by Elena Abou Mrad
When one thinks about New York, the first things that come to mind are skyscrapers, congested streets and smog…not exactly nature! My expectations were defied by one of the first places I visited in my six months in the Big Apple: Eagle Street Rooftop Farm in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.
It was my very first week in New York, it was the end of July, and I was seeking unconventional things to do in the city. Thanks to Time Out New York, I discovered the existence of rooftop farms, and that one of them was open to the public during that weekend. You can imagine my amazement when, after going up various flights of stairs of an anonymous building, I found tomatoes, carrots and sunflowers with the East River and the Manhattan Skyline in the background.
This organic farm, owned by Broadway Stages, was installed on the top of a three story warehouse in 2009 by green roof design and installation firm Goode Green. The most monumental part of the job was lifting 200,000 pounds of soil on the rooftop by crane. It may sound absurd, but the layer of growing medium is lightweight, and it is even an advantage for the building: working as an isolating material, it helps cooling the warehouse below in the summer, reducing the cooling costs and environmental impact.
Since 2010, Farm Manager Annie Novak has been organizing the crops to optimize the production in this non-traditional environment. Over the years, it emerged that the most botanically successful crops are hot peppers, cherry tomatoes, and sage. If finding vegetables on a New York rooftop sounds incredible to you, just think that at Eagle Street Rooftop Farm you can find bees, rabbits and chicken. The hen-house is located on the rooftop, too, with an amazing view of the skyline…better than my apartment!
Eagle Street Rooftop Farm is open to the public the last Sunday of the month from May to October. From 11 am to 4 pm, visitors can buy freshly harvested organic produce and give a hand in the orchard: for example, I helped harvesting sunflower seeds from dry flowers.
Eagle Street Rooftop Farm plays an important role in the Greenpoint community. First of all, it works as a site-based farmer’s market, and provides local restaurant with fresh organic produce (rigorously delivered by bicycle). A virtuous circle is established: restaurants buy produce, eggs and honey and contribute to the farm’s composting program with their organic waste. In partnership with Growing Chefs, an organization that promotes food education, the farm hosts lectures and workshops for people of all ages. Topics include urban agriculture, the art of cooking locally, city composting and beekeeping.
In a fast-paced city like New York it is easy to forget the relationship that binds as to the food we eat: without the opportunity to see where and how food is produced, it seems to appear magically on supermarket shelves. In my opinion, rooftop farms are a brilliant solution. Integrated with the urban environment, they help people rediscover the joy of growing and consuming food that is genuinely good, not only for taste but also for the community and the environment.