Courtesy Reverend DeVanie Jackson
Chef Noah Sheetz with Reverends Robert and DeVanie Jackson organized the fig jam in Brooklyn.
A tree grows in Brooklyn — a fig tree, that is, and in Bedford Stuyvesant, no less. In 2004, when the Rev. Robert Jackson and the Rev. DeVanie Jackson had finally trudged through the red tape and organized to clear the debris and overgrowth from a neglected lot behind the Brooklyn Rescue Mission and an adjacent lot, Robert Jackson recognized something from his time spent on a farm as a child — a scrawny twig that looked like the beginnings of a fig tree. Now the 20-foot-high, healthy tree, which is protected from winter cold by the buildings on either side, is the center of a fig jam: the kind Noah Sheetz, executive chef at the New York Governor’s Mansion, glazes lamb chops with and a community celebration.
From the start, the Jacksons wanted to provide fresh, local produce for the Mission’s food pantry and put neighborhood kids to work on a project they could be proud of. Now, the Bed Stuy Farm grows 7,000 pounds of fresh produce a year that help feed 3,000 people a month. A community youth program tends the garden and runs the Malcolm X farmers’ market on Saturdays with the farm surplus. Senior CSA members in the neighborhood come to the garden to pick their own share of produce as well, bringing youth and age together.
Like the sheltering and thriving fig tree, the Bed Stuy Farm has grown to offer programs in nutrition and farming, and draws visiting schoolchildren, food activists and chefs. For the brunch, Chefs Sheetz, Tree Williams (a chef who has worked with the Jacksons on past events) and Nicci Cagan (co-founder of a youth and garden organization in Marbletown, N.Y., called “From the Ground Up”) prepared a fig feast, including not only the fig-glazed lamb chops, but also jerked local chicken with fig chutney, coconut crusted figs, arugula, local goat cheese and fig salad, local flounder with fig-infused balsamic vinegar and olive oil, and a fig mascarpone tart.
Other contributions were kale and collards from the three gardens at the Governor’s Mansion in Albany, potatoes from Chef Sheetz’s home garden, arugula from The Produce Project (Capital District Community Gardens in Albany) and wines from the Hudson Valley, which complemented the meal.
Because of land title issues, the farm has been threatened. Negotiations continue as the bountiful 2010 season moves into autumn. Let’s hope heartfelt, delicious efforts such as this can survive in unlikely circumstances, like the fig tree that supplied the figs for Chef Sheetz’s recipe below.
Coconut Crusted Figs
- 8 figs, cut into 1/8-inche rounds
- 1 cup flour
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 1 cup finely shredded, unsweetened coconut
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
Dip the fig slices into the flour and shake off the excess. Dip them into the eggs, and then the coconut. Heat the oil in a sauté pan. When the oil is hot, add the coated fig slices and sauté until golden, about one minute per side. Drain on paper towel.