Summer 2012: The Eat Drink Local Issue

Five hundred and ninety-six acres is the area of vacant city-owned lots in Brooklyn

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596 acres. 66 square feet. And a million pounds of produce.

My brain has always trafficked in words, not numbers, but as we built this issue—our annual “Eat Drink Local” celebration of place-based taste—I found myself as inspired by data as by detailed descriptions.

Five hundred and ninety-six acres is the area of vacant city-owned lots in Brooklyn; a Bed-Stuy-based lawyer named Paula Segal stumbled on this staggering statistic while working to green her own neighborhood. Taken together, this area—which does not include privately owned vacant lots—is larger than Prospect Park, but bureaucratic confusion typically thwarts would-be gardeners from uprooting weeds and sowing seeds.

So Segal developed a tool more powerful than any shovel: a flowchart for navigating city agencies in order to gain land access. (See related story.) In just nine months, her guide has already helped three groups gain official access to abandoned lots—and at least 25 others have begun the process. With so much land, the urban agricultural opportunities are enormous.

Divide that space by 400,000 and you’ll get about 66 square feet. Tiny, but for one determined Cobble Hill gardener whose terrace claims those modest measurements, it’s enough to justify life in the barely bigger apartment to which it’s attached. Each summer that plot in the sky yields everything from eggplant, peppers and watermelon to blueberries and figs—plus the fruits of that squash blossom on our cover. All from a space smaller than many parking spots.

Together these numbers tell a story about an appetite for fresh experiences. Sure, Brooklyn’s known as a locavore locus, but that no longer just means mosh pits at the Greenmarkets. Our fertile borough is now home to its own seed company, one that stocks 16 edible varieties particularly well suited to life on the roof, and a new beekeeping project boasting 30 beehives, with plans to breed queens acclimated to Kings County and a healthy swarm of beekeepers, to boot.

Some of the other figures in this issue: 12,000 bottles of Cassis, a 1,200-square-foot cheese cave, 24 flavors of ice cream, eight floors of commercial kitchen space and many billions of microbes. As for the million pounds of produce—that’s the projected annual yield for a two-acre, state-of-the-art hydroponic greenhouse slated for a Sunset Park rooftop. It all adds up to a movement you can count on.

Cover photo: Terrace Harvest by Marie Viljoen. 

 

 

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Gabrielle Langholtz is the former editor of Edible Brooklyn and Edible Manhattan.