Crown Heights

Meet lovable chickens in a Crown Heights community garden

Eye on Real Estate: Brooklyn’s quirky green spaces. (Part One)

June 19, 2019 Lore Croghan
Masha Bezlepkina feeds the hens at Imani Community Garden in Crown Heights. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan

Chickens are such a Brooklyn thing.

If you don’t have a yard in which to raise them yourself, you’re welcome to visit the flocks that liven up Crown Heights’ Imani Community Garden.

The Schenectady Avenue garden is a wonderful, quirky Brooklyn green space.

It has endured its share of drama in recent years because a developer who bought one of its three lots cut down a cherished 70-year-old willow tree. I’ll tell you all about this in a couple minutes — but first I really, really want to introduce you to the chickens.

Fine feathered friends rule the roost at Imani Community Garden. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan
Fine feathered friends rule the roost at Imani Community Garden. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan

The other day, when I went to visit them, chicken caretaker Masha Bezlepkina fed the adult hens chopped-up melon so I could take pictures.

These fine feathered friends were so beautiful. Look at the glossy feathers patterned in brown, white and black on the pair of hens I photographed.

I tried not to be intrusive in the henhouse, where a couple of chickens were laying eggs.

A childhood with chickens

Here’s a peek inside Imani Community Garden’s henhouse. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan
Here’s a peek inside Imani Community Garden’s henhouse. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan

What motivates people to raise chickens in Brooklyn? I wondered. The city Health Code says it’s legal to have hens — but not roosters — in case you were wondering.

DAILY TOP BROOKLYN NEWS
News for those who live, work and play in Brooklyn and beyond

I asked one of Imani Community Garden’s lead chicken keepers, Becca Mason.

Becca Mason is one of Imani Community Garden’s lead chicken keepers. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan
Becca Mason is one of Imani Community Garden’s lead chicken keepers. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan

She grew up around feathery fowl in suburban Irvine, California. Her school-teacher mom hatched chicks at home for second-grade classes.

“It was kind of my mom’s thing,” Mason said. “I helped take care of them.”

While we were talking, Mason set up a small enclosure for a flock of seven-week-old chickens — or “teens,” as the caretakers call them.

A poultry proposal

Seven-week-old chickens gather in front of their coop. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan
7-week-old chickens gather in front of their coop. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan

A bit later, the other lead chicken keeper, Robert Callahan, arrived at the garden.

He told me he grew up in Tennessee. He didn’t become interested in chickens until he moved to Brooklyn.

Mason and Callahan are engaged. In February, he proposed to her in the garden.

Another lead chicken keeper, Robert Callahan, holds a chicken named Miss Magoo. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan
Another lead chicken keeper, Robert Callahan, holds a chicken named Miss Magoo. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan

He got down on one knee (there may or may not have been chicken excrement on the ground). He’d made a ring-holder out of an egg shell.

Mason doesn’t wear her engagement ring at the garden. The chickens like to peck at its diamonds.

Seeking dialogue

Imani Community Garden is located on two non-contiguous lots, 87 and 91 Schenectady Ave. They’re owned and maintained by the New York Restoration Project.

Farm-fresh eggs in the middle of Brooklyn. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan
Farm-fresh eggs in the middle of Brooklyn. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan

NYRP is a conservancy that singer Bette Midler organized. It cleans up parks and buys land where community gardens stand.

City Finance Department records show that in 2001, NYRP’s New York Garden Trust bought the lots as part of a package of about 30 New York City Economic Development Corp. properties for $308,500.

Until a couple of years ago, Imani Community Garden also used the lot in between them, whose address is 89 Schenectady Ave.

A limited liability company with Mendel Deutsch as its sole member bought 89 Schenectady Ave. for $500,000 in 2016, Finance Department records show. The seller was Herman Stark, who had bought it for $365,000 in a city tax lien foreclosure in 2015.

Deutsch filed plans with the Buildings Department to construct a four-story, seven-unit multifamily building on the site. Last year, he chopped down the willow tree I mentioned at the beginning of this story.

You might see flowers like this on a walk in the countryside, but this is the middle of Brooklyn. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan
You might see flowers like this on a walk in the countryside, but this is the middle of Brooklyn. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan

Deutsch’s limited liability company has an unpaid property tax bill of more than $3,000. The city intends to sell a lien on the property if the LLC doesn’t resolve the problem by July 18, Finance Department records show.

Last week, Imani Community Garden members asked Community Board 8 to write a letter to ask Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams to meet and talk about the possibility of acquiring 89 Schenectady Ave.

CB8 voted unanimously to send the letter.

Meanwhile, tall weeds grow on Deutsch’s lot. Fences separate it from the two sections of Imani Community Garden.

Follow reporter Lore Croghan on Twitter.

Leave a Comment


Leave a Comment