Parks, Pioneer Works

Pioneer Works’ Garden Offers a Haven in the Heat, by Sarah Matusek

Pioneer Works’ garden entrance. Photo by George Fiala.

Pioneer Works’ public garden offers visitors a space for summer zen. For a moment, the rumble of trucks beyond the wooden lattice fence nearly disappears.

A brief walk from the NYC Ferry and Brooklyn Cruise Terminal, the garden sprawls next to the art nonprofit’s 150-year-old red brick building at 159 Pioneer St.

Landscaped in 2011 atop a former parking lot, the half-acre garden “fosters a resurgence of Red Hook’s wetland landscape, providing space for native plant restoration alongside medicinal, edible and perennial gardens,” writes a Pioneer Works’ spokesperson.

The public can bask in the garden’s offerings of sun and shade from noon till 7 p.m. on Wednesdays through Sundays. Well-kept, the wide gravel path that winds through the green space is also pet-friendly (if you clean up after them).

Marisa Prefer, the garden’s Landscape Steward, says that Red Hook vegetation’s proximity to the floodable waterfront makes them especially hearty.

“The plants that grow here on the street are super resilient. They’re flood-resistant,” says Prefer. “The plants are colonizing empty ground.” Pioneer Works celebrates these native roots by encouraging their growth in the garden.

Bright green sprouts peek through dirt in wooden troughs. These will soon be broccoli, beets, tomatoes, and more. “We’re trying to talk about growing food in the city as a method,” says Prefer, well aware that the modest crop won’t suffice to feed a crowd.

Instead, its purpose is educational.

Photo by George Fiala.

Through partnerships with summer youth programs at Good Shepherd Services’ Joseph Miccio Community Center, Red Hook Initiative, and Red Hook Community Justice Center, young people help tend to the patches, which serve as an outdoor classroom for gardening, cooking, and, says Prefer, “healing.” In keeping with all things holistic, a compost bin sits beside the troughs.

On a Friday in June, Pioneer Works staff Katie Giritlian leaves the green oasis with a coffee in hand. “It’s so beautifully done,” she says admiringly.

Weekend coffee bar
Visitors can caffeinate at Pintail Coffee’s pop-up booth found in the heart of the garden Fridays through Sundays. Besides coffee – cold brew and hot – Pintail also serves cookies and soda.

“It’s really busy when they do Second Sundays,” says Pintail barista Hannah Parsons, who takes the new NYC Ferry from Manhattan to work.

Pioneer Works’ Second Sundays series presents open studios, music, and exhibits that feature artists-in-residence. For some visitors, Pintail’s non-alcoholic drinks are welcome alternatives to the bar that opens during these weekend events, says Parsons.

The garden hosts an abundance of summer programming beyond Second Sundays, including community lunches prepared by chef Mariyam Nayeri.

Photo by George Fiala.

Pioneer Works’ next Red Hook Ecology Roundtable on July 12, 7-9 p.m., will explore “the ecological history, present and future of Red Hook’s landscape.” All ages are welcome, and attendees are encouraged to brainstorm how “to promote a resilient ecological future in our neighborhood, with a focus on taking away some action items from each of these sessions.”

Send volunteer inquiries or garden program ideas to

Photo by George Fiala.

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