Editor’s Note: We have been reading about vertical farming for years, first in MIT Technology Review, and PopSci, when it was just futuristic drawings of innovative architects. Now urban farming is a reality right here in NYC. In addition to Eli Zabar’s rooftop tomato (and other) farm in Manhattan’s upper eastside, rooftop farming has spread to all five boroughs and is catching on with amazing vigor. Join the movement. Keeping NYC vertical farming in business and growing larger each week, are all the great NYC restaurants and resident chefs who want garden fresh ingredients, on a daily basis.
At Eli Zabar’s market in Manhattan, produce is grown both in rooftop greenhouses and in open planting beds on the roofs above his restaurant, the Vinegar Factory. This urban farm supplies the restaurant and is also sold in the Zabar ground-floor market.
Brooklyn Grange Urban Rooftop Farming
About the Farm
Brooklyn Grange is a commercial organic farm located on New York City rooftops. We grow vegetables in the city and sell them to local people and businesses. The goal is to improve access to very good food, to connect city people more closely to farms and food production, and to make urban farming a viable enterprise and livelihood.
Although we function as a privately owned and operated enterprise, Brooklyn Grange is community oriented and open to the public. School groups, families and volunteers are welcome to visit, participate and learn. This is a green space that contributes to the overall health and quality of life of the community, bringing people together through green business and around good food.
Our first farm is located at 37-18 Northern Boulevard, in Long Island City Queens. Our goal is to put more farms on roofs throughout New York and beyond, and grow more food, train and employ more farmers, and improve overall quality of life in the city.
Brooklyn Grange is a small business now, but we plan to expand so that we can build more farms on roofs throughout New York and beyond. If you are interested in getting involved with the farm, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Frequently Asked Questions
What kind of company is Brooklyn Grange?
Brooklyn Grange is a commercial farm, meaning we grow food and sell it. We want farming to become a thriving and viable industry in the urban setting, and we aim to promote city farmers by providing them with a living wage and reliable livelihood.
How is the farm financed?
The farm is financed through a combination of private equity, loans, grassroots fundraising events and the website Kickstarter.com.
Does the farm lease the roof?
Yes; we have a 10 year lease from Acumen Capital Partners.
How big is the farm?
Our one-acre (40,000 square foot) farm in Queens is made up of roughly 1.2 million lbs of soil and over 20,000 linear feet of green roofing material.
Can the building hold that much weight?
Our farm was designed and installed with the support of engineers and architects who assessed and approved the site. The building was constructed in 1919 and is built like a rock. The roof is made of a thick reinforced concrete slab, which is approved for loads far in excess of the 30 lbs per square foot of materials that we have installed.
How is the farm built?
Before laying down the soil, we laid down a green roof system, distributed by Conservation Technologies. The system is as follows: a layer of root-barrier, which prevents our plants’ roots from penetrating the surface of the roof; a thick layer of felt; drainage mats with small cups to hold excess water from heavy rainstorms (the soil and plants wick this stored water up in dry conditions to keep our water use down), and finally, a thin layer of felt to prevent the drainage mats from filling up with soil.
What kind of soil do you use?
We bought our soil from Skyland in Pennsylvania, a green roof supplier. The blend is called Rooflite and is composed of compost for organic components, and lightweight, porous stones. The stones make the material lighter in weight and also slowly break down to add trace minerals needed by the vegetables. Our beds are about 7.5″ deep with 1″ deep walkways
What are you growing on the roof?
There are hundreds of thousands of plants on the roof. Tomatoes are one of our biggest crops: we have 40 varietals planted. We are also growing salad greens, herbs, carrots, fennel, beets, radishes, beans, and many other exciting crops!
Is the farm organic?
We grow our vegetables according to organic principles, and we do not use any synthetic fertilizers, insecticides or herbicides. We are not certified organic by the USDA nor do we plan to apply for organic certification.
What do you do in the winter?
We farm the roof about nine months of the year. In the winter, we will use cover crops like rye, buckwheat, vetch and clover.
Where do you sell your produce?
We sell our produce directly to the community from several weekly farmstands, as well as to several local restaurants.
What restaurants carry Brooklyn Grange produce?
We sell produce to Roberta’s in Bushwick, Giuseppe Falco at Vesta in Astoria, Marlow & Sons, Joseph Leonard, Fatty ‘Cue, bobo, Eat, Juliette and others.
Why is the farm called Brooklyn Grange if it is located in Queens?
When we started our company in 2009, we thought we had a site in Brooklyn locked down. We were all living in Brooklyn and put together the plan there, so the name made sense. In spring of 2010 we had to look for a new site; subsequently, we found our current location on Northern Blvd in Queens. At that point, however, we had already established an LLC under the name “Brooklyn Grange,” had begun using the name in public at our fundraisers and events in the winter and didn’t want to confuse the folks who had been following our progress and supporting our efforts. We’ve kept our name as Brooklyn Grange, but we are thrilled with our new home in LIC, Queens and have really enjoyed meeting the community there.
Why Urban Farming?
The city will always rely on rural farmers for the bulk of our food, and the relationship between urban and rural communities must be celebrated. But having farms inside the city limits by taking advantage of unused roof space is an opportunity not to be missed. Roof farms have the potential to improve urban quality of life, create jobs, increase access to healthy fresh foods, and provide environmental education to those of us who live in and love the city.
If you have more questions, please write to brooklyngrangefarm[at]gmail.com
LONG ISLAND CITY: Open Visitor Day!
Wednesdays, May 16th through October 24th
1pm – 6pm
Long Island City farm building lobby
37-18 Northern Blvd at 38th St
Saturdays, May 19th through October 27th
11am – 4pm
N. 6th st at the waterfront
Sundays, June 17th through October 28th
11am – 4pm
Russel St off Nassau Ave
June 2012 Produce for sale
We Help Urban Farmers Get Started
Tomorrow, Wednesday April 4th, we’re launching Hayseed’s Big City Farm Supply. It’s a pop-up urban farm supply store where we’ll be selling tools, seeds, soil amendments, animal feed, and more to our friends and neighbors in the NYC urban farming community. The store will be open through the end of June, and we’ll have knowledgeable staff on hand to help new farmers and gardeners get started. We’ve also got some great farm/garden books and we’ll be hosting workshops every weekend, and you can check out the website for a calendar of events and store hours.
Stop by and visit! Hayseed’s is at 218 India St in Greenpoint.
Our Friends and Family in NYC Food and Farming:
Brooklyn College Aquaculture
Brooklyn Food Coalition
Crop Mob NYC
Eagle Street Rooftop Farm
East New York Farms!
Food Systems Network NYC
Gotham City Honey Co-Op
Heritage Radio Network
New York Restoration Project
Red Hook Community Farm
Rose Red and Lavender
Slow Food NYC
Sustainable South Bronx
The Science Barge
Western Queens Compost Initiative
Urban Grown Eggplant Recipe
Raising The Root
Some City Dwellers Are Hoping Rooftop Farming Will Bear Fruit
By Robin Shulman
Washington Post Staff Writer
NEW YORK Like many a farmer, Ben Flanner rises with the sun. Like most crops, his need water and weeding –bright tomatoes and fragrant basil, delicate nasturtiums, mottled melons and black eggplants, mustard greens, puntarelle, peas, beets, beans, kale — about 30 fruits and vegetables in all, and then there are the herbs.
But his farm is not like most farms. His farm is three stories off the ground.
Beyond it is a sweeping view of the Manhattan skyline. Below it is a TV and film soundstage.
Flanner’s 6,000-square-foot farm is on a rooftop in the industrial Greenpoint section of Brooklyn. He hopes it can become a model for others who want to grow food but lack space. The problem in cities such as New York is always land. It’s expensive and valuable, and it never makes more sense to plant than build apartments. But from a bird’s-eye view, much of the city is rooftops. Most roofs are flat. They get direct sunlight, a rare commodity in a densely built place.
In recent years, enthusiasm has grown for green roofs, hailed for harnessing rainwater that can overwhelm urban sewage systems, and keeping buildings warmer in winter and cooler in summer, lowering electricity use.
But amid increasing interest in fresh, local food, this season seems to herald the era of the rooftop farm. It’s as though somewhere someone decreed, “Roofs shall not lie fallow.” And a colony of entrepreneurs, residents, schoolteachers and restaurateurs set to work. “All right, open the floodgates!” Flanner says to a volunteer assistant holding a hose on a recent morning. “Sweat these babies down!” says Flanner, speaking of the mustard seeds just laid into the earth. A Brooklyn restaurant ordered 10 pounds of mustard greens to be delivered next month. Mustard greens take exactly one
month to grow. Flanner is working on deadline.
Flanner, 28, considered going to the country to farm — only to realize he didn’t want to leave the city, he just wanted to be a farmer. He quit his job at E-Trade and partnered with Annie Novak, 26, who had farming experience. The green-roof design firm Goode Green agreed to do the installation for free and the production company Broadway Stages agreed to pay for it, as an experiment on the roof of its Greenpoint building.
It took two days for cranes to haul 200,000 pounds of soil made of lightweight expanded shale, like crushed brick, onto the roof. It cost $10 per square foot, or $60,000. Now it is up to Flanner and Novak to make a profitable farm. Flanner harvests in the mornings, barters vegetables for lunch at local eateries, and in the afternoons bikes dozens of pounds of produce to restaurants that have commissioned them. He and Novak run a Sunday farm stand.
Across the country, a handful of commercial-scale rooftop farm start-ups have fashioned a rough formula for profit: It involves the distance vegetables must travel from farm to table, their consequent price and quality, and a city’s food culture and population density.
New York City seems to calculate high on the benefits, and hundreds of other rooftop gardens are in the works, some even large-scale.
In the Jamaica section of Queens, the start-up Gotham Greens just signed a lease to build a 10,000-square-foot greenhouse on a roof and grow 30 tons of greens and herbs for sale. The company has a $1.4 million budget and will grow hydroponically, using recirculated water and dissolved nutrients to produce enormous yield without soil.
“We see it as a compelling business opportunity,” says co-founder Viraj Puri, who hopes to expand to larger rooftops and farm an acre or two at a time.
In the South Bronx, an affordable-housing developer is designing a 10,000-square-foot rooftop greenhouse for an eight-story building to be run by a local food co-op.
On the Upper West Side, the Manhattan School for Children is building a 2,000-square-foot greenhouse both for food production and environmental education.
And this spring on the Lower East Side, Amber Kusmenko, 27, an animator, and her boyfriend hauled 4,000 pounds of soil to the roof of their co-op to build a 200-square-foot farm. “It feels like a big accomplishment,” says Kusmenko of the cucumbers and bush beans she has been harvesting.
The biggest obstacle is cost. A structural engineer must assess the roof’s ability to bear weight. A base layer of heavy-duty plastic may be laid on the roof, and it may be retrofitted for drainage or even outfitted with a greenhouse — though plenty of food can grow cheaply in a Toys R Us kiddie pool or a basic wood box.
Other aspects can be difficult, too, such as providing the amount of water plants need under direct sunlight, dealing with high winds, and hauling soil and other materials upstairs.
The benefits are the sun, the ability to custom-engineer the soil for each type of plant, and the lack of pests — snails, insects and rats, on ground level in the city.
“Our biggest pests were the squirrels and the landlady,” says Kerry Trueman, 49, who kept an edible garden on the roof of her West Village apartment until her landlady shut it down.
Certain cities have led the way to the roof. In San Francisco, Mayor Gavin Newsom has required all departments to audit their land, seeking places suitable for urban agriculture. Chicago, where the mayor’s office has a green roof, also has the country’s first organic-certified rooftop farm, 2,500 square feet over a restaurant.
Toronto just passed a law requiring green roofs on new buildings above a certain size, and many could include food.
In the District, the Pug planted tomatoes and chilies above the bar for use in bloody Marys. Sara Loveland of D.C. Greenworks says her nonprofit company is helping four other restaurants build rooftop farms.
“Some of the most expensive things for them to purchase can be grown on their roof pretty easily,” she says. “It’s unused real estate. People need to reevaluate the use of space.”
Meanwhile, Sky Vegetables envisions building commercial-scale 10,000- to 40,000-square-foot rooftop farms in cities across the country and selling the produce to grocery stores and restaurants. The company is negotiating for test sites in the District, San Francisco and Boston. The dream: after a year, 20 farms; after two years, 100.
“In the Northeast, half the year fruits are coming from California and elsewhere, and it’s picked prematurely to survive the thousands of miles to get there,” chief executive Robert Fireman says. “We have the competitive edge from savings in transportation costs.”
In New York, there used to be more room on the ground. In the 1990s, there were several thousand community gardens, but as the city boomed, they were sold for development, and now the number is about 600. Willie Morgan, 71, has kept a vegetable garden in Harlem for 40 years, moving to a smaller plot when his previous
garden was developed. Now buildings are being constructed on three sides of him.
“It’s blocking my sunlight,” Morgan says.
Of course, rooftop farming is not an altogether new solution. Just after the turn of the past century, a utopian vision of self-sufficiency led the Ansonia Hotel on the Upper West Side to keep a rooftop barnyard including 500 chickens, many ducks, six goats — and a small bear.
Then in the 1990s, Upper East Side supermarket owner Eli Zabar became a rooftop pioneer of contemporary times. He built a greenhouse that could harness the heat of his bakery’s ovens below for the plants.
“I had always wanted to grow tomatoes out of season,” Zabar says. Now, he has about a half-acre of greenhouses on two buildings, staffed by two full-time employees, and he sells the produce in his stores.
Green Roofs for Healthy Cities, which represents companies that create green roofs, says the number of projects its members constructed in the United States grew by 35 percent last year, though no one tracks how many involved vegetables and fruits. The group is seeing so much new interest in farming that it is starting an agricultural committee, President Steven Peck says.
“Everyone has in their mind that you have to start small, but we decided to just start big,” says Novak, the partner on the Greenpoint rooftop farm. “People we work with say, ‘Let’s start with basil in planter boxes.’ I say, ‘Let’s cover your whole roof in dirt and start a farm.’ ”
“It’s different from the farm movement in the ’70s, when people just wanted to get away,” she says. “I want to change people’s minds about food, and I can do that in the city. And also I love opera. When I’m off in a remote farm, I think, ‘Wow, I can’t go to the Met.’ ”
Gardens for Gourmets From Rooftop to Table with Eli Zabar
Zabar’s Two Manhattan Rooftop Gardens
Interviewed by Adam Gopnik
Wednesday, June 1, 2011
Eli Zabar, owner of Eli’s Manhattan, E.A.T, Eli’s Vinegar Factory, and partner with the Peconic Land Trust in the Amagansett Farmer’s Market on Long Island, grows salad, herbs, and tomatoes on his Upper East Side rooftop with bees to help pollinate the plants.
In conversation with Adam Gopnik, Zabar will discuss the importance of fresh produce and how time spent in the markets of France has shaped his work and lifestyle.
Get the discounted three-talk package and enjoy all three Gardens for Gourmets talks which additionally include:
The Prince Gardener
Monday, May 2 at 7pm
FIAF, Le Skyroom
NYC Beekeepers Association
Editor’s Note: One reason for the increasing swarming of bees in NYC, could be the fast growing roof farming, that New Yorkers have taken to. For example, as a part of his roof farm, Eli Zabar has bee hives, specifically, for the pollination of his rooftop crops. These bees are not dangerous. We should all love the fact that they feel comfortable enough to adapt to the ways of urban farming. They’re here to stay. ________Joyce Hays
As Swarms Startle New York, Officer on Bee Beat Stays Busy
Apprentice beekeepers learn about preventing swarms, and how to transfer bees to new hives, at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Photo: Emily S. Rueb/The New York Times
The New York Times, by Emily S. Rueb, June 21, 2012 — One swarm covered the side-view mirror of a Volvo station wagon in a lot by the Hudson River, trapping a family of three inside. Another humming cluster the size of a watermelon bent a tree branch in front of a Chase Bank on the Lower East Side, attracting a crowd of gasping onlookers. And for several hours, thousands of bees carpeted a two-foot-tall red standpipe on the patio of a South Street Seaport restaurant, sending would-be outdoor diners elsewhere.
This spring in New York City, clumps of homeless bees have turned up, often in inconvenient public places, at nearly double the rate of past years. A warm winter followed by an early spring, experts say, has created optimal breeding conditions. That may have caught some beekeepers off guard, especially those who have taken up the practice in recent years.
When Happy Miller, the Seaport restaurant manager, saw tourists flailing their arms in a cloud of airborne black specks late last month, he closed the glass door and quietly panicked.
“Oh my God, what do I do?” he thought before calling 311, security guards and local news outfits. The television trucks, he said, were first to arrive. It took several hours before Officer Anthony Planakis, the New York Police Department’s unofficial beekeeper in residence, arrived with a metal swarm box and a vacuum to collect the 17,500 or so homeless creatures.
Officer Planakis, who has been responding to swarm calls since 1995, said this had been New York’s busiest year of swarming he had ever experienced. Since mid-March, he said, he has tended to 31 jobs in the five boroughs, more than twice the number he handled last season, which is normally mid-April through July. “It’s been pretty hectic,” he said, adding that this week’s warmer temperatures could encourage more bees to take off.
This resurgence comes after several years of a puzzling decline in the honeybee population. Since 2006, beekeepers have reported that an average of 30 percent of their hives have vanished each year. The phenomenon — known as Colony Collapse Disorder — has prompted vigorous research to determine the cause, but has so far yielded inconclusive and ambiguous results.
The swarms, while anxiety-provoking, have resulted in no major injuries.
It can be difficult to trace a swarm to its source. Officer Planakis said the bees he had collected were wild, but some beekeepers believe they were fleeing the poorly managed hives that have proliferated on rooftops, in backyards and on balconies since the city lifted a decade-long ban on raising Apis mellifera — the common, nonaggressive honeybee — in March 2010.
Since then, 114 people have registered 182 hives with the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Many others say they are reluctant to divulge the location of their hives for fear of retribution from landlords, neighbors and the city. Some estimate the actual number of hives may be as high as 400.
“There’s a stigma to a beekeeper whose hive swarms,” said Joe Langford, who watched from his kitchen window in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, on a Sunday in May as a 20-foot-high cloud of his bees blotted out the sun before landing on a nearby tree, to a few muffled screams below. Before he could think about where to get a ladder, they had vanished.
“I was awe-struck and mortified at the same time,” he said.
This year’s unusually mild winter, the fourth warmest on record, may have allowed more bees to survive. Flowering plants and trees began blossoming several weeks early, causing colonies to peak early. In the spring, a colony can explode tenfold to take in nectar. The early arrival could have caught beekeepers off guard; if they failed to add enough space, the bees would follow a queen in search of a roomier hollow to call home.
“This year, all the rules were broken,” said Dennis vanEngelsdorp, a researcher at the University of Maryland who helped to lead a national survey of managed honey bee colonies released this month. It showed that about 21.9 percent of bee colonies nationwide died over the winter, a substantial drop from the 30 percent average losses reported in the previous five years.
When asked if this meant a rebound in the population, Mr. vanEngelsdorp said on Skype from Pretoria, South Africa, “It’s too early to tell.”
The state’s Agriculture Department estimates there are 60,000 to 70,000 colonies in New York. And the state’s 17 or so beekeeping clubs have generally doubled in size in the last five years, said Paul Cappy, the head apiculturist for the Agriculture Department’s Apiary Inspection Program.
A swarm is a perfectly natural phenomenon, Mr. Cappy said; “It’s good for the bee population, but not for the beekeepers.”
Defenders of the humble insect are quick to point out that when swarming, honeybees tend to be docile, and are unlikely to sting.
“It’s up to beekeepers to practice swarm prevention techniques and regular hive maintenance,” said Andrew Coté, the president and founder of the New York City Beekeepers Association, adding that many beekeepers were “poor stewards” for not regularly inspecting their hives. “If they treated their dog or cat in the same way, they would be taken up on charges,” he said.
Beekeepers should tend to their hives every 7 to 10 days depending on the weather to check for diseases and a healthy laying queen, along with signs of swarming, Mr. Coté said. Swarming, usually brought on by overcrowding or poor ventilation, does not occur without specific telltale signs, he said, like queen cells being built to prepare the colony for the new monarch.
Mr. Coté advocates stricter regulations. “But you can’t regulate common sense,” he added.
Dr. Waheed Bajwa, the executive director of the city health department’s Office of Vector Surveillance and Control, said he believed that the city’s beekeepers were adequately managing their hives this season and that the department was doing its best to keep up with the influx of rooftop and backyard beekeepers.
“This is something new for New York City,” he said, adding that the department was not planning to change its policies. “If we need to make any adjustment in the future, we will. But at this time, we don’t see there’s any need.”
On the northern edge of the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Chase Emmons, a managing partner of Brooklyn Grange Rooftop Farm, was prepared. He set up bait hives and added a product that mixes queen pheromones and lemon grass oil to nearby trees to lure the queen and her swarm to nearby locations.
Two weeks ago, he was standing in the slow-moving cloud when it took off. It was like diving with sharks, he said.
“They’re not aggressive,” he said. “There’s a weird vibe where they have no interest in you.”
Mr. Emmons, who has organized a yearlong apprenticeship program with a dozen aspiring beekeepers as part of the apiary, acknowledged bee guardians had had to stay on their toes. But there is an upside.
“City folk should be happy that we’re getting early-season honey,” he said.
Bees Swarm NYC Mailbox
Nature’s Amazing and Beautiful Work of Art
A giant swarm of bees covered a mailbox on a Little Italy street corner Tuesday, closing down the sidewalk for hours and drawing dozens of curious onlookers.
Thousands of bees attached to the side of a mailbox at the corner of Mulberry and Grand Streets around noon Tuesday, forcing police to close off a portion of the sidewalk and keep an eye on things until the bees could be safely removed.
“It’s like a movie scene. It’s pretty cool.” said Mike Costabile, 25, who works nearby and was out getting coffee when he noticed the swarm. “I kind of wish there were more.”
The mailbox, located in front of the Italian-American Museum at 155 Mulberry Street, was hard to make out under the blanket of bees covering almost one entire side. The museum was closed at the time. It did not appear that anyone had been hurt by the swarm.
Massive Bee Swarm Shuts Down Little Italy Corner
An NYPD-sanctioned beekeeper arrived about 3:30 p.m., working with another local beekeeper to carefully herd the thousands of bees into separate containers.
“This is one of the largest [swarms] I’ve seen,” said Elie Miodownik, of the New York City Beekeepers Association, who estimated the swarm at about 15,000 bees.
He arrived at the scene wearing full beekeeping gear after getting a call about the incident, and joined the NYPD beekeeper in corralling the insects after locating the queen bee.
Once the queen was identified and removed, the two scooped thousands of bees off the mailbox to be brought to other hives in Queens.
“It’s fun, I love getting swarmed,” added Miodownik, 25. “I think it’s the most fun part of beekeeping.”
He explained that the incident likely occurred after a nearby beehive became too crowded and the queen and her worker bees decided to relocate. It’s a common phenomenon this time of year, he noted.
“It means that there’s a beehive within a couple blocks,” he said, adding that somebody nearby is likely keeping a hive.
The beekeepers removed most of the insects by about 5 p.m., but left a man-made hive containing the queen next to the mailbox for the other bees to eventually make their way inside.
Police kept the corner closed off while the remaining bees buzzed overhead, but Miodownik said no one was in danger because the queen was gone and there was no honey for the bees to guard.
“They harmless because they’re not protecting anything,” he said.
Bees Swarm on Wall Street
NYC Bees Swarm on Man’s Car
Bees Swarm NYC Store (lower Manhattan)
Bees Swarm on Mott Street in NYC Chinatown
Delicate Diaphanous Wings and Little Fur Jacket