Go Upstairs and Pick a Cucumber

New Yorkers love rooftops. For years, we’ve swooned over apartments with rooftop terraces. Roof bars in Manhattan can name their price for a cocktail. And the roof of the Metropolitan Museum is known around the world for its one-of-a-kind art installations.

At the same time, there’s copious unused rooftop space in the boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens and the even further reaches of New York and its environs. Now, agricultural enthusiasts and entrepreneurs are using some of this previously fallow space to run thriving rooftop farms.

With a combined two and a half acres in Brooklyn and Queens, Brooklyn Grange is the largest urban rooftop soil farm in the world. Started in 2010, the farm uses organic principles to grow thousands of pounds of produce each year. Brooklyn Grange sells to local restaurants through CSAs, and at market stands in Brooklyn and Queens. In addition to growing vegetables and herbs, it also houses chickens and an apiary that breeds hardy New York bees who help pollinate the farm and create delicious honey. “The greens have been pretty fantastic (sorrel, kale, chard, spinach),” notes a Yelp reviewer from Astoria, Queens. “I highly recommend buying from the stand as they have GREAT cucumbers and eggs.”

The urban farm is not an attempt to replace rural farms, but a complement. The founders of Brooklyn Grange hope to provide a living wage to (very) local farm workers, build a sense of community around the farms, and educate the public through active outreach. That’s not to mention the farm’s environmental benefits to the city. They plan to expand the farm’s acreage and programs each year. It is financed by private equity, grassroots fundraising, loans, and crowd-funding platforms. The business broke even during its first year and grew by 40 percent in its second.

Anastasia Cole Plakias, one of the founders, says, “We frequently remark on how lucky we all are to have met one another. None of us could have accomplished what we’ve done alone.” She adds that Brooklyn Grange is receiving more and more interest from vegetable-lovers in New York who want to start their own farms atop their urban residences and businesses. “We can’t wait to see what the future of urban agriculture looks like!”

Through the winter, the Brooklyn Grange rooftops have been home to cover crops like clover and buckwheat. For New York readers, CSA share registration is now online. Also, keep an eye on the farm’s website for upcoming summertime events such as dinners at the farms (complete with gorgeous views and produce grown just a few feet away.

Cara Anselmo on Twitter
Cara Anselmo
Cara Anselmo, MS, RDN, is a nutritionist and certified yoga instructor in New York City. Follow Cara on Twitter.