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Urban Farming Takes Hold in NYC
Matter Network
New York City may not have a lot of extra space for farms, but it’s got plenty of rooftops that fit the bill just fine….

On top of a 6-story warehouse in the borough of Queens sits the world’s largest rooftop farm – at almost an acre in size, the Brooklyn Grange has been growing 40 kinds of vegetables since it opened in spring 2010. Now, it’s gettting ready to double in size as it expands to a second roof, this one in the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

Ben Flanner co-founded Brooklyn Grange after opening Eagle Street Rooftop Farm in 2009, the first rooftop soil farm in NYC.

He’s got plans for more rooftop farms to make locally grown, organic food widely available, while employing urban farmers. Brooklyn Grange is financed by a combination of private equity, loans and grassroots fundraising.
(12 February 2012)

View related report The Potential for Urban Agriculture in New York City
Key findings in brief

  • Urban agriculture can play a critical role as productive green urban infrastructure. There is signifi cant potential for urban agriculture to provide critical environmental services to the city through stormwater runoff mitigation, soil remediation, and energy use reduction. At a time when municipalities are straining to address complex infrastructural challenges with limited budgets, productive urban green spaces will be increasingly important in their capacity to function as a cost-effective form of small scale, distributed green infrastructure.
  • Urban agriculture can play an important role in community development. The benefi ts of urban agriculture are not limited to the provision of food, with many advocates citing community empowerment, environmental justice, public health, and education and training as primary goals. Urban agriculture can be a means of transforming underutilized or neglected space into a public resource, providing opportunities for social interaction, greater community cohesion and self-suffi ciency, and engagement for young people in underserved neighborhoods.
  • There is a substantial amount of land potentially available for urban agriculture in NYC. We have identifi ed almost 5,000 acres of vacant land likely to be suitable for farming in the fi ve boroughs, the equivalent of six times the area of Central Park. In addition to this land, there are many other potential sites, including over 1,000 acres of NYCHA green space, underutilized open spaces, and Greenstreets. There are also many other potentially suitable sites and properties that are not included in these designations that would greatly expand the total amount of land available for agricultural production. Each of these different types of sites would demand different approaches and strategies if they are to be deployed for agriculture. In this regard, existing data on land availability and suitability is inadequate to understand true capacity, and information on public (municipal) land is insuffi ciently accessible.
  • Intensive growing methods adapted to urban spaces can result in yields per acre which greatly exceed those of conventional production techniques. More land under fruit and vegetable cultivation will be needed if the population is to shift to a healthier diet. Employing high-yield or “biointensive” production techniques characteristic of urban agriculture can contribute to this goal. Widely-practiced intensive farming techniques for small sites in urban areas, such as intercropping, intensive soil management, or hydroponic cultivation can convert underused or neglected urban space into a highly productive community asset.
  • While urban agriculture cannot supply the entire city with all of its food needs, in certain neighborhoods it can signifi cantly contribute to food security. There are a number of neighborhoods where a confl uence of factors makes urban agriculture a particularly attractive and effective means of addressing multiple community challenges. These factors include low access to healthy food retail, high prevalence of obesity and diabetes, low median income, and comparatively high availability of vacant and other available land. These issues are all correlated, and it is in these areas where urban agriculture could have the greatest impact on food
  • There is a need for c ost/benefi t analyses that refl ect the full complexity of the city’s social and environmental challenges. Unlike other forms of green infrastructure, urban agriculture has the potential to generate revenue and provide long-term employment as well as to provide environmental benefi ts such as decreasing stormwater runoff (both by harvesting rainwater and by increasing surface permeability). Conventional cost-benefi t analyses that consider complex problems in isolation often miss potential synergistic solutions that address multiple problems at once. Urban agriculture clearly has the potential to provide such solutions for NYC.
  • NYC’s rooftops are a vast, underused resource that could be transformed for food production. NYC is one of the most advantageous places in the nation to establish rooftop agriculture due primarily to density, but also to public interest and support, access to capital, a robust transportation network, adequate infrastructure, proximity to institutions of higher education, and consumer demand. Existing green roof incentive programs have not been designed to support rooftop agriculture. Rapidly changing technologies and the skills and experience being developed by today’s rooftop farming pioneers will likely make wider adoption much more feasible in the near future.
  • Bureaucratic challenges are a major barrier to the expansion of urban farming. Uncertainties over land jurisdiction and management remain a major hurdle to prospective urban farmers. City agencies, already stretched by budget cuts, often don’t have adequate capacity to provide oversight for this type of activity on their properties. Additionally, there is the added complication of using public land for commercial ventures (for farms intended as for-profit operations). Though not without precedent, these issues will need to be comprehensively addressed if more of our available public spaces are to be used for urban agriculture.
  • Existing infrastructure has the potential to support the expansion of urban agriculture. There are substantial opportunities to take advantage of underused existing refrigeration, food processing, and distribution infrastructure within NYC, which are all critical to delivering food from the urban farm to the consumer. Churches, schools, and other institutions often have kitchen and refrigeration facilities that are not always in use, and assessing such resources and developing alternative networks for their use would assist in the expansion of agricultural activity in the city.
  • Urban farmers are establishing viable businesses by taking advantage of multiple revenue streams. While farming in cities remains a challenging and low-profi t margin activity, enterprising urban farmers are developing multiple-revenue stream models to adapt to urban conditions. In addition to selling food directly to the public, farmers have developed direct marketing relationships with restaurants and institutions, initiated revenue-generating education and training services, and can profi t from the environmental services they are providing, such as tipping fees for collecting compostable waste.
  • Urban agriculture is part of a broader horticultural approach to urban greening that encompasses more than fruits and vegetables. The capacity of the city for agricultural production includes the cultivation of non-crop food products to take advantage of the diversity of environments and urban fabric types that exist in NYC, including such products as honey, chickens, and fi sh. All of these approaches have proven successful in urban areas and can be symbiotically incorporated into more conventional fruit and vegetable production methods. Additionally, the production of non-food crops such as fl owers and raw materials could allow for the economic and environmental benefi ts of urban horticulture to be more widely distributed to sites that are not suitable for food production.
  • Urban agriculture functions as a catalyst for larger food system transformations. Urban farmers are developing vital connections between urban and rural communities. Already urban farms in the city are providing such linkages, particularly in low-income neighborhoods, by doing such things as inviting rural farmers to participate in and supplement their community-based farmers markets, providing a customer base for both the urban and rural farms simultaneously.

Sydney is buying back the farms at last
Vikki Campion The Daily Telegraph [Australia]
For decades, development has been eating away at Sydney’s farmland but for the first time new land is about to be rezoned for urban farmers, with three leases out for commercial farms, market gardens, live stock and orchards.

The Western Sydney Parklands Trust is calling for farmers to return to the city. It wants experienced farmers to lease three sites at Horsley Park as it proposes to change its planning policy with the state government to build more sustainable agriculture.

The trust has already signed two new farms, one for traditional market gardens and a $24 million glasshouse project which will create 110 jobs.

“This is about agricultural jobs in the city,” trust director Suellen Fitzgerald said.

“As we see the next phases, we would like to establish a thriving market garden precinct, farm gate sales, pick and pay and even, in the longer term, a farmers’ market.”
(10 February 2012)

Breaking through the myths: New book seeks to redefine urban farming

Twighlight Greenaway, Grist
In 2010, Grist ran a series of posts chronicling a road trip across American by a team of young men looking to document our nation’s urban farms for a book called Breaking Through Concrete (you can see a list of the posts over on the right of the page). Sponsored in part by WHYHunger, David Hanson (writer), Michael Hanson (photographer), Charles Hoxie (videographer), and Edwin Marty (farmer and writer) drove across the country in a biodiesel-fueled, internet-enabled short bus.

This month, the book, Breaking Through Concrete: Building an Urban Farm Revival, finally hits the shelves. To mark the occasion, we caught up with David Hanson to get the lowdown on the book and hear his observations about this moment in urban farming.
Interview at Grist
(14 February 2012)

Urban ag before it was hip
Rosa Ramirez,
Texanita Bluitt has lemon, plum and orange trees in her backyard. In raised beds, she grows mustard greens, curly mustards, cabbage, carrots, turnips, onions, celery and potatoes. When she wants to make strawberry pie for her granddaughter, she goes to her backyard.

“About 95 percent of my fruit and vegetables come from my food garden,” she said…

Some have called urban agriculture the quiet revolution that’s being fueled by food insecurity, childhood obesity, diabetes, and malnutrition. The movement that has taken root in cities across the country and has generated everything from how-to online classes and lectures to DVD’s and starter kits, and bestselling books.

But as it turns out, urban farming isn’t a new movement after all. City blacks, Latinos, Asians, and immigrants have been planting vegetables and fruits for years in bustling cities like New York City, Detroit, Atlanta, and the greater Los Angeles, more specifically in Crenshaw and Compton.

“They did it out of the need to feed themselves,” said Ralph Paige, the executive director of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives. Paige, who has dedicated his life to improving opportunities for black-owned family farms, said blacks were working city soil before it was considered trendy.
(13 February 2012)

New urban farming structure breaks ground
Developers of a new concept in urban farming, the Plantagon Greenhouse, broke ground for the first structure in Sweden this week. The new type of greenhouse for vertical farming in cities provides a way to use excess heat and CO2 from industries while growing crops.

The greenhouse is being built in Linkoping, Sweden and is expected to be completed in 12-16 months, according to a statement released by Plantagon International. The plant will produce vegetables from the recycled resources.
Plantagon video
(10 February 2012)