Consider this: When The Design Trust for Public Space released its Five Borough Farm report last year, it found more than 700 food-producing sites within the five boroughs—a number exponentially higher than in other large cities, even those with more farm-friendly climates.
Some of those sites are school and community gardens, but others are full-fledged commercial farms, more of which are sure to emerge. The old Pfizer Building in Brooklyn, for example, recently offered up its 75,000-square-foot roof, says Design Trust executive director Susan Chin, and more and more residential buildings are including rooftop produce in their blueprints.
And it’s not just about growing the juiciest tomato ever in your Caprese salad. “Urban agriculture is about so much more than just food,” Chin says, about the report’s findings. “It’s really about health, social, economic, and ecological benefits.”
Here are New York City’s biggest urban farms, where good things are growing, and where spinach often gets a skyline view… —Lisa Elaine Held
Photo: The Brooklyn Grange
This one-acre farm within Battery Park started with an idea from Millenium High School’s environmental club, and it’s got a unique look: its fence is made of 5,000 bamboo poles in the shape of a wild turkey (in honor of a famous Battery resident, a wild turkey named Zelda).
The farm’s main focus is education, and more than 2,000 students plant and harvest a huge variety of produce—arugula, beets, peas, kohlrabi, edamame, strawberries, and more.
The produce is then used in the cafeterias of downtown schools and is sold at a market in the park one Saturday each month.
This Long Island City-based rooftop farm debuted atop an industrial building in July of 2010 and opened a second enormous location at the Brooklyn Navy Yard last year, bringing its total farm area to 2.5 acres.
The team, led by head farmer Ben Flanner, grows over 40,000 pounds of organic produce per year, including 40 varieties of tomatoes, greens, peppers, herbs, carrots, and so much more. They have weekly markets at both farm locations and in Greenpoint and operate a CSA. And your plate will include their veggies at restaurants like Roberta’s, Vesta, Marlow & Sons, and Northeast Kingdom.
The farm also hosts events like sunset dinner parties and yoga classes.
Owned by Broadway Stages, Greenpoint’s Eagle Street Farm was built by Goode Grene in 2009 and is run by farmer, educator, and activist Annie Novack.
The farm grows lots of produce like kale, radishes, and hot peppers, and also harvests honey from three beehives. It sells its crops at a weekly on-site market and to local restaurants like Brooklyn Brine and Eastern District.
Novack also runs Growing Chefs, so the farm is involved in a bounty of food-education programs.
You’ve probably noticed Gotham Greens’ butterhead lettuce and basil on the shelf at Whole Foods or Union Market, and it’s about to become even more ubiquitous.
The greenhouse-style farm started growing its produce on a 15,000-square-foot Greenpoint rooftop using soil-free hydroponics in 2011, and its second 20,000-square-foot location will debut atop Whole Foods’ new store in Gowanus this fall, where its crop diversity will expand. In addition to selling at a slow of local groceries, like Key Food and Westside Market, it also provides greens to Gramercy Tavern.
“A greenhouse provides several advantages, explains co-founder and CEO Viraj Puri,”like year-round production, climate control that contributes to more consistent, high-quality yields, and crop protection.”
No, it’s not in Midtown Manhattan, but this enormous 47-acre site is located within city limits, in Glen Oaks in eastern Queens, and it’s the longest continuously farmed site in New York State (since 1697!).
Owned by the city’s Parks Department, it uses sustainable agriculture methods to grow its produce and is the only city farm with livestock. You can buy its honey, eggs, herbs, and veggies in the greenhouse gift shop after a tranquil tour (hayrides are more fun than cab rides) or at the Union Square Greenmarket on Fridays.
It even donates overflow produce to City Harvest and other food banks.