One early morning in May of 2010, a ragtag crew appeared on Northern Blvd, emerging from the subway steps at 36th St and alighting from bicycles, assembling in the dim light outside a sprawling building. They donned hard hats and thick, plastic-coated work gloves, and armed with shovels and shears, they set out to build the largest soil rooftop farm in the world. The job took six days of craning 3,000lb soil sacks seven stories up to the roof. The hardworking bunch of some two-dozen of our friends and family members shoveled in the sun and wind amidst the roar of motorized buggies and the shouted communications of a team single-minded in its goal. As the West end of the urban farm was still being measured and fit with thick black plastic root-barrier, the East end was dug into tidy, perfectly-spaced rows and studded with tomato seedlings and chard plugs. And slowly, a farm took shape.
When we set out to grow food on the rooftops and unused spaces of New York City, our mission was to create a fiscally sustainable model for urban agriculture and to produce healthy, delicious vegetables for our local community while doing the ecosystem a few favors as well. Currently, with over two acres of rooftops under cultivation in Brooklyn and Queens, we’ve sold over 120,000 lbs of vegetables to restaurants, CSA members and directly to the public via weekly farmstands. But we’ve expanded beyond our mission to grow vegetables: we now keep egg-laying hens and have launched a commercial apiary, cultivating bees for their honey and breeding regional hardiness into their DNA. Our educational non-profit partner, City Growers, hosts thousands of NYC’s youth each season for educational tours and workshops. Our rooftops are constantly abuzz with activity: during the day, we may be harvesting with the dozens of trainees enrolled in our farm training program, or hosting a visiting office group for a corporate retreat; at night we transform into a romantic event space for dinner parties, wedding ceremonies and film screenings. But at our core, we are a farm, and growing nutritious, tasty food is our passion. Doing so in New York is our dream. We believe that this city can be more sustainable; that our air can be cooler and waterways can be cleaner. We believe that the 14% of our landfills comprised of food scraps should be converted into organic energy for our plants, and plants around the city via active compost programs. We believe that food should be fresh, not sitting on the back of a flatbed for two weeks. We believe that food should taste fresh. Because at the end of the day, it’s about sitting down with our farmily, admiring that sunset over the city skyline, snacking on a perfectly ripe, sweet tomato and remembering: this is what real food is.