Beyond the Fence: Urban Farming Hits a High at the Brooklyn Navy Yard

Beyond the Fence: Urban Farming Hits a High at the Brooklyn Navy Yard

Brooklyn Grange transformed the 65,000-square-foot roof of Building 3 in the Brooklyn Navy Yard into the city’s largest rooftop farm last year. Beyond the Fence recently caught up with Anastasia Cole Plakias – Brooklyn Grange co-founder, writer and host of the monthly Heritage Radio Network segment, Anastasia’s Fridge – to see what’s going on this season up at the farm.

So, how did the idea to create a farm on top of Building 3 come about?

We’d always planned on expanding once we hit our stride farming atop the flagship farm building in Long Island City [a 43,000-square-foot rooftop farm at 37-18 Northern Boulevard]. The navy yard is such an amazing location, with such a rich history and so many innovative folks. It really was a perfect fit. Building 3 was the best option due to its large size, structural capacity and central location.

Anastasia Cole Plakias, co-founder of the Brooklyn Grange, enjoys her work to build the local rooftop farm. (Photo courtesy Brooklyn Grange)
Anastasia Cole Plakias, co-founder of the Brooklyn Grange, enjoys her work to build the local rooftop farm. (Photo courtesy Brooklyn Grange)

You’ve been in operation for more than a year now, give us a progress report.

The farm is incredibly productive. Thanks to my partner Ben Flanner’s meticulous record keeping, we are always analyzing our best crops and optimizing our planting schedule so that we can grow as much fresh, healthy food for the neighborhood as possible.

And our Farm Manager, Matt Jefferson, is doing an amazing job of coaxing incredible veggies out of our soil. We’re doing about 300 pounds of cut greens a week, plus mountains of kale, chard, heirloom tomatoes, peppers and herbs. It’s been a delicious season so far.

We’ve also created a learning laboratory for the community. We host an educational non-profit, City Growers, which we founded back in 2011 after struggling to meet the demand from schools and youth groups for exploratory visits to the farm. It’s so amazing to see the kids come up to the farm with these preconceived notions that soil is dirty, worms are gross and bees are scary. An hour later they’re digging through compost for red wrigglers or crowding around a sunflower to watch a honeybee pollinate it.

We also started hosting corporate offsites and they’re so much fun. One of our favorite aspects of farming is what a team sport it is; and we take a lot of pleasure in seeing groups of colleagues work together and apply ways of thinking in their approach to farm tasks that they may not utilize in their daily professional life. We really love showing others the ropes up here and there’s nothing like watching a first-time farmer get to manhandle some rakes and hoes for a day. Plus, it’s an excuse for us to sit down with them and take a long lunch afterwards, which is always nice

What produce is doing well this growing season?

We’re having a great year for tomatoes – which is a relief, after last year’s terrible tomato crop. We’ll see how they’re doing after the rains, but in general it’s been a pretty forgiving season save for that punishing heat wave.

You’ve started a market on Wednesdays from noon to 5 p.m. How’s that going?

We love our Wednesday market. It’s such a great way for the community to check out a working farm without leaving the five boroughs. The produce we’re selling is picked that very morning, so it’s as fresh as anything you’re going to find. We’ve always got a nice selection of leaves, like salad greens and hearty kale; roots, like pretty purple carrots and beets; and fruits, like our super popular and crazy sweet heirloom tomatoes, crisp red peppers and fun ground cherries.

You’ve also initiated an apiary. How do the bees like the roof?

Our apiary is having a fantastic season – our farmstand tables are stocked with honey!

Sunset Yoga at the Brooklyn Grange farm in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. (Photo courtesy Brooklyn Grange)
Sunset Yoga at the Brooklyn Grange farm in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. (Photo courtesy Brooklyn Grange)

Any other programs for the community?

The Tuesday yoga sessions are such a gorgeous way to celebrate this tranquil oasis we’ve built here on the farm in the midst of this industrial, bustling city. I hope they can inspire people to bring that calm with them after they depart and allow them to be their own tranquil oasis as they journey out into their urban lives.

For market schedules, yoga reservations, or inquires about tours and private events, residents can visit the Brooklyn Grange website at www.brooklyngrangefarm.com or email them at info@brooklyngrangefarm.com

Anselm Doering is the CEO of EcoLogic Solutions, a Brooklyn Navy Yard-based manufacturer and supplier of green cleaning chemicals and technologies for commercial users.  He can be reached at anselm@ecologicsolutions.com

Franz Wisner is a freelance writer living in Fort Greene.  He can be reached at franz@storydrivenink.com

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