New York Urban Farmers Draw Large Crowd

March 7, 2009 at 2:33 pm 2 comments

It’s better to grow things in the ground, rather than on the roofs of buildings.  Bee hives, on the other hand, are best kept on roofs rather than in gardens on the ground.  These were some of the takeaways for the large crowd of people who attended a panel discussion last Saturday with four urban farmers in New York City.  The discussion was part of the “Educated Eater” seminar series organized by Greenmarket, the farmers market program of the Council on the Environment of New York City. 

Stewart Borowsky, a former upstate farmer who grows wheatgrass and sprouts in an indoor space in Brooklyn, showed off slides of his new “grow room” featuring reflective walls and irrigation nozzles that he custom-designed and built himself.  Borowsky has been selling at the Greenmarket at Union Square since 1994.  He “moved his farm to the city,” he said, “to be closer to his customers.”

The other farmers shared equally interesting tidbits with the crowd.  Kansas City native Michael Robertson came to New York last year to become the agricultural supervisor of the Queens County Farm Museum, a 47-acre farm in Floral Park, Queens.  David Graves, founder of jam and jelly company Berkshire Berries, became one of the city’s earliest producers of rooftop honey when he set up his first hive in a clandestine city rooftop 12 years ago. And Declan Walsh, a chicken farmer who sells eggs in Red Hook, started raising chickens to teach and have fun with his kids. 

“All my chickens are virgins,” Walsh joked, explaining that New York City prohibits residents from keeping roosters. 

While four urban farmers hardly make for an urban farming renaissance, they do speak to nascent agricultural stirrings in a growing number of New Yorkers.  Take the people who packed the meeting room at First Presbyterian Church in Manhattan last Saturday.  They were eager to start farmers markets in their neighborhoods, build relationships with urban farmers and generally expand local food production through community gardens, rooftop gardening and other means.  One woman with urban agriculture experience started a consulting business to help urbanites grow food in window boxes, balconies, fire escapes and other city spaces.  She handed out her business cards.  Two young women in their 20s sought advice from Borowsky on how they might start their own wheatgrass and sprout business in the city.  Yet another participant — a robust barrel-chested man with a raw food lifestyle — showed off the sprouts he grew indoors.  The sprouts he harvested were passed around in a white bucket. 

Urban agriculture is feeding and employing people worldwide, said moderator Michael Hurwitz, director of Greenmarket and co-founder of Added Value, a 2.75-acre community farm in Red Hook, Brooklyn.  He cited statistics, saying that 35,000 acres of land in urban areas produced 3.4 million tons of food, employing 200 million people and feeding 800 million urban dwellers worldwide.  The stats were for 2002.

Will urban agriculture take off in New York?  It’s hard to tell, but early signs of an agricultural awakening are budding in spots around the city.  The Queens County Farm Museum, for example, is shaking off years of slumber as it ramps up agricultural production.  While the farm dates back to the Dutch settlers and has been continuously cultivated, its production level is nowhere near the level of its heyday in the 1920s.  Robertson was brought on board to reclaim some of the farm’s former glory, using sustainable farming practices.  In November, he started selling produce from the farm at the Greenmarket at Union Square and is working on a pilot CSA program with 10 – 20 members.  

“We want to transform it to a sustainable working farm for the future,” said Robertson of what was once one of the leading truck farms in New York City. 


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

Report Champions Local Farmers Farmers Rock

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Chicken Round-Up « New York Bounty  |  August 11, 2009 at 12:59 am

    […] In this article in the New York Times, reporter William Neuman writes about the “backyard chicken trend” sweeping the country.  Many Americans, he reports, are raising chickens primarily as a hedge against the recession.  Chicken keepers will at least have eggs, should things go really, really wrong.  The thinking, however, is irrational, as it’s cheaper to buy eggs and meat at the store.  The deeper reason for the trend?  Americans want to be more self-reliant in tough, unpredictable times such as we’re experiencing. Neuman quotes keepers of backyard chickens throughout the country, including Declan Walsh, a chicken farmer in Red Hook, Brooklyn, who raises hens for eggs and meat.  I mentioned Walsh in this New York Bounty post.   […]

  • […] New York Urban Farmers Draw Large Crowd:  A panel discussion on urban farming draws a huge crowd of local food enthusiasts and entrepreneurs. Participants hear from a Brooklyn-based indoor grower of wheatgrass and sprouts who “moved his farm to the city” from upstate New York “to be closer to his customers.”  A few weeks later, the keynote speaker at a conference on community supported agriculture — upstate farmer Cheryl Rogowski — noted that “farmers are rock stars” and that “it’s never been a more challenging or exciting time to be farmers than now.”  Not so fast, I say, in this post.  An unrepentant doubting Thomas, I question what many are calling a U.S. “food revolution.” […]

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