Urban ‘Farmers’ Plant Acres of Field High Above Streets of New York on Rooftops
May 1, 2019
The last place you’d expect to see a massive, organic farm is in New York City.
High above the sidewalks in one of the dense metropolis’s outer boroughs, though, a group of sustainable farmers have been cultivating a 2.5-acre plot of greens and goodness for locals to consume. And its success bodes well for the future of big cities—and the planet in general.
Brooklyn Grange was founded in 2010 by a former Wisconsinite using loans and local city grants to build a pair of rooftop farms in Astoria and the Brooklyn Navy Yard. They grow everything from vegetables to herbs, providing fresh, local produce to both the Brooklyn and Queens communities while proving that sustainable, green farming is possible in even the most unlikely of places.
It wasn’t easy to create the massive farms. It took six days of using massive cranes to get 3,000-pound (approx. 1,361-kilogram) soil sacks up onto the roof of the building in Astoria, which stretches along Northern Boulevard, and they couldn’t just build the farm up on top of a regular roof. There’s a root-barrier at the very bottom of the farms, preventing the roots from penetrating the top of the roof, then a layer of felt and a series of drainage mats that contain small cups to hold excess water. Finally, the soil was added on top, completing the man-made farm in the middle of America’s most bustling metropolis.
The drainage cups under the soil store water close enough for the plants to eventually use it, limiting the amount of additional water needed to keep the farms alive, and the soil used to grow the plants isn’t real soil at all—it’s actually a special man-made blend that breaks down into special nutrients to keep the plants thriving.
Since the company was founded a decade ago, they’ve moved on from just farming their own rooftop plots. In addition to hosting weddings and brunches, they also provide a consulting service that helps others learn how to turn their own rooftops into sustainable gardens. The goal is to provide an opportunity for anyone who wants to use nontraditional spaces to grow plants and food, making healthy options more accessible and contributing to the improvement of the environment in the process.
They’ve been able to provide consulting to help building owners grow corn in Midtown, tomatoes in Queens, and have even announced plans to open up a third farm in Sunset Park, a diverse community along the water in Brooklyn.
The world still has a ways to go before the offset of pollution and industrialization is widespread. Industrial processes have proven detrimental to both the ecosystems and ourselves; inventing technological solutions, as good as they are, has always been fraught with obstacles. Yet, returning to the basics—seeds, soil, and sunlight—shall remain a safe place to start.