Eagle Street Rooftop Farm: The Future of Urban Agriculture

Can urban agriculture help cities produce their own food? Annie Novak and the team at Eagle Street Rooftop Farm have set out to prove it can.

| March/April 2012

  • Eagle Street is run by a small staff along with volunteers and apprentices. Many city dwellers relish the chance to participate in the production of their own food.
    Photo By Tim Nauman
  • “We need to grow high-quality, organic food in all regions, and there is room for growing food in buildings, on buildings and around buildings,” said Green Roofs for Healthy Cities President Steven Peck.
    Photo By Tim Nauman
  • Eagle Street Rooftop Farm in Brooklyn overlooks lower Manhattan’s famous skyline.
    Photo By Tim Nauman
  • In 2010, Eagle Street Rooftop Farm produced 30 varieties of organic and heirloom fruits and vegetables.
    Photo By Tim Nauman
  • Although a green roof can cost double or triple what a standard roof would cost, Eagle Street reduced costs by using volunteer labor and reclaimed materials.
    Photo By Tim Nauman
  • The farm’s rabbits produce fertilizer, which adds to the farm’s extensive composting project.
    Photo By Tim Nauman
  • Veteran New York Botanical Garden gardener Annie Novak heads up a team of employees, volunteers and apprentices.
    Photo By Tim Nauman
  • Radishes are among the crops for sale at Eagle Street’s Sunday farm market.
    Photo By Tim Nauman
  • The farm sells its produce and flowers, along with honey, pesto, hot sauce and other value-added items at its market on Sunday afternoons in the growing season.
    Photo By Tim Nauman

How to meet our growing population’s ever-increasing need for high-quality, healthy fresh food may inspire the pontifications of politicians, economists and academics across the nation. But as any architect will tell you, the best way to envision the potential of a project is to build a model.

The visionaries behind the Eagle Street Rooftop Farm have done just that. In 2010, the 6,000-foot rooftop farm in Brooklyn produced about 30 varieties of organic and heirloom fruits and vegetables. And the full-scale farm just happens to sit opposite one of the most stunning views around. Situated in the charming neighborhood of Greenpoint on the East River, the employees, apprentices and volunteers who plant seeds and pull weeds at this amazing farm do so while overlooking the famous sweeping view of the lower Manhattan skyline. And they’re out to prove that farming in the city is a viable option for growing food—and making profits—as we move into the future.

Eagle Street owes much of its success to a network of partnerships. The farm is run by Annie Novak, a veteran gardener at The New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx and the unstoppable force behind Growing Chefs, a nonprofit she started to help connect urban dwellers with their food sources. Annie works with Growing Chefs to host educational workshops at the farm, and the nonprofit supplies her with weekly volunteers who water, weed, harvest and turn compost, among other eye-opening tasks for city dwellers, some of whom have never even seen a growing edible plant, let alone a compost pile.

Much of Eagle Street’s hyperlocal produce is enjoyed by neighbors who purchase it directly from the farm during Sunday open hours in the growing season. This allows Annie and her team to pick superfresh produce and eliminates the need for travel, reducing their carbon footprint. On Sundays, the farm is open to visitors who want to shop or simply enjoy the green space and the incredible view. Some of them also come to drop off the food scraps they collect all week to donate to Eagle Street’s compost piles.

The farm has also buddied up with Brooklyn Honey to raise bees on the rooftop; an upstate farm that runs a subscription-based community-supported agriculture (CSA) program; and many talented chefs in the neighborhood.

Even the origin of the project was a partnership. Gina and Tony Argento own the building beneath Eagle Street farm, which used to house a bagel factory. Their television and movie production company, Broadway Stages, has undertaken many community-improvement projects in the neighborhood, and they decided to finance putting a green roof on the building. The team at New York City design firm Goode Green designed and installed the system—a 6,000-square-foot roof that hosts 200,000 pounds of shale, rock and compost. And Annie runs the farm with a team of volunteers and apprentices who work by her side. These are the kind of innovative partnerships that will be necessary to make urban agriculture a reality.

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