Is Brooklyn Becoming Farm Country?

East
Thursday, April 12, 2012
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Inside the rooftop greenhouses. (Courtesy Bright Farms)

Inside the rooftop greenhouses. (Courtesy Bright Farms)

A massive new urban farming project in Sunset Park, Brooklyn was announced last week by New York City-based Bright Farms, a company dedicated to building hydroponic farms close to supermarkets. The Sunset Park project will be the largest rooftop farm in the city, and possibly the world. At 100,000 square feet, it could potentially yield 1 million pounds of produce a year and joins several other agricultural projects in Brooklyn. Brooklyn Grange, another rooftop farming operation located in Queens, is planning to open a 45,000 square foot urban farm at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and farm-developers Gotham Greens will be opening a new location in the borough as well.

A rendering showing greenhouses to be placed on top of an industrial building. (Courtesy Bright Farms)

A rendering showing greenhouses to be placed on top of an industrial building. (Courtesy Bright Farms)

The three new Brooklyn farms join a host of existing and planned farms around the area. The farms in operation now are Brooklyn Grange’s facility in Long Island City, Gotham Greens’ existing Greenpoint location, and  Brightfarms’ Long Island location in Huntington. Several other projects by these same three developers are in the works across Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx. Bright Farms’ Sunset Park hydroponic project will use no dirt. This has advantages over traditional soil-based farming, as it prevents extra strain on the sewer system by harvesting rainwater, and also allows light weight rooftop greenhouses to be built without large-scale structural additions to buildings below.

Brooklyn borough president Marty Markowitz is excited about the project, and is even supporting changes in zoning laws to promote this type of urban rooftop farming.  To make commercial ventures like these easier to develop, height and floor-area restrictions would exclude rooftop greenhouses.  Often, tailoring regulation is the best way to change the ways in which we live, and in this case, simply changing zoning law could provide a wave of fresh fruits and vegetables produced blocks from the grocery stores in which it will be sold.

Another Bright Farms hydroponic farm. (Courtesy Bright Farms)

Another Bright Farms hydroponic farm. (Courtesy Bright Farms)

Brooklyn doesn’t have much open space, but it does have plenty of flat rooftops. While some cities seeks to utilized vacant lots, New York is in a great position. Unlike vacant lots, rooftops could mean extra, ‘bonus’ production, since the roofs are already serving a purpose: shelter. The new legislation would essentially increase the usable “density” of the city through the increased economic performance of these buildings without altering existing structures, only adding to them.  This collapse of the rural and urban is exciting for a number of reasons.  Localized food delivery systems could eliminate “food deserts,” neighborhoods where fresh food is unavailable.

Salmar Properties, who purchased the building from the NYC Economic Development Corporation in May 2011 for $10 million, will be required to use the building for industrial purposes for 30 years.  Read more about the Sunset Park urban farm at The New York Times.

2 Responses to “Is Brooklyn Becoming Farm Country?”

  1. Joanna says:

    Thanks for more information about urban farming. Support the existing grassroots longstanding efforts of NYers and preserve ALL existing community gardens. Sign up here for more:

    http://nycgardenlaw.org/

  2. calebcrawford says:

    I am a supporter of urban agriculture, so I think this is great. But I am also a supporter of soil. Hydroponics are very energy intensive, both for the nutrient sources, but more specifically for heat inputs in the winter. Like many soil aficionados, there is a complexity that cannot be matched with hydroponics.

    Architecturally, these structures are quite beautiful. However, most of the citation of light loads for the hydroponics just don’t correlate with the structures on which they are building these things. In addition, there are many soil techniques that lower the loading.

    Hydroponics require far less labor than similar small-sized soil based farms, and that is the reason they are using that system. Computers monitor the interior and exterior environmental conditions and control the structure and systems to maintain optimal growing condition. The human is no longer needed. Energy replaces labor in most instances – everything from the nutrient solution to the mechanics.

    It’s kind of too bad. At a time where we actually need to create jobs, and a culture that is more and more suffering the effects of nature deficit disorder, we have found yet another way to remove people from the earth.

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