Having created the single largest commercial rooftop farm in the United States in the Borough of Queens on Northern Boulevard apparently wasn’t enough. Ben Flanner, head farmer of Brooklyn Grange, the young man with the irresistible twinkle in his eyes, boundless energy and chronically mismatched socks, now runs the TWO largest commercial rooftop farms in the United States, the newest one on the massive roof of Building 3 at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Brooklyn Grange has finally come to Brooklyn!
Eleven floors above ground level, is the magnificent 45,000 square foot rooftop farm where organic salad greens, tomatoes, kale, chard, eggplants, basil, flowers, okra, ground cherries and more grow. Stop by on Thursdays from noon to 5 p.m. when the farm and its weekly farmers market, “The Rooftop Crop Shop,” are open to the public.
This roof farm has other benefits that are not immediately apparent. It is insulating the building below, keeping it cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. It creates a bio-diverse environment where bees and Monarch butterflies thrive. And it will absorb one million gallons of storm water runoff that will not end up in the already overtaxed and aging New York City sewage system.
Standing by the doorway that leads from the 11th floor of Building 3 to the outdoor rooftop farm, it is such fun to watch people as they exit the drab, industrial building and enter the colorful rooftop farm. There is the initial reaction: The wide-eyed first view of four to five foot tall, lush tomato plants where everyone seems to stop momentarily in his tracks to take in such a unique view. Then a second or so later, as the visitor breathes out, you hear the collective gasp of “Wow!” or similar exclamations. Only then do visitors begin to notice the fantastic water, city and historical dry dock views from this 11thfloor vegetarian’s dreamscape.
How does Farmer Ben do it? With incredibly careful planning, fantastic partners and lots of hard working volunteers, plus Ben has several income streams to keep this farm commercially viable. Other than a well-subscribed CSA (community supported agriculture) membership and stalls at several Brooklyn farmers markets, Brooklyn Grange has contracts with several local restaurants that pre-order specific roof crops to suit the chef’s menu. This creates a third and very important stream of revenue to keep the Grange viable. In fact, if you visit Building 92 in the Navy Yard, you can enjoy some Grange veggies at Ted and Honey, the café on the third floor that boasts – gotta love this – an outdoor dining roof terrace. By the way, for good measure, Building 92, also has a sixth floor green roof which is clearly visible from the 11thfloor Grange.
Did I mention the eight rooftop bee hives on the building next door? The rooster and chickens in the rooftop coop? So much to see – please visit the Brooklyn Grange at the Brooklyn Navy Yard on Thursdays from noon to 5 during the growing season. And leave some time to wander through the enormous historical Navy Yard which is transforming into a sustainable industrial park like no other, with a museum, a movie studio, artists and furniture makers, and so much more. They have several tours available if you are so inclined. Or you can wander around with a map on your own. Just wear comfy shoes – this place is huge!