the tight confines of a Brooklyn backyard are a challenge, too. “You can’t plant onions near beans because they don’t get along” (a Brooklyn garden is apparently like some Brooklyn neighborhoods).

But labor costs are low.

“This is a movement of young people who are getting into urban farming,” Murphy said. “They’re into food — they’ve read Michael Pollan — and are appalled at how far food has to travel to get to them.

“And once when we’re getting all our compost material from local restaurants and homeowners, the entire cycle of planting, growing and harvesting will be entirely Brooklyn based.”

Whatever produce isn’t turned over to the landowner will be sold through a CSA, a “community supported agriculture” buying group.

It won’t result in big profits, but once a farm is up and going, the only costs are the seeds and paying her farmer, Bruni Toras, who will be growing food as a full-time occupation next year.

That would make her one of only 25 people employed in “crop production” in Brooklyn, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“I’ve never been called to find the number of farmers in Brooklyn,” Bureau economist Lisa Boily. “Mostly, people call me to find out the latest numbers on the financial industry, which employs a lot more people.”

For now.

Murphy believes that someday soon, she’ll double that paltry labor statistic compiled by those Washington bean counters.

“As an architect, maybe I’d get to design three buildings in my entire career, but with this project, I can build hundreds of farms,” she said.

Fisher is a convert — of sorts. Before Murphy took over his backyard, the weeds grew as high as a teenager’s eye.

“We really never did anything with the yard at all, so when my wife told me about [starting a farm], I figured, ‘Why not?’ ” he said. “And everything’s been delicious.”

BK Farmyards will be having a fundraiser at Compound Brooklyn [1287 Atlantic Ave. near Nostrand Avenue in Bedford-Stuyvesant, (734) 646-2289] on Aug. 22 from 3 pm-midnight. There will be raffles for meals at local restaurants, music, hula hoops and, of course, food. For info, visit

Updated 5:35 pm, August 20, 2009
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Reasonable discourse

A O from BKLYN says:
Enough farms and we might make Brooklyn Carbon neutral! It would be nice to wake to up to fresh air in Brooklyn, on thing this project might help contribute too. I say GO URBAN FARMERS! I'm so excited i want to volunteer!
Aug. 19, 2009, 10:13 am
Roxanne Christensen from Center City Philly says:
While policymakers in both developed and developing countries are grappling with how to create food systems that work, entrepreneurial citizens like Bruni and Stacey are leading the way by practicing an economically viable post-industrial agriculture that is less energy and capital intensive, more easily monitored and controlled and that produces safe, healthy food. You can see other pioneering commercial urban farmers in action at
Aug. 19, 2009, 11:59 am
Your backyard farmer from SE Portland OR says:
Congratulations! on another urban backyard farmer Company! We love to see it continue to grow and bring awareness around where our food comes from and the community that shares it!

Your backyard farmers
Portland OR
Aug. 19, 2009, 12:13 pm
Stan from Williston, VT says:
yawn.... what a waste of time...

people in cities faking it that they live in the country... what a joke.

either move to a rural place, and farm, or give it up.
Aug. 19, 2009, 3:33 pm
Former Brooklynite from Now OR farmer says:
For what it's worth: I think there is a _huge_ untapped market in heirloom tomatoes in Brooklyn and Manhattan. Easy to grow as the climate is ideal for them, and they can be planted densely with a little pruning. At 4-8 USD/lb, you could be making some serious money here. If you can't sell them all at harvest, dry them and still make mad benjamins. Swiss chard? Hardly worth the effort. And BTW Gersh it's Beets, not beats...
Aug. 19, 2009, 3:34 pm
Gersh Kuntzman (Brooklyn Paper) says:
No, I meant "beats." These are Brooklyn beets, you know!

The Brooklyn Paper
Aug. 19, 2009, 4:46 pm
Farmer B from Washington Heights says:
There is a fundraising event for BK Farmyards this wk can attend and/or volunteer!
It should be great fun!!!
Aug. 19, 2009, 10:44 pm
Farmer B from Washington Heights says:
There is a fundraising event for BK Farmyards this wk can attend and/or volunteer!
It should be great fun!!!

bk farmyards FUNDRAISER
hosted @ COMPOUND brooklyn
AUGUST 22, 2009, 3pm-12am

1287 Atlantic Ave, near Nostrand: 2 blocks Nostrand A stop; 2-3 blocks B44, B65 , B25; LIRR Nostrand stop steps away
Aug. 19, 2009, 10:45 pm
Uhhhhm? from South Brooklyn says:
Since when is growing stuff in your backyard a discovery in Brooklyn? This is nothing new. Funny how people fly here from the midwest, put on their Brooklyn hat, and teach us things from music to fashion to growing tomoatoes. It's getting pretty annoying don't you think?
Aug. 23, 2009, 12:58 am
rich from chicago says:
Stan from Williston, VT : why don't you get in bed with your METS
Aug. 24, 2009, 2:25 pm

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