Recent years have seen renewed interest in vegetable gardening everywhere, but perhaps nowhere is this more pronounced than inside our larger cities. Despite the challenge of growing in the densely populated confines of city spaces—and subject to the often intense growing conditions within these microclimates, some New York City gardeners appear to embrace their limitations.
Perhaps one of the better known farm projects is Brooklyn Grange. Beginning with a flagship farm in Long Island City, located on the roof of a large General Motors building, they expanded in 2012 to a 65,000 square foot Brooklyn Navy Yard roof, bringing their total area of cultivation to 2.5 acres. The growing area includes numerous cold-frames and several small greenhouses. Following organic practices, over 50,000 pounds of forty different vegetables and herbs are grown on the two sites. Brooklyn Grange also keeps bees—more than 30 hives, and has recently begun cultivating oyster mushrooms too.
Added Value is the one of the older urban farms in New York, whose mission is to empower urban youth through farm experience. Since the farm’s beginnings in 2003–with guidance from Heifer International-it has focused on the fourteen to nineteen year-olds of the South Bronx, with the goals of “growing a just food system, youth empowerment, and farm-based learning” through year-long training programs for neighborhood teens. Their efforts have helped revitalize local parks and transformed vacant land into flourishing vegetable plots. They’ve improved neighborhood access to healthy and affordable food, and contributed to an economy that supports the needs of their community.
Perhaps the newest of NYC’s urban farming projects, The Battery Conservancy’s Urban Farm harvested its first radishes just this past May. In a design inspired by the park’s resident turkey, Zelda– who first appeared in Battery Park in 2003– the growing area is protected by 5,000 bamboo poles set in the shape of the turkey’s outline. (Designer Scott Dougan created the fence from poles donated by artists Mike and Doug Starn following their exhibition, Big Bambu at the Met.) The Battery Conservancy’s Urban Farm provides outdoor classroom space for schools citywide—this year they worked with 1800 students and campers from forty-four schools, groups, and non-profit organizations. Their crops supplied two downtown school cafeterias, a local food pantry, and their own farm shares. Not bad for the first farm in this location since 1625, when New York was still New Amsterdam.