Rooftop Farms, Brooklyn

Rooftop Farms, Brooklyn

A piece I wrote for One-Earth.com.

Greenpoint, Brooklyn earned its name from the rich, river-front land that made it a natural site for colonial-era farms. Of course, that same location made it a perfect location for heavy industry and these days the name seems like more of a joke as the area is better known for its warehouses and defunct factories. A new development, though, unites both parts of neighborhood history and has brought the green back to the point. Rooftop Farms has covered a warehouse roof on the East River with over 200,000 pounds of soil and 30 varieties of crops, backed by an improbably great view of the Manhattan skyline.

While the five boroughs are short on ground-level real estate suitable for farming (as evidenced by the constant struggles of our community gardens), the city also has acres of underutilized roof space. The idea behind Rooftop Farms was to demonstrate, on a fairly large scale, that urban farming doesn’t have to be limited to fire escapes and window boxes. The project is the combined effort of Ben Flanner, a former E*Trader with a vision of a rooftop farm; Annie Novak, a farmer who teaches city children how to grow their own vegetables at the NY Botanical Garden’s Family Garden; and Goode Green, a design firm specializing in green roofs and urban gardens. I spoke with Novak, who explained the farm’s history to me, and showed me how their first season was shaping up. Scanning row after row of thriving tomatoes, kale, parsley, pea plants and more, she said “We planted a really wide variety of crops to see what did best in this environment, but so far, everything is growing really well.” The rooftop location provides a certain amount of natural pest control for the organic greens, their biggest problem being NYC pigeons that kept pecking out not seeds, but gravel. The rest of the farm’s needs are taken care of by rainwater, its own beehive, and, on the day I visited, a group of visiting kids who gleefully pulled monarch and emperor caterpillars from the parsley beds to take home and grow into butterflies.

In keeping with their extremely local vision, Rooftop Farms delivers produce to several Greenpoint/Williamsburg restaurants, including Anella, Marlow & Sons, and the soon-to-open Blue Ribbon eatery at Brooklyn Bowl. Taking it a step beyond that, starting on Sunday, July 12th, Greenpoint residents and others willing to make the trek will be able to purchase veggies at the farm itself. When I moved into post-industrial Greenpoint, I never imagined that I would be able to walk to the local farm and buy produce pulled straight from the ground (as it were). Talk about closing the loop.

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