How to Run an Urban Farm

A co-founder of Brooklyn Grange shares how they’ve sustained a rooftop farm in one of the world’s most expensive real estate markets.

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Editor’s note: I read Anastasia’s book The Farm on the Roof: What Brooklyn Grange Taught Us About Entrepreneurship, Community, and Starting a Sustainable Business in one day. With it, she captures a certain generational hopefulness and determination that, at least since the financial crisis, has motivated many young, innovative and courageous minds (myself included) to want to effect change. Eager to have an impact? I strongly encourage you to read the Grange’s story about realizing a dream that has the potential to scale. 

Farms have long since been engaging alternative revenue streams, like petting zoos, corn mazes and hayrides, to protect their businesses against the volatility of nature. Here in the city, there are so few opportunities for our urban population to interact with food and farming—or even nature—that we feel especially compelled to meet our neighbors where they live and engage them in whatever capacity most interests them. This has lead to the diversification of our business into three distinct but intrinsically linked arenas, which work together to create the complex organization that is Brooklyn Grange Rooftop Farms.

Farming

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At the core of our business, we are a farm. We grow and sell fresh veggies from our field, microgreens from our greenhouse, honey from our beehives and really tasty hot sauce. Our primary crops are salad greens and arugula, sold wholesale to local mom-and-pop grocers and restaurants, but we also vend at two weekly markets and have 55 CSA members whose farm shares include everything from crunchy carrots and radishes to juicy, sweet tomatoes.

Private events and public programs

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Our urban community is interested in wildly different aspects of food and farming, which means we need an events program as diverse as our neighbors. From mushroom-growing workshops and cooking classes to private dinners and company off-sites, we host a wide range of programming. On any given day, our sister nonprofit organization, City Growers, might be teaching kids about chickens in one corner of the farm while I lead a Founder’s Tour in the other and a film crew sets up for a shoot in yet another. It’s a madhouse, and we wouldn’t have it any other way!

Consulting, design and installation

They wobbl'n, they wobbl'n! #roof2016

A video posted by Brooklyn Grange Farm (@brooklyngrange) on

We are eager to green as many corners of our fair city as we can! Our design and installations department has created and maintains countless patio, rooftop and backyard gardens for private residences and businesses, but we’ve also built temporary clover fields to fertilize our parks, written grants to build farms atop homeless shelters and arts centers and consulted on far-flung farms in cities across the globe.

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Anastasia is co-founder and vice president of Brooklyn Grange. She's also the author of The Farm on the Roof: What Brooklyn Grange Taught Us About Entrepreneurship, Community, and Starting a Sustainable Business.