Brooklyn Grange: The World’s Largest Rooftop Soil Farms

Brooklyn Grange is a two-roof urban farm that spans a total of 2.5 acres. With a focus on organic farming and creative community collaborations, it is a unique and fertile place.

Brooklyn Grange Description and History

Up on the roofs in NYC, Brooklyn Grange is busy growing over 50,000 lbs of organic vegetables and herbs each year. But this wasn’t always the case; it wasn’t until 2009 that urban gardeners Anastasia Cole Plakias and Gwen Schantz joined up with rooftop gardener Ben Flanner and set their sights on creating a commercial rooftop farm business together. The Brooklyn Grange website shares that their goals in this endeavor were three fold:

“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.”

Their two farms are: Brooklyn Navy Yard Farm in Brooklyn NY, and Flagship Farm in Queens, NY. Brooklyn Grange also now runs an apiary, with numerous rooftop beehives in NYC.

Co-founder Ben Flanner is the current Head Farmer and CEO of Brooklyn Grange. He has a background in Industrial Engineering, management consulting, and financial marketing.  Flanner is considered a leader and top innovator in the intensive rooftop cultivation of vegetables. He shares that, “[he] was inspired to start farming rooftops because space is at such a premium in New York City.” Anastasia Cole Plakias is the Vice President and a founding partner. She has a background in writing and photography and manages the farm’s events, marketing, and communications. She says Brooklyn grange is “…a place for the community to come together and engage with food and farming in positive, meaningful ways.”

Gwen Schantz is the Chief Operating Officer and a Founding Partner of Brooklyn Grange, and she has a background in non-profit management and sustainable development. She designs diverse green spaces for various clientele as the head of Brooklyn Grange’s Design and Installations division, and she is also the co-founder of City Growers, Brooklyn Grange’s educational non-profit partner. In her words, “[e]very project is different, but the unifying factor is that we’re using soil and plants to make the City healthier and more vibrant.” Chase Emmons is the Managing Partner and Locations Director, and he works with urban beekeeping, social media, and green technology. He says of working on the farm: “[t]he opportunities are endless.”

In 2010 Brooklyn Grange signed a lease for its Queens rooftop and with help from engaged and supportive individuals worked for six days to crane thousands of pounds of soil up to the roof. In 2011, they won a $592,730.00 grant from the NYC Department of Environmental Protection’s Green Infrastructure Stormwater Management program. In 2012, Brooklyn Grange installed a second location, at the Brooklyn Navy Yard and launched an apiary project. At the close of their third season in the fall of 2012, they found they had more than doubled previous years’ revenue. Along the way, they collaborated with and launched many non-profit and community programs—more on those below.

Brooklyn Grange Extensions, Projects, and Partners

  • Education: Along with offering many adult workshops on topics such as natural fabric dyeing and hot sauce creation, Brooklyn Grange’s team of Principles has designed curricula, lessons, seminars, and college courses for many organizations including New York University and Green Roofs for Healthy Cities. Brooklyn Grange believes strongly in youth environmental and farm education and supported the creation of City Growers, a rooftop youth education program covering topics such as nutrition, science, and sustainability. City Growers offers a variety of farm workshops, after-school programs, and in-school workshops aimed to educate children and help them connect with nature and the origins of their daily meals. Here’s a quote from the vision page of their site:

“City Growers strives to educate the whole child, and believes that all kids can benefit from getting their hands in the soil, singing songs, dancing, and laughing.”

City Growers has hosted over 10,000 young people and Cara Chard, former NYC teacher and Executive Director, told Edible Brooklyn that “[i]t’s instilling a sense of wonder for nature, for where our food comes from.”

  • Working With Refugees And Immigrants: In another outreach program that merges education with social innovation, Brooklyn Grange teams up with the Refugee and Immigrant Fund (RIF) in Brooklyn. Through this collaboration they train refugees from around the world on the farm and also benefit from the participants’ various rich cultural and agricultural backgrounds. The participants gain work experience and the psychological benefit of working in a natural environment in the midst of the city.
  • Events and Bees: Brooklyn Grange is used as a community event space for yoga classes, various dinner parties, and even weddings. Every summer Brooklyn Grange hosts the NYC Honey Festival with fellow pollinators of the five boroughs, with art, music, crafts, movies, bee products, and more. Brooklyn Grange operates over 30 rooftop honey bee hives in NYC. They also run a beekeeper education program.

Brooklyn Grange often takes on additional productive local initiatives and rooftop adventures–for example, since 2010, they’ve composted hundreds of tons of the city’s waste. Anastasia Cole Plakias’ book, The Farm on the Roof: What Brooklyn Grange Taught us about Entrepreneurship, Community, and Growing a Sustainable Business, was published by Avery Press and hit shelves in April. Visiting Brooklyn Grange is high on my to-do list in NYC and I look forward to following their continued success and evolution. Their site shares this lovely reflection on their work:

“At the end of the day, that’s what it’s all 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.”

Julia Travers

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