Posts tagged ‘rooftop farming’

2011 NYC Urban Ag: A Nine-Month Review

The urban agriculture movement in New York City has made enormous progress this year.  New legislation favoring urban farming was introduced.  New farms opened.  There’s even a new farm school.  It all happened within the last nine months, all of it summarized here.  (more…)


September 30, 2011 at 2:37 pm 1 comment

BrightFarms to Build Nation’s Largest Rooftop Greenhouse in Long Island City

BrightFarms, a Manhattan-based company that designs, builds and operates hydroponic rooftop greenhouses for others, is planning to build one for itself.  The company will build a 25,000-square-foot greenhouse on top of a building near LaGuardia Community College in Long Island City, according to an article in the New York Daily News. The facility — slated for completion by March of next year — is expected to produce 200,000 pounds of fresh produce annually for the local markets.  If built as planned, the hydroponic greenhouse will be the largest in the country.

In an interview with New York Bounty in July, BrightFarms discussed its plans for marketing rooftop greenhouses to supermarkets.  The company was in talks with a dozen national supermarket chains, eight of which had signed up for the facilities.

BrightFarms will move its headquarters to the Long Island City rooftop location.  It will build a 7,000-square-foot office space on the 32,000-square-foot roof it plans to lease.

September 6, 2011 at 4:22 pm Leave a comment

NYC Start-up Brings Hydroponics to the People

© Photo by Margarida Correia. See caption at bottom of article.

In the vast expanse of barren rooftops that mark this north Brooklyn neighborhood, one stood out far above the rest:  the one atop Bushwick Starr Theatre.  It was the only roof with plants — all happily soil-free, or “hydroponic.”

Rather than soil-filled terracotta pots, the plants grew in trays and tubs attached to tubes that piped in liquid nutrients. Most grew vertically, like the tomatoes and cucumbers climbing the roof fence and onto a trellis.  Others — the bok choy and collard greens, for instance — grew sideways from the side of a wall built from milk crates.

The plants – green and laden with vegetables – seemed at home in the Willie Wonkaesque environment.  Miniature melon-shaped “Mexican sour” cucumbers dangled from plant stems like earrings.  Peppers lounged under the shade of floppy leaves, while the herbs — basil, thyme, sage, parsley — basked in the sun.

The rooftop Eden functions as a lab for Lee Mandell, founder of Boswyck Farms, a start-up business that designs and builds hydroponic growing systems for residents, nonprofits and other small organizations in New York City.  Mandell tests and tinkers with the systems on the roof — as well as those in his loft apartment nearby — to see which ones work best for which plants. (more…)

August 29, 2011 at 2:27 pm Leave a comment

New Soil Needed to Grow Urban Farms

Farming is on the cusp of radical change. Just ask any of the urban farmers who participated in a panel discussion moderated by NPR’s Leonard Lopate last month. “The new generation of farmers is going to come from folks who live in cities,” said Will Allen, founder of Growing Power, a national nonprofit organization that runs farms primarily in urban neighborhoods in Milwaukee and Chicago.

It sounds strange, but here’s how the theory goes. The loss of farmland and farmers, coupled with people moving to cities worldwide, will accelerate the need to grow food near or in cities. “We can’t afford to be shipping food at cost to the environment,” said Allen. “We have to grow food closer to where people live.”

The panelists almost convinced me. Annie Novak, co-founder of the Eagle Street Rooftop Farm, spoke about how to boost the harvest of herbs and vegetables on the 6,000-square-foot rooftop farm in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Fritz Haeg, a Los Angeles-based artist, showed a video about his project to transform lawns into vegetable gardens throughout the country. So far, he’s created “Edible Estates” in eight locations, including one in front of a community center in Manhattan. And Growing Power’s Allen talked about the 11 urban farms his organization runs in Chicago, Milwaukee and Madison.

As optimistic and impassioned as they were, they danced around the challenge facing urban farmers: scaling up production. Allen talked about the need to “grow soil” by turning the millions of pounds of city food waste into compost — the stuff that makes for bountiful harvests. Compost is also needed to fill garden beds built over once-contaminated soil.

“We need to grow hundreds of thousands of pounds of new soil,” said Allen. “We can’t scale up until we grow soil.”

Still, the speakers insisted on a future world with much more urban farming. Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, one of the panelists and a crusader in the push to reform the city’s food system, talked about the limitless opportunities in Manhattan for rooftop farms. “You can look up,” he said, “and see magic on rooftops.”

It’s a little pie in the sky, but a fun and thought-provoking discussion nonetheless. You can listen to it here. The “Edible Estates” panel discussion was held at WNYC Greene Space in Manhattan on April 8.

May 1, 2010 at 9:49 pm 1 comment

Fresh from the Wall?

Just as people are getting used to the idea of city roof-grown vegetables and herbs, along comes a radical new concept in urban food growing: edible walls. Though it’s hard to picture picking tomatoes and peppers from a wall, it might well be a reality should companies like Green Living Technologies take off. In this article in the New York Times, Ken Belson writes about emerging companies that are leading the way in this new area of food production.

Edible walls have already made it to New York. The article mentions a Manhattan first-floor apartment dweller who installed an edible wall in his backyard deck. What grows from the wall? Strawberries, lettuce, chives, oregano, parsley, rosemary, thyme and more.

February 11, 2010 at 12:26 am 1 comment

Wrap-up of a Year’s Worth of Blogging: Power of the People and a Politician Propel New York Local Food Movement in 2009

Sheer public support for local food and small farms made 2009 a banner year for New York City locavores.  Farmers markets and community gardens flourished, and new urban farms emerged, including the city’s first rooftop farm — a 6,000-square-foot site that drew scores of eager volunteers each Sunday throughout the 2009 growing season.

The local food movement had the power of the people behind it, and gained extra momentum, thanks to the power of a colorful and forceful politician:  Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer.

“New York City must be front and center in the international debate over food,” Stringer told some 1,000 foodies at a conference earlier this month at New York University.  He proposed forming a New York City Department of Food and Markets that would report directly to the mayor and pushed for a more regional food supply system.

“Food policy will be a top priority for my office,” he rallied the crowd of urban gardeners, nutritionists, chefs, teachers, civic leaders, community activists and others with a stake in food and farm policy.

The conference, which sold out within hours of its announcement, came only days after New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn launched “FoodWorks New York,” an initiative to analyze the city’s food system and tap its potential to create jobs by working with local farmers.

New York locavores found more than champions in positions to shake things up.  They also discovered what could turn out to be a symbol for their movement:  the city’s heirloom apple, the Newtown-Pippin.  The green-yellow apples originated on a farm in Maspeth, Queens, in the 1700s and became popular throughout the country.  Now a campaign is underway to reintroduce the apple tree in parks and gardens citywide and even name the Newtown-Pippin the city’s official apple.

Without a doubt, 2009 gave the local food movement a big boost.  Here’s a look back at some blog posts that chronicle turning points for advocates of a more localized food system:

  • Report Champions Local Farmers:  Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer releases a report calling for a “radical overhaul” of New York City’s food system.  The report makes several recommendations that would make it easier for local farmers to sell their produce in New York City, including requiring government food buyers to purchase a certain percentage of their food from farmers in the city’s foodshed.
  • 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.”
  • Farmers in Training:  This post profiles Michael Grady Robertson, the farm supervisor of the Queens County Farm Museum, and the opportunities the farm provides for breaking in would-be farmers.
  • Battalion of Volunteer Bee Keepers Invade City Parks and Gardens:  Local papers and blogs (including this one) covered efforts to legalize beekeeping in New York City.  Less well-covered was the Great Pollinator Project, a citywide effort to better understand and raise awareness of the importance of city bees.  The blog post describes my participation in the project.
  • The Greening of City Rooftops:  Farming on rooftops may become a hot new trend in New York City.  The post reflects on the development of green roofs in the last two years and where they’re likely to go. In this post, urban farming leaps ahead with visionary Dr. Dickson Despommier’s notion of a “vertical farm,” one in which crops grow indoors in multi-story buildings.
  • Phoenix Community Gardens Brings Neighbors Together:  This account of a refurbished community garden in Brooklyn peers into the lives of the people who garden there.  There are other posts on urban gardeners, including this one about Karen Washington, founder of the Garden of Happiness, and this one about Abu Talib, director of Taqwa Community Garden.  There’s also an account here of “wild man” Joe Gonzalez, a backyard gardener and community leader.
  • What Price Milk?:  The troubles facing today’s dairy farms recall the 1930s when dairymen were getting a raw deal on the price of milk.  They, too, we going bankrupt, even as consumer milk prices were going through the roof.  The turbulent time in New York milk history is documented in the online exhibit New York Bounty describes in the post.
  • Visions of Urban Farmland for the Grand Concourse: A proposal to transform the Grand Concourse, a nine-lane motorway in the Bronx, into four miles of contiguous urban farmland won second place in a global competition to remake the 100-year-old thoroughfare.  Farming inspired other artists in 2009.  In September, artist Leah Gauthier celebrated the close of a five-borough micro-farm installation consisting of modest growing spaces donated by New Yorkers.  In return for the spaces, Gauthier became a “sharecropper,” paying donors with a portion of the produce she grew on individual locations for the season.  It’s the ultimate high-concept art project.
  • The Nature Nut: I introduced former organic farmer and certified holistic health counselor Susana Correia as New York Bounty’s resident expert on organic farming and nutrition counseling.  The “Nature Nut” received and answered several questions throughout the year, and is waiting for more.  Have questions about what to grow in your community garden or your roof or terrace or even in your kitchen?  Questions about nutrition?  Try asking the Nature Nut.  She’ll know.

It’s been challenging keeping up with all that’s happening in urban agriculture in New York City, but I’ve had quite a bit of fun.  One day, though, was the highlight of the year – the day my blog got noticed.  In April, New York Bounty was listed in the information section of the Manhattan User’s Guide, a daily e-mail that keeps readers on top of the city.  Here’s how MUG described New York Bounty:  “With refreshingly few bells and whistles, thoughtful commentary on food, health, and the environment, particularly the ways in which urbanites are trying to reconnect with the good earth.”

The praise sent me over the moon — at least for a day or two.  It’s going to be hard to live up to the description, but I’m sure going to try, every single day of 2010 and beyond…

Happy New Year, everyone!

December 31, 2009 at 3:32 am 1 comment

High-rise Farming?

Forget about farming in wide open spaces.  The farms of the future will be in cities, where crops will flourish in multi-story buildings, writes Dr. Dickson Despommier in this op-ed piece in the New York Times.  The prophet and father of the “vertical farm” notes that the rising number of floods and droughts — and a rising global population — will make traditional farming on land untenable.

Dr. Despommier makes a compelling case for indoor urban farming.  Vertical farms take advantage of hydroponic and aeroponic technologies, which are soil-free and use as much as 90 percent less water than traditional cultivation techniques. They would free up farmland, allowing thousands of acres to return to their original ecological state.

Dr. Despommier sees high-rise farms as more than an agricultural take on Macy’s — potatoes, rutabaga and turnips on 7; collard, kale and chard on 6.  Vertical farms, he writes, can also be incorporated into restaurants, schools, hospitals and even “the upper floors of apartment complexes.”

Dr. Despommier has no shortage of vision or imagination.  He envisions vertical farms as “things of grace and beauty” with transparent walls and ceilings to let the sunlight in.  From a distance, high-rise farms would look like “gardens suspended in space.”

He contends that vertical farming is no longer pie-in-the-sky dreaming.  The futuristic form of farming is now feasible, thanks to the commercial success of greenhouse technology.

In Jamaica, Queens, for example, a rooftop greenhouse business, Gotham Greens, is on track to launch next year.  The greenhouse on the 12,000-square-foot rooftop is expected to produce 30 tons of vegetables and herbs annually using hydroponic technology.  The greenhouse will produce crops year-round.

Dr. Despommier proposes building a five-story prototype of a vertical farm in New York City.  He argues that it would help further Mayor Bloomberg’s goal of a greener city by 2030 and could easily become a tourist attraction, generating significant revenue for the city.  The sale of produce from the farm would also generate tax revenue.

The cost of the prototype?  It’s estimated at $20 million to $30 million, a tough sell in today’s economy.  It’s especially hard to make a case for farming in a city where finance reigns.

Still, with surging interest in farms and local food and growing concerns about the environment, who knows what the future holds.  The city of financiers may just trade finance for farming.

Click here for related post.

September 19, 2009 at 7:15 pm 4 comments

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