Is Brooklyn Becoming Farm Country?

Is Brooklyn Becoming Farm Country?

Another Bright Farms hydroponic farm. (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)

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)

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.

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