“There is now a new educated movement that believes in doing it themselves. Of removing themselves from as many systems as possible,” said Patrick Martins, the co-founder of Heritage Foods USA. “It’s a very subversive way of bringing local fruit and vegetables to the inhabitants of the city”.
Above the streets of New York, a new generation of farmers is doing something productive in spaces that normally go to waste.
One organic field overlooking Manhattan is 15 metres above the Greenpoint sidewalk in Brooklyn.
The farmer turned a 750 square metre factory roof into Eagle Street farm, the first commercial rooftop agricultural venture in North America.
“We’re growing about 20-25 different varieties of fruit and vegetables,“ Annie Novak told euronews. “We grow everything from carrots, which surprises people because the soil is very shallow, to eggplants and tomatoes, because around the neighbourhood they love them.
“The farm has been commercially operable for two years now. In the first year we experimented a lot with crops, and we were trying to figure out just what plants didn’t die. This year we’ve been focusing more on the marketing and we are able to run ourselves as a business because we sell to restaurants, and we have a market and a community-supported agriculture group. We operate the whole year without a single penny of debt.”
But it is not the only farm in the area that is up on the roof. Brooklyn Grange in Queens also transports its products within cycling distance to local restaurants and residents.
The open-air weekly market in Bushwick has just closed the harvesting season, and with it their first year of activity. Among the favourite crops: rainbow chard, kale, radishes and baby carrots.
“We’re giving people vegetables that are grown right around the corner rather than something that could be potentially shipped from China, imported or even driven across the country, from California. Everything is organic, there’s no sprays on it,” said Ben Flanner, who swapped a desk job to grow food full time.
He says they are all for eco-friendly practices, like rotating the crops, and interplanting different varieties. The idea, he maintains, is to increase people’s awareness of healthy eating.
“I’m a cook, so I cook at work and I cook at home, I cook all the time, so it’s really important for me to get quality products,” said one shopper at the market.
But rooftop farms are not only a question of crops. An entire community is growing around the organic philosophy.
More and more residents are volunteering for gardening duties, and a network of restaurants is spreading an alternative eating culture.
One restaurant, Roberta’s, has become a beacon for the farm-to-table food chain.
It is a loyal customer of the rooftop farms, but it also has a greenhouse in its own back garden for growing vegetables.
And the organic city evangelists are so keen to spread the word that they have set up a radio station in a shed in the back garden of the restaurant.
“Rooftop gardens is a beautiful synthesis of people working together,” said Patrick Martins, co-founder Heritage Foods USA.
“The Slow Food founder Carlo Petrini taught me that the best meeting place is an osteria (an Italian-style eatery where the focus is on maintaining a steady clientele rather than fancy cooking). The way Carlo Petrini would say it, for Slow Food, he believes in all things that are good, clean and fair, and that is what this network is about.”
Locally produced food, green rooftops and a growing appetite for quality cuisine is blossoming in New York City.