My post for ECO City Farms on 12/1/2011:
Green Roofs has many positive benefits. It utilizes unused space on top of buildings in urban areas. The roof will double as an insulator for the top floor by regulating the temperature and mitigate urban heat wave issues. Such a roof will absorb excess water from a heavy rainstorm and slowly release it, which can help minimize flooding. But can you make green roofs an edible garden or a commercial farm? There are two examples in New York City, Brooklyn Grange and Gotham Greens, that is piloting commercial farm operation on rooftops in this fast moving metropolis. I will highlight innovative aspects of both models and share some articles written about each company.
Brooklyn Grange is a commercial organic farm operating on top of a six-story building in Queens, NY. This operation has approximately one-acre (40,000 square foot) with roughly 1.2 million lbs of soil. They grow tomatoes, salad greens, herbs, carrots, fennel, beets, radishes, beans, and other plants. This operation is funded by a combination of private equity, loans, grassroots fundraising events and Kickstarter.com. The business has a 10 year lease with a NYC based private real estate holding company. The produce from this operation is sold directly at several weekly farmstands across the city as well as local restaurants. Three things I like most about Brooklyn Grange are it is a for-profit urban farm, uses soil as the medium to grow their produce, and the low reliance on cutting edge technology.
Gotham Greens is also a commercial organic farm operating on top of a two story industrial warehouse building in Brooklyn, NY. But, it takes place with-in a 15,000 square-foot hydroponic greenhouse facility that produces about 1.5 million tons of produce. They produce includes lettuce (baby butterhead, red leaf, green leaf), swiss chard, bok choy, arugula, and basil. The company sells their produce to chef in NY and high end grocery chains like Wholefoods Market. Right now their biggest challenge is meeting the demand for their products. There are two things I like about Gotham Greens model. First, they decided to focus on producing greens only, which can lead to quicker turn around each cycle. Second, the hydroponic system requires more infusion of technology and that brings in a different segment of the society into the urban agriculture mix. However, this approach is capital intensive and therefore has a higher barrier to entry.
I really like both models. In my opinion, Brooklyn Grange speaks to the purist approach where as Gotham Greens speaks to the technology enthusiasts that believe in alternative methods to intensive agriculture. The two primary questions that needs to be addressed are: how much money do you want to spend, and how do you want to add the nutrients and minerals needed to grow the produce. Once you figure that out you need to identify the distribution channel that will help you break even.
Read the following articles to learn more about either of these urban agriculture business model:
- Cardwell, Diane. (2010, May 13). “Six Stories above Queens, a fine Spot for a little farming.” New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/14/nyregion/14farm.html
- Collins, Glenn. (2011, August 2). “Want Fresher Produce? Leave Dirt Behind.” New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/03/dining/hydroponic-produce-gains-fans-and-flavor.html?pagewanted=all
- Fellows Friday with Viraj Puri. (2011, July 1). TED Blog. Retrieved from http://blog.ted.com/2011/07/01/fellows-friday-with-viraj-puri/
- Kuck, Sarah. (2010, December 21). “The Brooklyn Grange, a commercial rooftop farm in New York City”. Dowser. Retrieved from http://dowser.org/the-brooklyn-grange-a-commercial-rooftop-farm-in-new-york-city/)
- Macsai, Dan. (2010, May 1). “New York: Urban Farms [Fast Cities 2010].” Fast Company. Retrieved from http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/145/fast-cities-urban-farms-new-york.html?partner=rss