OUR FARMING PRACTICES
At Brooklyn Grange, we transform bare roofs into ecosystems, and we employ natural farming practices which help those ecosystems thrive with as little human intervention as possible. Farming this way yields harvests packed with nutrients and devoid of chemicals, providing maximal health benefits to every participant in our ecosystem–from the smallest insects to the families who purchase our vegetables.
Healthy ecosystems start with healthy soil. Ours was created by a cooperative of mushroom growers in Chester County, PA who blend their spent compost with local inputs like horse manure and balance it with aggregate for drainage and weight (read more about it here). This is the base upon which we build the structure of our soil, which is a constantly-evolving and living organism.
Our beds are compact, and since we're short on space, we practice intensive growing practices. We're asking a lot of our soil, which means nutrient management is key. Regular applications of compost, both from Red Hook Community Farm Compost Operation, and our own (which is made from our own plant waste, food scraps from our events program and several neighboring businesses), are critical to maintaining organic matter. We've added Biochar, which promotes beneficial microorganisms and fertility, and helps retain moisture, thus reducing nutrient leaching in our well-drained soil. We cover crop intensively: ground covers such as winter-killed oats prevent erosion, while green manures like clover and vetch fix nitrogen and integrate it into our system when turned into the beds. Finally, we test our soil consistently to identify and address specific deficiencies with targeted applications of organic-approved fertilizers, so we can keep inputs minimal.
SEED AND CROP SELECTION
We also put thought into what we grow in our soil, sourcing organic seed when available, and selecting heirloom varieties with generations-long track records of succeeding in our climate. We rotate crops as often as possible, especially our fruiting crops, like tomatoes, that are more prone to disease, thus reducing the transmission from season to season.
Because we're on a roof, we don't have access to traditional farm tools like tractors that utilize fossil fuels. Rather, we invest in human capital–people–to cultivate our fields. Fortunately for us, the community of soil-based, intensive farmers has innovated a number of amazing tools that we gratefully employ to increase efficiency, and decrease the soreness of our muscles. The Tillie is a battery-powered cultivator that has virtually transformed the way we farm. Our greens harvester, which operates by engaging a battery-powered drill, radically improved our harvest process. And an upcycled spin washing machine converted into a giant salad spinner has significantly decreased our wash-and-pack time.
PEST AND WEED MANAGEMENT
When pests make their way to our roofs in large enough numbers to stress our crops, we introduce beneficial insects, such as ladybugs, lacewings, preying mantises, and the mite predator Phytoseiulus persimilis. Occasionally, we'll use a "good bug"-friendly spray, like organic Dr. Bronner's castille soap diluted in water, or OMRI-approved Pyganic, both of which are quite effective at defeating our insect nemesis, aphids.
In spite of farming several stories up, we are unfortunately not immune to weeds. We do our best to reduce their numbers by employing the stale seed bed technique, and mulching intensively with upcycled materials like silage tarps, burlap bags, saw dust from untreated wood and even cocoa husk from local whole-bean confectioners, Raaka Chocolate and Mast Brothers.
WATER AND IRRIGATION
Intensive mulching also helps keep moisture from evaporating, which is crucial on our breezy, well-drained farm. We irrigate with NYC water using a combination of low aerial sprinklers on direct-sown crops, as well as highly efficient drip irrigation, combined with rain sensors to prevent unnecessary use. We are currently researching moisture sensors to further increase efficiencies.
We harvest and distribute our produce in reusable plastic bins upcycled from vineyard shipments. Salad greens and other looseleaf items that require bagging at farmer's markets and CSA distributions are packed in biodegradable plastic. And while our wholesale harvests are delivered to local chefs and grocers, none are more than a few miles from our farms. Moreover, CSA members and market shoppers who visit our on-site farmstand often walk to pick up their produce, then walk it home–resulting in meals that made the journey from seed to plate without ever using an ounce of fossil fuels! Sure, it's a tiny drop in the bucket, but with the average distance traveled by supermarket-bought food hovering at a whopping 1,500 miles, every drop counts.
Our farming practices evolve from season to season as we learn and develop as growers. We are constantly pushing our farm to be more sustainable, and innovating new ways for our ecosystems to become thriving organisms independent of our interventions. Check back here next season, and you might just find we’ve changed the way we’re farming our soil.