FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
What kind of company is Brooklyn Grange?
Brooklyn Grange is a commercial urban farm, meaning we grow food and sell it. We believe that soil-based urban agriculture has the capacity to help fund the creation and maintenance of green spaces that cities sorely need. We want farming to become a thriving and viable industry in cities, and we believe that by practicing urban agriculture as a fiscally sustainable business, we can prove that it is worthy of investment. We also believe that any good business serves its community and it's ecosystem, which means we are always thinking about how we can have a more positive social and ecological impact on our city!
Where do you sell your produce?
We sell our produce directly to the community at two weekly markets as well as several local restaurants and retail stores. We have a thriving CSA program through which we distribute shares Mid-May through October.
How big is the farm?
We farm three rooftops in New York City. Our one-acre (43,000 square foot) Long Island City Farm was built in 2010, and is made up of roughly 1.2 million lbs of soil across 35,000 square feet of cultivated growing beds. Our Navy Yard farm, built in 2012, comprises 3M lbs of soil atop a 65,000 square foot building, 45,000 square feet of which are farmed. Our Sunset Park farm, completed in 2019, is 140,000 sq feet in total with 55,000 sq ft of farmed spaced and an additional 4,800 sf greenhouse. The total rooftop farming area of all three farms combined is 3.1 acres or about 135,000 sf, but our total rooftop acreage including greenhouses, patios, and walkways, is 5.6 acres.
Can the building hold that much weight?
Yes, absolutely! Our farms were designed and installed with the support of engineers who assessed and approved the sites. Each of our roofs are made of thick reinforced concrete slab, approved for loads in excess of the 65-85 lbs that a cubic foot of saturated green roof soil weighs.
What kind of soil do you use?
We source our soil from Skyland in Pennsylvania, a green roof media supplier. The blend is called Rooflite, and is composed of mushroom compost blended with additional organic inputs and mixed with lightweight, porous stones, or "aggregate." The aggregate makes the material lighter in weight, ensure that it drains well, and also slowly add trace minerals needed by the vegetables. At our Long Island City farm, we used Rooflite's Intensive blend. When designing the Navy Yard site, we worked with the soil scientists at Rooflite to develop their Agriculture blend. At our third and newest farm in Sunset Park, we debuted yet a new blend.
How are the farms built?
Our farms consist of green roof systems laid down before the soil. At our Flagship Farm in LIC, we installed a green roof system distributed by Conservation Technology consisting of a layer of root-barrier, which prevents our plants’ roots from penetrating the surface of the roof; a thick layer of geotextile “filter” or “separation” fabric; drainage plates with small cups to hold excess water from heavy rainstorms (the soil and plants wick this stored water up in dry conditions to keep our water use down), and finally, a thin layer of filter fabric to prevent the drainage mats from filling up with the 8-10″ of Rooflite Intensive blend soil. The soil and materials to build this farm were transported via crane and buggy.
Our second farm at the Brooklyn Navy Yard was installed atop a roof membrane that included a built-in root barrier, so the system we used there is a bit simpler. It is comprised of a light weight drainage aggregate sandwiched between filter fabric and topped with 10-12″ of Rooflite IntensiveAg blend soil. The soil for this farm was installed using a blower truck, as was our farm in Sunset Park, which is comprised of 12” of a third soil blend.
Over a decade of building these elevated growing spaces, both for our own business as well as our clients, we’ve experimented with a lot of different options and have found that different green roof systems have different advantages, and the same can be said for methods of getting the soil up to the roof.
What are you growing on the roof?
We grow dozens of crops each season and harvest about 80,000 lbs of produce every year between our three farms. Our biggest seller and a favorite amongst our farmers and customers alike are our fresh, flavorful leafy greens: from spicy baby mustards to tender young lettuces and peppery arugula, a Brooklyn Grange salad barely needs dressing!
Tomatoes are another of our biggest crops: we have a couple dozen varieties planted. We are also growing peppers, eggplant, kale, chard, carrots, turnips, radishes, chicories, ground cherries, pac choi, herbs, beans, and many other exciting crops! Diversity is good for our sales, enables us to bring more flavors and variety to our CSA and market customers, and is an important aspect of sustainable soil and pest management.
Finally, we grow microgreens in our greenhouses year-round. They give our company a steady stream of revenue through the winter, which in turn creates year-round farming jobs, and keeps us better connected to chefs and restaurants during the off season.
Is the farm organic?
We grow our vegetables according to organic principles, and we do not use any synthetic or chemical fertilizers, insecticides or herbicides. You can learn more about our farming practices here, or visit us and certify our practices with your own five senses.
How do you grow fresh produce in a polluted city?
Pollution is definitely a concern for city farmers, but the pollutants of greatest concern are heavy metals, such as lead, and automotive brake pad particulates. Both are denser than air, so vegetables grown on a rooftop high above the roadways are protected from these contaminants. The limited lifespan of plants mean they absorb significantly less contamination than our lungs do. We’ve had our air quality tested, and it’s great!
How was the farm financed?
The Flagship Farm was financed through a combination of private equity, loans, grassroots fundraising events, and the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter.com. The Brooklyn Navy Yard farm and Sunset Park farm were made possible through traditional private equity and debt, as well as the Department of Environmental Protection’s Green Infrastructure Stormwater Management grant program, New York City’s innovative and proactive approach to managing combined sewer overflow.
Tell me more about Stormwater Management…?
Our farms absorb millions of gallons of rainfall each year, preventing Combined Sewer overflows that threaten our local environment and human health. Over 70% of NYC's land area is impervious (paved), and we have over 8 million people flushing toilets and taking showers every day. All that water ends up in NYC’s combined sewer system, which processes both storm drain runoff as well as sewer lines discharge, ultimately running through water treatment plants and into open waterways like the creeks, rivers, and estuaries. Our farms act like giant sponges, holding water in reserve during periods of rain, then slowly releasing that rainfall so the city has time to process what has fallen on the paved sidewalks and roads before it processes the millions of gallons that fall atop our roofs each year. And that’s no exaggeration: our Long Island City farm can absorb 60,000 gallons in a single rainfall (2.5" of rain); at our Navy Yard farm, that quantity increases to 100,000 gallons, and in Sunset Park, our farm can absorb a whopping 164,000 gallons in the farm beds, and 10,000 gallons in the patios/paths.
Does the business lease the rooftops it cultivates?
Yes, we’ve obtained long-term leases that give us the time to grow a business and cultivate community in the neighborhoods in which we farm. Our leases range from 15 to 20 years.
Is the farm profitable?
Yes. We broke even in our first year, became profitable in year three, and have shown steady growth every season since we opened. We plan to continue growing in the coming years, so we can create more green jobs, and have an increasingly important impact on the ecology of New York City. We now have twenty full-time employees as well as over 60 seasonal and/or part-time staff.
What do you do in the winter?
Winter is crazy busy! We grow field vegetables April through October, then plant nitrogen-fixing “cover crops,” like clover, oats, and vetch to add nutrients back into our soil and prevent erosion. But while we’re not harvesting from the field between mid to late November and late April, we’re often as busy in the off-season as we are in midsummer! Late fall through winter are crucial for analyzing the season behind us, and planning for the season ahead. As early as January, our farmers are already starting crops in the greenhouses, which are crammed with microgreens year round. Our events team is often busy with leading site visits for couples who got engaged over the holidays, hosting workshops, and planning dinners and ticketed events for the following spring. Our Design/Build team is meeting with clients and designing landscaping projects in between maintenance visits to the accounts whose indoor plants we maintain. Our admin team is busy writing job descriptions and recruiting new hires, crunching numbers and forecasting the months to come, and reviewing contracts and internal documents. In some ways, winter is our busiest time!
Why Urban Farming?
The city will always rely on rural farmers for the bulk of our food, and the relationship between urban and rural communities must be respected and celebrated. But while urban farms won’t ever feed entire cities, having farms inside the city limits which take advantage of unused roofs to add much-needed green space is an opportunity not to be missed. Rooftop farms have the potential to improve urban ecology, enhance quality of life, create jobs, increase access to healthy fresh foods, and provide environmental and agricultural education to those of us who live in and love the city.
I’d like to come take pictures of the farm! How do I set that up?
To set up a journalistic media visit, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, and for a commercial shoot, please email Events at Events@BrooklynGrangeFarm.com. Please feel free to take pictures for your own personal use during any of our visiting days, or on a tour, and feel free to tag us on social @BrooklynGrange, #brooklyngrange and geotag our locations! But please be aware that any Media created on premises may not be use for promotional, commercial, or editorial purposes without the written permission of Brooklyn Grange LLC, nor may any Media created on premises be given, licensed, or otherwise transferred to any third party without the written permission of Brooklyn Grange LLC. If you have an opportunity to use your Media for promotional, commercial, or editorial purposes, please contact us as we are generally supportive once we have reviewed the proposed use, but please do not do so without touching base.