Here’s a bit of background on our team!
Head Farmer, President
Ben Flanner is a trained Industrial Engineer with a background in business and marketing. In 2009 Ben co-founded Eagle Street Rooftop Farms, the first rooftop farm in New York, and is widely recognized as a leader in rooftop urban agriculture. His expertise in systems optimization and unwavering drive to increase efficiencies across the farm are balanced by his passion for sharing his knowledge, and the keen desire to help raise urban agriculture as an industry to a higher level. He is currently developing sustainable energy technology fueled by friendly, mid-western charm and the elongated “A” in the Wisconsin accent.
ANASTASIA COLE PLAKIAS
Vice President & Founding Partner
Anastasia is a published writer and veteran of the NYC restaurant industry. Her passion for food politics is outweighed only by her knowledge of obscure vegetable-related trivia, which she shares on her Heritage Radio Network segment, Anastasia’s Fridge. Though Anastasia has worn many hats over the years, previously having run our Sales, Events and Communications Departments, respectively, her current focus is on creating strong and meaningful connections between the farm and the communities it serves. A born-and-raised New Yorker, Anastasia is dedicated to making her native city a greener and more sustainable place to live.
Chief Operating Officer & Founding Partner
Gwen Schantz is an experienced urban farmer, a long-time sustainable food advocate, and co-founder of the Bushwick Food Cooperative & CSA. She leads Brooklyn Grange’s Design and Installations division, creating and building innovative green spaces. Gwen is dedicated to solving urban environmental problems through the installation of soil and plants. When she’s not at work, she’s at home with her husband and two sons, usually playing in the back yard or cooking something delicious.
CHASE EMMONSManaging Partner & Locations Director
Chase Emmons, a native New Yorker and serial entrepreneur, has been farming and beekeeping for over a decade. He currently owns and operates C & C Orchards, a chemical-free orchard and apiary in western Massachusetts. An avid runner, we are placing bets on how quickly he can collect a swarm of feral bees.
Farm Manager, Brooklyn Navy Yard Farm
Project Manager, RIF Urban Farm Recovery Project
Matt Jefferson is an Indianapolis native and stubborn Pacers fan. After receiving his Masters in Public Health in 2007, he spent two years volunteering with the Peace Corps in Botswana working with an HIV/AIDS awareness project and empowering village youth through agricultural training. He continues that work through the Refugee Immigrant Fund’s Urban Farm Recovery Project at Brooklyn Grange. Matt remains the only member of the farm team fast enough to catch a Speckled Sussex hen.
Farm Manager, LIC Flagship Farm
Bradley is a passionate farmer with a deeply rooted commitment to health. Before joining the Brooklyn Grange team, he turned nine acres of Vermont soil into delicious, organic vegetables. His breadth of agricultural knowledge and desire to teach others were outweighed only slightly during his hiring process by his perfect driving record. When he’s not up on the farm staking tomatoes, he can be found listening to 99.5 FM, sipping green juice and studying up on nutrition.
Assistant Farm Manager, Director of Sales
Alia Ornstein is a former attorney turned dedicated urban farmer. After five years counseling companies on the finer points of employment law and litigation strategy, Alia tapped her roots as the granddaughter of a Polish farmer and made her way to the soil. In farming, she’s found a way to truly advocate for a better world, and she brings both a deep commitment to sustainable agriculture and a unique passion for raking out beds.
Chief Financial Officer
Melissa Kuzoian graduated from Boston University with a degree in Finance, in spite of her six-month stint spelunking and bungee jumping across New Zealand. Melissa has worked as an Analyst at the Nonprofit Finance Fund, and brings her expertise to bear on the farm’s internal financials, preparing detailed reports. In addition to her Financial role, Melissa manages the farm’s accounts; recruits and manages admissions for our training program; organizes and schedules all team meetings and development, and bakes cupcakes, cornbread and cookies delicious enough to incentivize the whole team to show up on time for a 7:00am meeting.
Director of Events
A native New Yorker, Michele graduated from Pitzer College, where she majored in Environmental Studies. While matriculated, Michele fell in love with the wild topography surrounding the town of Claremont, CA, and when 85 acres of nearby native coastal sage scrub landscape was threatened by development, she launched a monthly event series to raise support amongst the community for its preservation. Since coming on board with Brooklyn Grange in 2012, Michele has developed the farm’s wedding program and produced countless events on the roofs.
ROBYN LEE SMITH
The only member of our team hailing from the South, Robyn spent her childhood through her college years in Georgia, where she received a Bachelor of the Arts in Romance Languages from UGA and the life-long right to use the term “y’all.” Her years as Exhibition Coordinator for Imagine Exhibitions, a company that produces and travels museum exhibitions around the world, afforded her the opportunity to live in Portland and Singapore, and inspired her wanderlust, which has brought her to over twenty countries across six continents. Finally settling in New York City in 2012, Robyn began interning with City Growers as an Educator in the Spring of 2013. She now brings her passion for education and enthusiasm for farming to the farm’s Events Department, where she manages our tours and spearheads our public workshop program.
Assistant Farm Manager, Events Captain
Michelle Cashen, or “Cashew,” as she is known fondly around the farm, has been cultivating our rooftops, working events, and slingin’ veg at our market tables since the spring of 2014. She also manages events and social media for Edgemere Farm, and is a Co-Producer of NYC Honey Week. A Yale graduate and proud native of Rockaway Beach, Queens, Cashen is the youngest member of our team and has the energy to prove it: despite the many professional hats she wears, she still finds the time to surf, brew kombucha, and dominate the court as small forward on her YMCA basketball team, “That Ain’t Right.”