Rooftop farms in NYC? Join me for a Google+ Hangout

Urban farmer Ben Flanner of the Brooklyn Grange. Photo by JJ Sulin.

Today at noon PT / 3 pm ET, I’ll talk with Sierra magazine’s senior editor Paul Rauber about the rooftop farms springing up across New York City. Please join us.

The occasion is “Up on the Farm,” a feature story I wrote for the magazine’s November/December issue. Back in July, during a steamy heat wave, I visited Brookyn Grange and Gotham Greens — pioneering urban farms with drastically different approaches to feeding the city.

We’ll be talking about those different routes to local food, as well as the phenomenon of farming in the Big Apple, which has a prouder history and more momentum than most people realize. Here’s an excerpt:

Everyone knows that New York is full of foodies, but few realize that it is also full of farmers. City farmsteads are cropping up all over, and New York has more of them—and more on rooftops—than anywhere else. In addition to at least 7 rooftop enterprises, there are 17 ground-based farms in the Big Apple and 1,000-plus community gardens, far more than in any other American city.

Growing food in a city’s dense core, urban farmers say, can turn back the diesel-chugging trucks hauling salad mix across the country, lower energy bills by replacing hot black-tar roofs with cool greenery, slim waistlines by supplying bodegas with fresh-picked tomatoes, and let children reared on concrete learn the joy of yanking a carrot from the soil.

I first learned of Brooklyn Grange while reporting a couple of stories (here and here) about urban green roofs for American Way magazine. Words fail to convey the beauty of some of these gardens, however, so also I assembled this video of NYC’s best topside greenery.

What I discovered through reporting the Sierra story is that rooftop agriculture has manifold benefits to the city. It reduces stormwater runoff and cools the city down, like other green roofs, while also creating jobs and an extraordinarily local source of food. Furthermore, these sky farmsteads make the production of food visible and accessible to city dwellers — bringing a patch of our rural past to the concrete landscapes where most of America actually lives.

Lettuces growing within sight of midtown Manhattan aren’t just a novelty, but a significant development in agriculture and urban design with lots of room to grow. I look forward to answering your questions. See you at the hangout!

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2 comments to Rooftop farms in NYC? Join me for a Google+ Hangout

  • Rich Thomasy

    The article really got me thinking about hydroponics (again). A friend and I are contemplating the possibilities. However, the first hurdle is creating a business plan which will attract investment. Would the interviewees proffer any suggestions as to how one might get started soliciting capital for a modest ‘farm’?

  • davidferris

    Hi Rich — I think that everyone is struggling with the question of how to fund growing operations. I would recommend keeping tabs on organizations like Gotham Greens, Brooklyn Grange, Lufa Farms and BrightFarms to see how their experiments work out.

    BrightFarms’ model is an interesting one, based around a “Produce Purchase Agreement.” For more, see the Q&A I did a few months ago with CEO Paul Lightfoot:

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/davidferris/2012/04/11/how-rooftop-tomatoes-could-revolutionize-the-supermarket/

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