Brooklyn Garden Resurrects a Forgotten Crop & Craft

December 12, 2011 by

Along Brooklyn, New York’s polluted Gowanus Canal, there’s a garden that merges horticulture, permaculture, and heritage craft making. Last Spring, two environmentally engaged Brooklyn artists planted a terraced broomcorn garden along the canal. Funded by a regrant from the Brooklyn Arts Council and Brooklyn FEASTSweep is the project of  Christina Kelly and Jeff Hutchison, the art duo behind Husk, a collaborative and multi-platform studio committed to exploring the agricultural histories of and possibilities for New York City. In addition to it’s environmental efforts, the Husk team has used the harvested broomcorn to resurrect the forgotten art of broom making.


Gone to seed…

Broomcorn is a type of Sorghum that was once commonly used to make brooms. Benjamin Franklin, according to the Purdue University Department of Horticulture, is credited with introducing broomcorn to the United States in the early 1700s, where it was initially grown only as a home garden crop. Brooklyn, explains Kelly and Hutchison, was once home to a bit of a broom making industry. With the introduction of synthetic materials, broomcorn cultivation declined and the broom industry left Brooklyn. Husk’s Sweep project revisits and re-imagines this industrial and agricultural history through the cultivation of and the production of brooms from the harvested forgotten crop.


A flower blooms in the Gawanus Broomcorn garden.

The Gowanus Canal Conservancy, a steward for the preservation, restoration, and green development of the Gowanus Canal, had already planted trees and perennials in the Salt Lot area when they let Husk create their terraced broomcorn garden just above the high tide line.


A bloom peeks from behind some broomcorn.

Husk’s broomcorn garden sits next to the Salt Lot along the Gowanus Canal, currently designated a US Superfund clean-up site belonging to the Department of Sanitation. The garden is located in an area where, in heavy rainfall, sewage is discharged into the canal. Kelly and  Hutchison hope that with the planting of broomcorn and production of brooms made from the site, they will draw attention to the proposed clean up of this environmentally degraded area and help clean up the soiled landscape.

In October, Husk hosted a broom making event where they invited an artisan broom maker from the foothills of the Catskills to create two special brooms fashioned from a crop of broomcorn grown last summer. With live music in the background and drinks imbibed, the evening celebrated the heritage craft of broom making while inviting guests to watch the transformation of the Gowanus broomcorn into the Gowanus Brooms, the culmination of Husk’s Sweep project and a reexamination of the possibilities for ecological and economic restoration of New York City’s Gowanus Canal.

Photos: via Husk

7 Comments »

  1. Annie Haven | Authentic Haven Brand said:

    Wonderful post bring back a lost art on the river bank!

    — December 13, 2011 @ 09:32

  2. Suzy said:

    Great especially making the brooms from last years crop over a few wines. Wonder if they would grow in Central Queensland Australia. ? We love to try to grow all the unusual plants in or around the Nursery. Have been planting lots of the exotic tropical fruits and grew some apples and mandarins from the pips so will take for some photos soon for the blog. Suzy Garden Galah Online Plant Nursery

    — December 14, 2011 @ 00:35

  3. maggie said:

    it’s PURDUE, not Perdue – Go Boilermakers!! and i’m glad to see that broom making is on the upswing. i remember the lions club fundraisers where someone would go door to door selling wooden brooms. we always had one in the house when i was a kid. now i have to order them from out of state (i live in california). plastic ones are neither pleasant to use, nor nearly as effective, nor can they be composted (or even recycled). again, Go Boilermakers!!

    — December 15, 2011 @ 19:24

  4. Lisa said:

    Isn’t broomcorn terribly invasive? A friend sent me some seeds, and I’ve been hesitant to plant it.

    — December 26, 2011 @ 13:26

  5. Cleaning Up The Gowanus Canal One Broom At A Time « The Sustain Blog by Nicole Brait Pingback said:

    […] I want to write about is Sweep, which I read about on Urban Garden’s web […]

    — March 9, 2012 @ 11:27

  6. Agen Bola said:

    Ah,they are just in concept stage now. They are super cool though!

    — August 16, 2012 @ 23:58

  7. Cleaning Up The Gowanus Canal One Broom At A Time - The Sustain Blog Pingback said:

    […] I want to write about is Sweep, which I read about on Urban Garden’s web […]

    — April 2, 2019 @ 13:17

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