When you step out onto the rooftop farm of Brooklyn Grange, it's hard to believe you are in New York City. Chicken coops and rows of fields are not what you would expect to find on the roof of this industrial building in Long Island City, Queens. But Brooklyn Grange is an innovative rooftop farming business that will open your eyes to the exciting possibilities of urban farming. Founded in 2010, they operate the world's largest rooftop soil farms with locations in Brooklyn and Queens, New York. Each year they grow over 50,000 pounds of organically-cultivated produce! Plus, they promote healthy local communities by offering educational programming and green roof consulting and installation services. Keep reading to see lots more pics, and learn more about my recent visit to Brooklyn Grange's Long Island City rooftop farm.
One of the most interesting things about the farm is that they don't use any pesticides to keep the bugs away. Instead they use a combination of natural remedies to create a mini-ecosystem that keeps the bugs at bay. One way they do this is with chickens! They have a little chicken coop right there on the roof, as well as a portable chicken pen that allows the chickens to roam around different plots and eat up little bugs and pests. In addition to chickens, they introduced ladybugs and praying mantids which prey on pests. Finally, they spray the crops with a mix of water and peppermint soap to deter insects.
The green roof is made up of several layers of materials to create a healthy and sturdy growing environment. First, the concrete roof surface is covered with a special plastic lining to protect it from plant roots. This is important because plant roots are very sneaky little things that can grow into cracks and cause structural damage! On top of this, there are several layers of felt with a drainage layer of egg-carton-like material in between. Finally, the crops are grown in the top layer of soil which is 8-10" deep. The close arrangement of the plants allows the root networks to hold the plants in place and protect them from wind erosion - a considerable threat on a rooftop farm. The crops are watered with a drip tape irrigation system.
They have two bee hives on the Long Island City farm, and 30 more throughout the city. The bees pollinate plants on the farm as well as other plants within a five mile radius. The honey can be harvested all season and is available for purchase at Brooklyn Grange's weekly farm stands.
Brooklyn Grange partners with several non-profit programs to provide educational information and farm tours for local students, building community and inspiring a new generation of urban farmers.
Did you know that about half of the Long Island City rooftop grows salad greens? This is because they grow low to the ground, making them naturally wind resistant. They grow quickly, typically one month from seed to harvest, and each planting can be cut and regrown several times - making them an abundant and efficient crop.
I had no idea that kale grows like mini-palm trees! Check out those purple stalks. It's like mini kale Hollywood.
The rooftop growing season begins in May and lasts through November. But they have a greenhouse to get a jump start on seedlings a bit earlier. Most of the plants start in the greenhouse before they are transferred to the rooftop soil.
On the rooftop, they have this gorgeous gigantic picnic table made with reclaimed wood salvaged from post-Hurricane Sandy debris. Several times a year they host "butcher paper dinners" where they roll out a big sheet of butcher paper down the table. Then they serve a delicious, low-waste, family-style feast made with rooftop harvest and other goodies. Everyone just leaves their scraps on the paper, and they roll up the whole thing at the end and compost it. It's super easy and sustainable, and a beautiful way to build community and celebrate rooftop farming.
In addition to selling produce at local markets, Brooklyn Grange also sells to local restaurants such as Balthazar and Tipsy Parsons. They offer all kinds of goodies from salad greens to tomatoes, Jerusalem artichokes, hot sauce, and honey. Check out the Brooklyn Grange website to learn more about the exciting history and founders of this innovative business. You can also learn where to buy their products, and how to schedule a tour of their beautiful rooftop farms.