Eagle Street Rooftop Farm
By Judith Hausman, Urban Farm Contributing Editor
Wednesday, March 30, 2011
Courtesy Annie Novak
At only three years old, New York's Eagle Street Rooftop Farm produces crops, eggs and honey to sell at farmers markets, to restaurants and through a community-supported agriculture operation in addition to being a center to build community.
Other cities, notably Chicago, may be further along in using green rooftops, if not growing food on them. Nonetheless, the rooftop growing efforts of young urban farmers and their communities in my neck of the woods are still impressive.
In 2010, Brooklyn Grange (actually in Queens) was the biggest yet. Farmer Ben Flanner managed a 40,000-square-foot farm (just less than an acre), growing greens, cabbage, tomato plants, corn, carrots, Swiss chard, and various herbs and root vegetables in the sky.
This year Gotham Greens will finally start producing hydroponically from a rooftop-greenhouse project in Jamaica, Queens. The 15,000-square-foot facility will annually produce more than 30 tons of premium-quality, pesticide-free, sustainably grown vegetables, fruit and culinary herbs. The greenhouse will be partially powered by on-site solar panels and irrigated by captured rainwater and will participate in other energy-saving innovations, such as bicycle-only distribution.
But nobody can beat the view from the tomato patch at Annie Novak’s Eagle Street Rooftop Farm. From the beds in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, weeders can look across the East River at the United Nations, the Chrysler building and the Empire State building. This year marks Novak’s third growing season.
The roof Eagle Street Rooftop Farm sits on is protected by layers of root barrier, felt and drainage material that minimize watering and protect the skin of the roof. The growing medium — 200,000 pounds of a specially engineered soil mix called Rooflite — is enriched with post-mushroom materials and composted food scraps from the Brooklyn Food Co-op.
Just a few years out of college, Novak had some farm internships under her belt when she started her farm. Now, on top of the third-floor warehouse owned by Broadway Stages, 6,000 square feet of garden produces enough to supply a farm stand, a CSA, a farmers’ market stall and a number of restaurants. (Deliveries made by bicycle!) Novak’s onions are mulched with hair from local barber shops. (There are no grass clippings or hay in an urban farm.) She has developed a narrow crop range that’s best adapted to the roof’s arduous growing conditions, such as the hot summers, the windy winters and the 6 inches of soil that precludes root crops.
In 2010, Eagle Steet Rooftop Farm added six chickens in moveable cages to supply eggs and fertilize the beds. A few beehives stand on less stable pieces of roof beyond the beds. But produce, eggs and honey aren’t the only things growing here. Eagle Street builds community through visits from local school children, workshops for other potential urban farmers, and support of chefs who clamor for arugula grown so nearby. The farm is open weekly to the public and hosts two yoga workshops and a Kite Flying Day.
To tend the garden, Novak depends on volunteers and an intern program in cooperation with a second nonprofit Novak created called Growing Chefs. Its mission is to use farm-based education because “to connect to food, from field to fork, is to raise a generation of healthier eaters, more confident chefs and better ecologically minded citizens.” It would be thrilling for any gardener-farmer to cut tender lettuces in full view of the skyscrapers of Metropolis, and Novak’s energy and leadership have helped that happen.
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