Rooftop Farming in New York City

Brooklyn Grange Farm in Queens has taken the idea of urban farming to a whole new level, producing fresh crops and garden vegetables from the roof of the Standard Motor Products building.

| Fall 2012

Nearly every gardening magazine, agriculture publication, or horticulture blog these days contains some mention of urban farming. The trend toward producing food in the heart of metropolitan settings is growing rapidly and is certainly evident in the United States’ largest city. Amid the mass of concrete underfoot and towering into the New York City sky, there is a new tier of urban farming gaining momentum. Brooklyn Grange Farm, located in the Long Island City section of Queens, lends a whole new meaning to the concept of urban farming.

This one-acre commercial organic farm is located atop the Standard Motor Products building, a six-story warehouse built in 1919. A team of farmers, interns, and agriculture apprentices grow many types of herbs and vegetables from early spring through late fall, usually November, depending upon the timing of the first killing frost.

In its third year of production, the farm grows and sells mostly salad greens that include both savory and sweet lettuce mixes in the early spring, moving on to hot and sweet peppers and 40 varieties of luscious tomatoes in the summer. While these items make up the “bread and butter” of the business, other popular items include Swiss chard, kale, squash, several types of beans and peas, a wide variety of root vegetables, two types of strawberries, as well as plenty of herbs.

Feeding the Urban Masses

A visit with restaurant veteran and director of communications and sales, cofounder of the Brooklyn Grange, Anastasia Plakias, provides some insight into the significant impact that rooftop farms can have on feeding the urban masses. While rooftop farms likely will never replace in-ground traditional agricultural practices, they are definitely adding a new dimension to the farming scene.

Brooklyn Grange farmers help to reconnect New York citizens to good, healthful food by improving their access to farms and farmers. Selling the vegetables at the weekly farm stand located in the lobby of the building means that many people walk or bike their vegetables home, and the food never comes in contact with petroleum-powered engines. Grange accepts WIC clients, further providing healthful food to women and infant children. The farm stand is open noon to 6 p.m. on Wednesdays, May through October.

The farm produces enough food that all employees help themselves to food from the diverse selection of vegetables and herbs. Because it also sells produce to several local restaurants, including Roberta’s in Bushwick, Giuseppe Falco at Vesta in Astoria, Marlow & Sons, Joseph Leonard, and others, Grange employees grow specialty items for chefs. They try to strike a balance of higher-end and harder-to-find gourmet items with common vegetables for the average home cooks.

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