Chickens come to roost in Brook Park

Photo by Lily Kesselman Mott Haven's newest resident gets a big hello.

A chicken coop has arrived in Brook Park and residents like 56-year-old Danny Cruz say they aren’t quite sure what to make of these new, clucking neighbors.“Maybe I’ll get an egg or two,” he laughed.

The coop is one of the latest projects launched by the Friends of Brook Park and the brains behind it is Lily Kesselman, a 39-year-old photographer.

When she moved up to the Bronx three years ago, Brook Park quickly became a favorite place to visit. With collaboration from Friends of Brook Park and a grant from Just Food, she was able to bring her passion for chicken-rearing into her neighborhood.

It took only two days to complete the coop’s construction, due to the large influx of volunteers.“Chickens can really clean up the environment,” said Kesselman. “They can help the composting process, supply nutrients into the soils and keep bug populations down.”

Some 20 chickens have arrived from the Queens County Farm Museum. The chickens themselves will not be eaten because they’re layer hens, meaning that they’re bred only for their eggs. Organic or free-range eggs, Kesselman mentioned, are hard to come by in this neighborhood.

“People are really coming together,” said Owen Taylor, the city farms manager with Just Food, an organization devoted to promoting urban agriculture for city neighborhoods. “They’re taking back control of their food systems to get healthy food.”

According to Taylor, the chicken coop in Brook Park is the ninth the organization has sponsored in the Bronx and the third in Mott Haven. Just Food’s focus on building chicken coops goes back to 2007 and is a part of their City Farms project.

“We’re not like a charity organization because people are getting involved to take care of their own community,” said Taylor.

In preparing for this project, Kesselman took urban chicken-rearing classes and gardening workshops from the Imani Garden and the BK Barnyard in Brooklyn. She’s also read up on several books on chickens. “I’ve been learning as I go,” said Kesselman.

If you ask Kesselman what inspired her to work with chickens to begin with, she has very little idea why, other than that she wanted to contribute something to Brook park. But she certainly has a lot of plans for them.

“I would really like to start a children’s chicken club,” said Kesselman, “so that kids can get involved, have fun and learn something new.” Kesselman also wants to hold workshops at the chicken coop to allow people to receive training in working with animals and agriculture. She even feels that the coop could also inspire people to get into art, if they’re interested in designing chicken coops.

Given the high number of obese children and families on public assistance in this area, Kesselman feels that the chicken coop will improve the community by providing better access to healthy, affordable food.
“I believe the chicken coop will empower families and show them the value of learning where their food comes from,” said Kesselman.

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