New York City may not have a lot of extra space for farms, but it's got plenty of rooftops that fit the bill just fine.
Urban farming is a really important trend - it not only provides fresh food locally, it eliminates greenhouse gases associated with transporting food over long distances, provides economic development opportunities, and reduces disparities in access to healthy food that's contributed to epidemic rates of
obesity and diabetes especially among low-income populations.
On top of a 6-story warehouse in the borough of Queens sits the world's largest rooftop
farm - at almost an acre in size, the Brooklyn Grange has been growing 40 kinds of vegetables since it opened in spring 2010. Now, it's gettting ready to double in size as it expands to a second roof, this one
in the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
Ben Flanner co-founded Brooklyn Grange after opening Eagle Street Rooftop Farm in 2009, the first rooftop soil farm in NYC.
He's got plans for more rooftop farms to make locally grown, organic food widely available, while employing urban farmers. Brooklyn Grange is financed by a combination of private equity, loans and grassroots fundraising.
The farm produced crops for nine months last year and when you include the cover crops - an important organic farming method that improves the soil - they have year-round production.
And that's not the only farm in NYC. Added Value has long been active in turning vacant lots in
Brooklyn into farms and the non-profit trains local teenagers year-round.
Tenth Acre Farms operates on an abandoned basketball court in Brooklyn. Like Added Value, it uses raised beds to extend the growing season.
Gotham Greens operates a rooftop hydroponic greenhouse that runs on solar, also in Brooklyn. It produces 80 tons of herbs and vegetables all year long for sale to supermarkets. Using a greenhouse allows them to ramp up the amount of vegetables they can grow - 7-8 times more than traditional soil farming in a much smaller space.
Battery Urban Farm
- operated by the Battery Conservancy (the area at the lowest tip of Manhattan), this small farm had its first harvest last spring. It offers an outdoor classroom for NYC schools.
Restaurants are also getting into the act. Bell, Book, and Candle restaurant in Manhattan has an aeroponic farm on its roof.
And soon, an affordable rental building in the Bronx will open with a 10,000 square feet rooftop farm,
designed by BrightFarm Systems. BrightFarm recently raised $4.3 million to attach greenhouses to supermarkets.
The greenhouse will run on the building's waste heat and water harvested on the roof, and will supply fresh vegies to about 4500 people in an area where low-income residents don't have access to fresh food.
BrightFarms is also designing an environmental education center and hydroponic greenhouse on the roof of the Manhattan School for Children, which will be powered by renewable energy.
The Science Barge is a demonstration urban farm that runs on renewable energy. It's moored off the shore of midtown Manhattan for two years.
A 1,300 square foot greenhouse uses state-of-the-art recirculating hydroponic farming techniques and runs on solar, wind, and biodiesel. A rainwater catchment system provides water for the plants.
To encourage more roof-top farms, the New York City Department of City Planning wants to amend its zoning law so that rooftop greenhouses could top commercial buildings across the city. The proposal is currently under review and is expected to be finished next week.
Besides opening un-used rooftops to farming, lease holders would get rent or tax breaks from the farm, as well as benefit from reduced building energy consumption because the farms cool the building and filter rain water.
The proposed zoning changes would also make way for wind turbines and solar panels on roofs, encourage electric vehicle charging in parking areas, and incentivize green building techniques like rainwater filtration systems.
Rooftop Farm Workshop - March 16
Grow UP! Green Roof Gardening
The NY Botanical Garden is offering a workshop (6-9PM) for potential rooftop farmers - how to grow edible crops on an urban roof; which vegies taste best, are most pest and heat tolerant and have best per-square-foot value. What kinds of soil to use and more tricks of the trade. Also, March 1, 6:15-9:15 p.m., in Manhattan.
Read the report, The Potential for Urban Agriculture in New York City.