A Two-Acre Farm Will Help Brooklynites Get Hyperlocal Veggies

The greenhouse effect.

You think Brooklyn wants more fresh local produce? What about another million pounds a year?

That’s what an outfit called BrightFarms is planning to grow in a state-of-the-art hydroponic greenhouse slated for a warehouse rooftop in Sunset Park.

The two-acre farm won’t exactly restore Brooklyn to the status it enjoyed in the 1880s, when it was the second-most-productive agricultural county in all of the United States (top honors went to Queens). But it will make it easier for Brooklynites to get hyperlocal veggies, within hours of harvest.

Why a greenhouse? Because eaters expect summer veggies year-round, says Paul Lightfoot, the company’s CEO. “In a perfect world,” he concedes, “people might eat beets and carrots all winter. But that’s not the world I live in.”

But even with season extension, the system will be greener than those on distant industrial farms whose crops are trucked into Brooklyn daily. While commercial operations in the arid Southwest irrigate with scarce Colorado River water, this company’s greenhouses collect rain and recirculate it, using city water only as a supplemental supply.

Still, there are some significant uncertainties. While BrightFarms generally finances its projects via a contract with a single seller, it does not yet have a deal in hand—though Lightfoot says the company is talking to several supermarkets. Then there’s the matter of size: To date BrightFarms has set up only a handful of much smaller greenhouses. Partly to address that concern, the company just hired, as its VP of agriculture, a Dutchman whose last job was running a California greenhouse more than 50 times the size of the one BrightFarms is planning here.

Salmar Properties, which owns the former Navy warehouse, was introduced to BrightFarms by the office of the Borough President as part of a campaign to increase food production in Brooklyn. Project manager Ian Siegel says the 1918 building is perfect for light industry, with a huge parking lot, loading bays and 23 elevators—including one that will hold 8,000 pounds, the better to get all that produce down to street level.

Also coming in handy, especially for Brooklyn’s growing army of infrastructure-hungry artisan entrepreneurs, (see related story) is the seventh floor, most recently occupied by the Food and Drug Administration, and outfitted with three elegant tiled refrigerators, each bigger than the average New York apartment. The plan is to turn the whole floor, giant fridges and all, into a massive food-processing space.

“Think about it,” Siegel muses, “we could grow hot peppers on the roof and a company below could be making Brooklyn Hot Sauce.”

Raising (food on) the roof. Paul Lightfood, CEO of a company called Bright Farms, is building a state-of-the-art hydroponic greenouse atop a Sunset Park warehouse. The Markowitz-brokered business is slated to yield a million pounds of produce per year. 

 

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Ann Monroe writes about sustainability and local food in a Brooklyn brownstone, where she tries to practice what she preaches by growing vegetables-not always successfully-and making her own (damn good) ketchup, kimchee and hard cider.