An Urban Farm and Site Use

Last week I had a tour with the environmental and food club at my law school at the Brooklyn Grange rooftop farm. Despite its name, Brooklyn Grange opened in Long Island City, Queens, on Northern Boulevard atop an old warehouse building that serves a variety of offices. If anyone has walked, biked, taken a bus or driven out Northern Boulevard from Queens Plaza, then one knows it does not look like the nicest area. Warehouses and car dealerships line the edges, and the buildings look old, worn out and generally unwelcoming. However, the building housing Brooklyn Grange has a beautiful lobby, and the Grange is an amazing spot.

This rooftop farm has been open a few years only and, despite paying normal NYC rent per square foot for the space, it has turned increasing profits each year. It is a wonderful use of a large rooftop and is a hidden gem along this stretch of Northern Boulevard. (There is another Brooklyn Grange farm that recently opened on the roof of a building in the Brooklyn Navy Yard.) The views from the farm are amazing, and if one looks at the tops of the nearby buildings, most are empty and look like flat roofs (except the one with solar panels). The farmers sell their crops as a community supported agriculture (CSA) site and to area restaurants. All left-over plant parts and failed crops are composted for new soil, and area restaurants send over their compostable materials (including oyster shells to add calcium to the soil).

While many people are taken aback at the thought of eating vegetables grown directly in New York City due to concerns for heavy metal and other pollution exposure, our tour guide educated us. Heavy metals and thicker pollution hang closer to the ground level, and so they do not easily reach the rooftop or the crops. A soon-to-be-released study shall confirm this statement for the Brooklyn Grange site — a scientist ran air-quality measurement instruments both at ground level on Northern Boulevard and on the rooftop farm for about a day. The filters on the ground-level instruments apparently had to be changed 3 or more times; on the rooftop, the same filter was able to last throughout the day. Additionally, the breeze, the green, the still-growing crops and the towering sunflowers gave the farm a clean, pastoral feel — despite the water tower overhead and the air conditioners running around us. There is even a chicken coop and one makeshift “bee-hive” (the Navy Yard location is to have a full apiary) with the hopes of breeding bees that adapt to New York winters.

Brooklyn Grange runs private tours, is open to the public and works with volunteers. Moreover, it welcomes school groups so that youth who have spent their entire lives in the urban environment can experience where the food they eat comes from — by seeing the chickens, pulling carrots from the ground and witnessing the care that goes into vegetable growth. Also, as a green roof, the farm filters and naturally uses rainwater, thus keeping the sewers emptier during rainfalls and lessening the likelihood of discharge into the East River. The farm insulates and keeps the building cooler, and keeps the roof healthier for longer. As a tale of using what already exists for the betterment of both NYC and its residents, Brooklyn Grange so far is a success story. Hopefully, it will inspire more people in NYC to harvest their own food or join a CSA to support local community gardens (which can be found at the Just Food website). I encourage anyone who can to visit Brooklyn Grange.