Urban Farmers: Be the Change You Want to See in the World
Volunteers at Greenpoint’s Rooftop Farms [photo by Linda Ciampoli]
There’s been a lot of buzz lately here in the Big Apple about a young man named Ben Flanner, who quit his job at E*Trade not long ago and nearly left the city to intern on a rural farm. (See here and here and here, too.) Only, he didn’t really want to leave this bustling, diverse, fabulous city-that-never sleeps. He just wanted to be a farmer.
Through the folks at the green-roof design firm Goode Green, Ben met a guy who owns a huge warehouse in the Greenpoint neighborhood of Brooklyn. A deal was struck. With the help of the extraordinary gardening pro Annie Novak (she is also the Children’s Gardening Coordinator at the New York Botanical Garden) and many volunteers, Ben has planted dozens of crops on the 6,000 square-foot roof and is already selling his produce—mainly mixed greens, kale, and other greens—to area restaurants like Marlow & Sons and Anella on Franklin St.
Cabbage, lettuce, beans, and…sage? thrive on Greenpoint’s Rooftop Farms
I paid a visit to my local farm (called Rooftop Farms) on Sunday and was blown away by how fertile and fabulous it is. There were rows and rows of tomato plants already reaching up to my waist. There were picture-perfect cabbages—looking as though they were a set design from Mr. McGregor’s garden. There were several varieties of swiss chard (red and yellow), edamame, arugula, lettuces (again, many varieties), radishes, peas, red peppers, cauliflower, kale, and herbs. Annie told a group of interested would-be gardeners and volunteers that they did their first planting at the end of April. It’s now only July 14th.
It seems like magic to me. Granted it’s been raining a lot lately, but this garden is ridiculously beautiful. It looks like it’s been there for two years, not two-and-a-half months.
Annie Novak, always animated when talking about what she loves: farming
And as I stood there, marveling at the cornucopia before me, the skyline of Manhattan serving as a dramatic backdrop, it occurred to me how this one gutsy project (and many others like it across this country) will change our food system. Just seeing Rooftop Farms may inspire gung-ho unemployed locavores to take on similar projects across the city—and the country. (Cue Bruce Springsteen’s cover of Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land.”) Among the potential rooftop farmers who had gathered to hear Annie speak were two teachers hoping to launch an edible schoolyard at their public school and a Brooklyn man who has already launched a hydroponic farm in his Bushwick loft. He’s looking to expand—so if anyone knows of a big, cheap warehouse in Bushwick…send me a note!
For now, Annie and Ben are welcoming volunteers on Sundays (though they may soon add additional days). They also do a free class on Sunday afternoon at 2:00, during which Annie shares composting tips, basic green roof-ing secrets, and answers general gardening queries.
As one of my friends said recently (after killing several basil plants), “I am a bad farmer—a better consumer.” All the better reason to support your local farmers—be they working from a rooftop or a field. Know of any inspiring urban gardeners in your neighborhood?
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