Brooklyn Grange, Mongols Henry Rich Sheridan, Brooklyn Granger discussed on Monocle 24: The Urbanist
We had now to New York to check in with Brooklyn Grange, a company that operates three of the world's largest rooftop soil farms. Mongols Henry rich Sheridan recently visited their newest farm on top of a shopping mall in the Brooklyn neighborhood of sunset park. He was shown around by Brooklyn Granger's cofounder and chief operating officer Anastasia, Cole, farming a rooftop is a real estate play as much as anything, and it's this is a pretty unusual site to walk into en route to a farm. We're in the lobby of a mall. We're looking at a Bed Bath & Beyond marquee. And kiosks selling coal oven pizza. There's a Captain America statue as well. That's what we're known for. In fact, it's a landmark on Google Maps. Head over here to this elevator bank. Even more rustic. So we just stepped out of a very polished elevator bank with a sliding glass door, and we're looking at a bed of perennials. This is an incredible portion of New York City's upper bay. We're looking straight away at the Statue of Liberty. We can see quite a bit of the ports of New Jersey and Staten Island. And then as we make our way down to the west side of the farm, you'll see all of Lower Manhattan and the skyline. It's really quite something. Before we even discuss the roof, it's worth noting that we are on lenape land. This was an incredibly rich and valuable piece of lenape earth, and we consider that as we steward and cultivate this section of New York City. So this greenhouse is was a huge undertaking for us and our first foray into hydroponic growing. We had previously grown microgreens in soil in small hoop houses at our other locations, but this greenhouse was a massive investment that we made to increase our year round growing opportunities. So we do have quite a number of fans in our greenhouse because on a day like today it's so sunny. It really warms up in here. And of course, the humidity levels tend to rise. So traditionally, hydroponic growing, greenhouse growing is controlled environment agriculture or CEA. And that's really about controlling the temperature, the humidity level, and your nutrients in your soil or in your hydroponic or aquaponic or aeroponic growing medium. So yeah, again, these are the sounds that you hear. When growing in sort of less traditional spaces. And there's some herbage popping off in here. What we're looking at. Yeah, so we are surrounded by a sort of tables that are covered in flats of mostly pea shoots. These pea shoots are sold via a retail market. This space used to be filled with microgreens for our restaurant accounts. Microgreens were really a priority for us as we served. And here come here come the fans. Our business used to service about 70% of its harvest. So anywhere between 70 to 80% of our food was being sold to wholesale customers mostly restaurants mostly in Manhattan. And that's changed significantly. It started before COVID, but COVID really gave us an opportunity to reinvent our model. So what you don't see in here are a thousand different types of microgreens all grown to chef specifications at different heights with different stages of growth, what you do see is a very efficient pea shoot growing operation for one large retail client, as well as some nasturtium, and then behind these tables covered in pea shoots on the left, on the right we've got the first seedlings that will be transplanted into the fields for spring quite a few onions, as well as I don't actually have to walk over there and see what we've got. And then beyond we've got our germination chambers or germ chambers, the warm, dark closets, where we put trays of seeds to germinate, and even farther, you'll see a sea of hydroponically grown basil being grown in NFT chambers for our hydro nerds out there, and again, that's a crop that's being grown for one retail client, a restaurant, and we're also experimenting as we embark upon a USDA research project on some organic hydro growing practices. Yeah, so we're walking over a bluestone pathway that is actually in and of itself a stormwater management feature. Underneath this farm is a traditional roof membrane. We love to install our farms on newish roof membranes, leak free is really the critical piece here, spoiler alert. If you're roof leaks before you put a green roof on it, it's going to continue to leak after you put a green roof on it. But for the building owner who has just re roofed their building, you're spending a tremendous amount of money. It's costly financially, but also environmentally to re roof a building. That's the perfect time to put down a green roof because the number one cause of damage to your roof membrane is UV rays. And a green roof will protect your roof membrane and extend the life of that membrane by at least four times, but nobody really knows how long because nobody's ever had to rip off and re roof a properly installed green roof. So we really urge building owners out there to consider, especially if you are re roofing your building, put a green roof down as you do that, and it's a long-term investment for sure, because green roots are not cheap to install, but not only is it an investment in your building, but it's also an investment in our environment. Green roofs, you know, one of the reasons that we started farming rooftops is that green roofs have these incredible intrinsic environmental benefits. I talked a bit about actually the reduction of sound, which is maybe not environmental, but social benefit to all of us who live in cities. But the big ones are really that we manage stormwater. New York City and many older cities that have combined sewer systems are plagued by combined sewage overflow, CSO. Combined sewer systems are processing rainfall and human sewage use and in times of heavy rainfall, the systems we have in place are insufficient to process The Rain, so we basically are venting untreated wastewater along with rainfall directly into our local waterways. It's an environmental crisis. It is hugely damaging and green roofs can really help to mitigate this issue by, you know, not completely absorbing all of the rainfall, but by holding it in reserve. The soil itself saturates, but the system underneath our soil about 12 inches of it on this farm is layers of drainage material. It can be a cup system, monofilament, small stones, sandwiched between layers of filter fabric. If we can replicate this if we can scale this, if we can implement these models in tandem with other incentives and initiatives across cities, we can start to build the cities that we know we need to build as we enter into this sort of new climate. That was Anastasia Cole. From Brooklyn Grange, speaking to Henry Reese, Sheridan..