The Rise of the Portable Farm

August 13, 2011 at 6:48 pm 1 comment

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© Photos by Margarida Correia. See captions at bottom of article.

Manhattan is not the world’s best place for a restaurant to build a farm.  But Riverpark Restaurant, a new restaurant in Midtown Manhattan, did just that — thanks to an open-minded, eco-conscious landlord and some out-of-the-box thinking.

The 15,000-square-foot farm — located 100 feet from the restaurant at Alexandria Center for Life Science, a new but unfinished biotechnology complex on 29th Street between 1st Avenue and the FDR Drive — is not your typical farm.  It’s portable.  The hundred different crops that grow there — everything from arugula and collard greens to eggplant, zucchini and squash — are raised in thousands of double-stacked milk crates.

“We feel very fortunate to be able to grow our own vegetables in the middle of New York City,” said Sisha Ortuzar, a farm co-founder and partner and chef at Riverpark Restaurant, in a press release.

The farm is now shielded behind a wall, but in September the wall will be removed and a Farm Table set up for diners to eat outdoors.

Restaurants have long built relationships with farms for the sourcing of fresh produce, but now many are trying to build their own.  Blue Hill at Stone Barns is an example.  The acclaimed restaurant in Pocantico Hills, N.Y., sources its produce and other foods from its 80-acre non-profit farm.   And hotel restaurants increasingly are building rooftop gardens, such as the Chicago Marriott Downtown Magnificent Mile.  In Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, 61Local, a bar and restaurant that serves up locally crafted food, is installing a green roof to source herbs for its menu items.

In the evolving world of restaurant-connected farms, Riverpark Farm in Manhattan stands out for its inventiveness.  It’s probably the city’s only restaurant with an onsite, on-the-ground farm.  It’s also probably the city’s first moveable farm – its first gypsy.  It will one day need to move. The farm is located on the stalled construction site of Alexandria Center’s west tower. When construction of the tower resumes, the farm will be relocated to another part of the center’s four-acre campus.

That’s the reason the farm was built in crates. It can easily be moved to a new spot.

The farm has no qualms about its gypsy status.  A site previously thought to be unsuitable for urban agriculture, after all, is now suddenly viable for farming.

“Now in urban settings, people all over the country are finding new ways to change their food system, moving their plots above the ground, cultivating food on fire escapes and roofs, in window farms and hydroponic systems, in window boxes and vertical farms,” writes Zach Pickens, Riverpark’s farm manager, in a blog post.

The farm was built with guidance and support from the environmental nonprofit GrowNYC and has top-notch advisors: Marcel Van Ooyen, executive director of GrowNYC, and Michael Grady Robertson, owner of a 62-acre farm in Red Hook, N.Y., and the former agriculture director for the Queens County Farm Museum.

“Thousands of soil-filled milk crates sitting on a concrete foundation is just another way to think about a farmer’s field,” said Farm Manager Pickens. “Add some sun, water and patience and a great harvest will follow.”

Caption for photos above: Riverside Farm in Manhattan grows over 100 crops in 7,400 milk crates redesigned as milk crates.

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Entry filed under: City Farmers, Local Food Production, Urban Agriculture. Tags: , , , , , , , , , .

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Annis  |  May 15, 2013 at 11:47 am

    Hello! This post could not be written any better! Reading through this post reminds
    me of my good old room mate! He always kept talking about this.
    I will forward this post to him. Pretty sure he will have a good read.
    Thank you for sharing!

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