The term “urban agriculture” brings a variety of imagery to mind: windowsill herb gardens and vertically strung buckets of tomato plants, the parcels of land on the corner of your block filled with your neighbors’ hydrangea plants and zucchini flowers. But in reality, urban farming is much bigger than what many imagine. It sees your fire escape philodendrons and raises you a couple thousand square feet. It is, according to the United Nations, “an industry that produces, processes, and markets food…throughout the urban area…to yield a diversity of crops and livestock,” a commercial venture that both takes from and gives back tenfold to the community it exists within.
This idea of adapting a commonly rural industry to a metropolitan location is not a new one; archaeologists have discovered that in ancient Egypt and at Machu Picchu, designated spaces were carved into densely populated cities in order to grow food for the community. But while the Incas, lacking our modern day transportation and supply chain developments, relied on this urban agriculture for survival, modern day city dwellers are choosing to grow and purchase produce from neighborhood farms not out of necessity, but for the betterment of their city’s economic, social, and environmental health. As the miles your food has to travel to get to your kitchen decrease, so does the impact of pollutants created though long distance transportation. At the same time, consumers are getting in season produce at its peak, their dollars contributing not to some far away economy but to the wallets of their local farmers, who in turn reinvest in their communities through every paycheck they write to their laborers and every person they help to educate on the benefits of their movement.
Brooklyn Grange, with a total of 108,000 square feet of farmland in both Queens and the Brooklyn Navy Yard, is the world’s largest rooftop soil farm. Financed through crowd sourcing, private equity, and loans, the company was created to grow nutritious vegetables for New York City in a sustainable manner, while promoting education and healthy eating through its partnerships with local non-profits. Barley, oats, herbs, carrots, greens, and over 40 varietals of tomatoes all flourish, making their way to the plates of New Yorkers via weekly green market farm stands, the company’s CSA program, and the restaurants that purchase from Brooklyn Grange directly.
Mike Matteo is a sous chef at Lafayette, one of the Manhattan restaurants that rely on Brooklyn Grange for its biweekly delivery of arugula, seasonal mixed greens, micro kale, coriander berries, and more. “The appeal [of ordering produce through BG] is a combination of its incredible quality and the fact that they’re doing some really cool stuff over there. And it’s close, so I can stop by to check out what they’re growing and see firsthand what we can incorporate into the menu.” (Browsing the crates of produce in the restaurants prep area, I couldn’t help but notice that the heirloom tomato supply came from none other than Hepworth Farms).
Wandering the beds of mizuna and beans isn’t just for the cooking professionals, either. The farm has a full events calendar with weekly workshops ranging from cocktail making to beekeeping, tours of the Navy Yard facility, and Monday sunset yoga open to anyone in search of a beautiful view to pair with their shavasana. Check out their website at www.brooklyngrangefarm.com for a full calendar of events. Have more questions about urban agriculture, such as how polluted city air affects crops or how to build your own rooftop farm? That’s all there, too.