NEW YORK—With smokestacks and cranes in the distant view, it is hard to believe a 43,000-square-foot farm can exist on a rooftop.
Although community gardens and rooftop farms have been gaining popularity for helping to produce urban local food and educating children, Brooklyn Grange’s farm has an additional purpose.
Using vegetation, soil, and other infrastructure, the farm is expected to absorb 1.5 million gallons of storm water per year.
“Eighty percent of greenhouse gases in New York City comes from buildings, while 20 percent comes from transportation,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said while touring the farm on the roof of Building Number Three at the Brooklyn Navy Yard Thursday, in an effort to highlight the city’s water improvement programs.
This statistic is the opposite for most other major cities, but with New York City’s heavy rainfall and a major component of greenhouse gases being water vapor, the city is investing in the farm as a part of its water infrastructure.
The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP)’s Green Infrastructure Grant Program has awarded the Brooklyn Grange $592,730 to build the farm—its largest singular award yet.
The city’s current sewage system has both wastewater and rainwater going through a single pipe. This combined sewer overflow leads to the leaking of sewage water into New York Harbor during heavy storms, when the system gets taxed to its limits. Green roofs reduce stormwater runoff, and also lower heat loss in the winter and heat gain in the summer.
Nevin Cohen, an Environmental Studies professor at The New School, points out that the city’s plan to spend $187 million on green infrastructure over the next four years is more cost-effective than its original plan to spend $6.8 billion over the next two decades on projects such as building forest pavements in parking lots.
“You kill two birds with one stone by using money dedicated to reducing stormwater overflow and applying that to new community gardens and urban farms,” Cohen said.
As Bloomberg’s entourage of bodyguards and photographers gathered in front of the farm’s chicken coop, they were greeted by silence, and not a single chicken.
A Brooklyn Grange farmer snuck behind the coop, and with a few words, a chicken stuck its head out. This farmer calls himself the “chicken whisperer.”
The farm has two flocks of egg-laying hens, and a commercial apiary that holds more than 30 beehives that will produce 1,500 pounds of honey annually. The farm grows cucumbers, herbs, heirloom tomatoes, eggplants, and kale using 12-inch deep growing beds.
Ben Flanner, the “head farmer” and founder of Brooklyn Grange, said he has spent countless hours on the phone with environmental experts from Penn State and Cornell University to get things right.
Since opening a farm at a Long Island City location in 2010, that farm has sold over 40,000 pounds of vegetables through Community Support Agriculture (CSA) groups, weekly farm stands, and to restaurants.
The Navy Yard farm, which opened in May, is capable of an estimated 20,000 pounds of produce a year.
Brooklyn Grange is continuing talks with several landlords to create more rooftop farms, and they are not alone.
BrightFarms in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, will be the world’s largest rooftop farm. Construction on the abandoned water house should be completed by 2013. The farm is expected to grow up to 1 million pounds of produce annually.
In May, the City Council passed ZoneGreen, a package that will make revamping old buildings for greater energy efficiency a much smoother process.
The benefits of urban farms are undeniable, but some critics worry exhaust fumes might affect the nutrition of produce grown in urban farms.
Answering the Critics“The question of [whether] it is safe to grow food in the city always comes up, and it’s is an important one,” Cohen said. “The atmospheric deposition of chemicals in cities is a particular problem for urban vegetables.”
Cohen encouraged the public to emphasize the importance of looking at the larger urban agriculture picture.
“If we can reduce the traffic of bringing food into the city, that is a reduction of air pollution; if we can make our buildings insulated better so we use less air conditioning in the summer, that is a reduction of air pollution,” Cohen said.
“It is a full life-cycle we need to think about and not just a surface issue of air pollution in the city,” he said.
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