NYC, one of the world’s largest cities has an iconic skyline of concrete, granite and steel, and you’d be hard pressed to find anything growing on the cold facade of the city, right? Wrong. New York City is in fact home to Brooklyn Grange, the largest rooftop farm in the world, spanning 40,000 square feet of an ex-industrial building in Queens.
Earlier this year, we interviewed Steven Peck, founder of Toronto-based Green Roofs For Healthy Cities, who told us about the importance of urban agriculture in solving issues of the loss of global biodiversity, and food shortages in cities. You can read the full interview here.
Every flat top roof has the potential to establish a community garden, a space for food production and of course a space for stormwater management. They can solve issues of employment, food scarcity and create economic incentives for developers
“Every flat top roof has the potential to establish a community garden, a space for food production and of course a space for stormwater management. They can solve issues of employment, food scarcity and create economic incentives for developers”, says Peck. A relatively new addition to our urban landscape, we new find examples of green roofs sprouting up across the globe in Vancouver, Singapore and other major metropolitan areas where our natural environment is being encroached upon by our rapidly growing cities.
Brooklyn Grange operates three rooftop farms in the city, which includes the city’s largest bee apiary, and most recently mushroom cultivation in an old chemical plant in South Williamsburg. This urban agriculture experience is not limited to its skilled farmers, but Grange Farms opens its green doors to the public who can shop for local produce, volunteer and also take part in both youth and industry based workshops.
More than 50,000 pounds of organically cultivated produces is grown at the farm annually, and the sustainability of cities is at the heart of the project, leading the way to healthier and more resilient urban environments.
Ben Flanner, the founder (and head farmer!) of Brooklyn Grange initially began with co-founding Eagle Street Rooftop Farms, experimenting with the development of a 6,000 square foot project, which then informed the growth of the enormous Grange Farm project atop Brooklyn’s buildings today. While rooftop farms are not a familiar sight for most of the Big Apple’s residents, the farmers at Brooklyn Grange hope to reconnect their city to agriculture by improving the citizens’ access to healthy, chemical-free food. The produce is available for everyday visitors, as well as to businesses in the city, including pizzerias, cafes and caterers.
While rooftop farms and other ‘living architecture’ provides crucial infrastructure for urban biodiversity, rainfall absorption, air cooling and supplying healthy public space, these projects are only as sustainable as city policy allows. There are many barriers to overcome in terms of carrying out this innovative building work, and Toronto is an exemplary city in this case. In 2009, the city passed a bylaw that requires a green roof to be installed on new commercial, institutional and industrial buildings with over 2000 square meters of floor space.
The benefits of green roofs are very clear, and in the long run will produces savings for the taxpayer in return. The problem here is how to successfully scale up these projects to civic level, enabling the benefits of these green technologies to reach all, ensuring the resilience and health of our cities at present and in the future.
Urban agriculture is crucial to the resilience of our cities, and the sustainability of the urban experience. If you’d like to find out more, you can read about city food policy in Wayne Robert’s book Food For City Building.
So go and shout it from the rooftops, and start a green movement in your city now!