On a balmy Sunday afternoon in Greenpoint, we stepped into a warehouse off Eagle Street. Down a hallway and up some winding stairs, we emerged onto a bright, crowded rooftop, lined with rich soil and neatly arranged into rows of green and brown. This is Eagle Street Rooftop Farm: a jam-packed 6,000 square feet of organic growing space overlooking the East River.
Against a surreal backdrop of blue water and Manhattan skyline, volunteers knelt to pull weeds and tend newly planted rows of radishes, lettuce, and Red Russian kale. Butterflies drifted among the flowering herbs. In one corner, a farm staff member led a “Spring Gardening 101” workshop, explaining the basics to an eager crowd. She described the growing process, answered questions (“What do I do about squirrels?”; “Why do my herbs get bitter?”), and urged us to sample the parsley and pungent chive blossoms sprouting around the roof’s edge. One level down, another staff member managed a tiny market of early greens and farm products.
The peaceful scene belies the tremendous amount of work it took to get this farm up and running. Before their first growing season in 2009, founders had to install a green roof system – layering polyethelene, drainage mats, and special fabrics – before crane-lifting up 200,000 pounds of compost, rock and shale over the course of a single day. Volunteers arranged 16 beds along the roof.
The effort, as any visitor could tell you, was well worth it. Thanks to manager Annie Novak and farm staff, Eagle Street Rooftop Farm now produces fresh organic vegetables and honey, sold at weekly markets and delivered by bicycle to neighborhood restaurants. It provides apprenticeships and volunteer opportunities, along with a Farm-Based Education program with staff support from Growing Chefs. Through careful irrigation management, the roof now holds over an inch of rainwater at a time, reducing storm runoff and cooling costs. And the farm hosts a weekly composting program to cut waste and enrich its soil. Not too shabby for a warehouse rooftop in Brooklyn.
Learn more about the farm and upcoming events here.
Want to learn more about green and white roof projects in NYC? Check this this out!
- Catherine Lea
Photo credits: Jesse Brenneman