Urban Farming In New York City Is Looking Up

If you’re interested in the future of the city, you could do worse than to look to New York City. Established as a trading post way back in 1624, it’s an urban center that’s been around awhile, and, as a consequence, has had some time to develop some familiar issues: food deserts in low-income neighborhoods, the Heat Island Effect associated with huge expanses of hardscape, airborne pollution, old, inefficient buildings, and storm water runoff that contributes to the pollution of local waterways. It’s also the city that’s helping to pioneer a rooftop farming revolution with the potential to take a big bite out of all of these problems, while putting fresh, local foods on the plates of New Yorkers.

One organization helping to lead the charge is Brooklyn Grange. Started in 2010 by five friends with a vision of growing food on the rooftops and unused spaces of New York City, Brooklyn Grange currently has over two acres of rooftop farms under cultivation in Queens and Brooklyn. In the two years since Ben Flanner, Gwen Schatz, Anastazia Plakias, Chase Emmons and Michael Meier (and their family members) first labored in the sun and wind, amidst the cacophony of traffic from down below, to spread and 3,000 pounds of soil across that first rooftop at Northern Boulevard, the group has produced and sold over 40,000 pounds of vegetables to restaurants, CSA members and directly to the public via weekly farmstands.

Brooklyn Grange rooftop farm

image via Brooklyn Grange

While the business is financed through a combination of private equity, loans, grassroots fundraising events and crowd funding platforms, it broke even in its first year and grew by 40 percent in its second year.  Brooklyn Grange now has plans to expand to an additional acre of cultivated rooftop in its third year, and to extend its rooftop farming empire each year thereafter, as sales allow.

Recently the group has even expanded beyond its mission to grow vegetables, adding egg-laying hens to the mix and even a commercial apiary, cultivating bees for honey and breeding regional hardiness into their DNA. (These bees now join those at the Waldorf Astoria in claiming Big Apple rooftop digs.) Brooklyn Grange has also launched an educational non-profit arm, City Growers, which hosts thousands of local youth each season for educational tours and workshops.

Brooklyn Grange apiary

image via Brooklyn Grange

Nor is Brooklyn Grange alone, as organizations like Gotham Greens and Bright Farms are engaged in kindred operations, and now even the city has gotten in on the act with a recent request for proposals for a 200,000-square-foot rooftop farm on a city-owned building on Food Center Drive in Hunts Point in the Bronx. All of which led Joe Nasr, co-author of “Carrot City: Creating Places for Urban Agriculture” and a researcher at the Centre for Studies in Food Security at Ryerson University in Toronto, to tell The New York Times,  “In terms of rooftop commercial agriculture, New York is definitely a leader at this moment.”

Will such rooftop operations will expand to the point of helping to eliminate fresh food shortages, cut the amount of heat radiated by New York’s many buildings, improve local air quality, insulate buildings and filter storm water run off? Only time will tell. But such efforts have the potential to accomplish all of these things with one fell swoop, giving city-dwellers everywhere yet another reason to love NYC.

Susan DeFreitas has covered all manner of green technology for EarthTechling since 2009. She is a graduate of Prescott College for the Liberal Arts and the Environment, and has a background in marketing green businesses. Her work on green living has been featured in Yes! Magazine, the Utne Reader and Natural Home.

  • john whitehurst

    NY City out grows some drug cartel states with its own marajuna crop. Roof top grown some of the best. Who needs Mexicans??

  • Donna Davis

    It’s sad that the drug growers are more worried about taking care of the soil that they make their cash crop off of then the farmers that grow our food supply. I read a article about how the marijuana growers are using microbial soil enhancement to triple their crops,the same can be done with our food crops.ddnotfertilizer

  • ddNOTFERTILIZER

    Has anyone watched the Dirt doctors videos on soil microbes? very informative! dd

    • ddNOTFERTILIZER

      If you want to go organic, but dont have the space for a compost pile there are some great products out there that can do the job.Terra-One markets several different blends of live microbes for what your applicaction needs might be, from gardening to ranching. I have used the Thicker Pasture on my 5 acres in east Texas with amazing results. dd

  • ddNOTFERTILIZER

    This is a great place to start for information on organic farming. dd

    http://agrilife.org/tcch/2011/01/07/texas-organic-farmers-and-gardeners-association-conference/

  • ddNOTFERTILIZER

    Has any one tried “LARGER HARVEST”? dd