Rooftop Farming

Today, New York City is a leader in rooftop gardening.  The joining of community gardeners and educators with for-profit companies allowed rooftop gardening to expand to a larger scale.  Gotham Greens and Brooklyn Orange are two of the largest commercial farming operations based in NYC.  Gotham Greens, which uses hydroponic technology, grows bok choy, basil, and oak leaf lettuce to sell to Whole Foods and Fresh Direct.  They currently operate in Brooklyn, but plan to open locations in Queens, the Bronx.  Brooklyn Orange operates a one-acre rooftop farm in Long Island City and a 65,000 square foot farm at the Brooklyn Navy yard.  With these two locations they are able to produce large quantities of pattypan squash, scallions, and beefsteak tomatoes for sale.

On a smaller scale, individual restaurants are beginning to operate their own rooftop farms.  For example, Bell, Book & Candle grows lettuce, bicolor squash, fennel, dill, parsley, poblano peppers, eggplant, and tomatoes to use in their cooking.  Due to the extremely close proximity between growing the produce and cooking with it, they are able to keep the roots attached until directly before cooking it.  Because of this they refer to their produce as “dormant”, rather than “dead” at the time it is cooked.

Interestingly, one of the most difficult problems that these gardens encounter is wind.  The strong winds between buildings can displace the seeds, forcing the farmers to create staking and trellising systems to reduce the effect of the wind on the plants.  However, the lack of pests and open access to the sun  make rooftops well suited for farming.   Combining rooftop farming with additional methods of urban farming, such as vertical farming, holds promise for increasing the availability of local produce for the extremely large populations in urban centers such as New York City.