This Is a Roof

Photo: Lucas Foglia

“There are 1,000 worms in here,” Annie Novak says, cracking the lid on a box filled with scraps of newspaper and small squirmy things. The earthworms are about to be relocated to the soil spread across this warehouse roof 50 feet above the Greenpoint sidewalk, where, Novak hopes, they’ll get to work aerating the soil. Urban gardens are nothing new, but the scale, location, and imagination of Rooftop Farms—the name of this project—is stunning.

Rooftop Farms got started in December 2008, with Chris and Lisa Goode, who run Goode Green, a green-roof business, with their partner, Amy Trachtman. They approached Gina Argento, who owns several Greenpoint warehouses, with the idea of farming her rooftops. In the meantime, the Goodes had met Ben Flanner, a former E*Trade marketer turned would-be farmer, who’d heard of Goode Green and was keen on starting an urban-farm business; Flanner brought in Annie Novak, who works at the New York Botanical Garden, for her hands-on planting expertise.

After a building engineer signed off on the weight-bearing limit this past March, the Goodes hauled over 200,000 pounds of soil up to the roof. “It’s a special rooftop mix,” explains Flanner, with compost already mixed in. “An expanded shale is 50 percent of the volume. Feel how light that is.” The roof has sixteen four-foot-wide beds irrigated by rain (a particular boon to the city, Goode points out, since it takes stress off New York’s overtaxed sewer system).

Flanner, Novak, and an army of volunteers have planted corn, salad greens, radishes, herbs, nasturtiums, and peppers, to name a few. The soil will be composted with a mix that will come from scraps from local restaurants. And so far the yields are promising. “The radishes are perfect,” says Novak. “Totally gorgeous. The greens came up in almost 100 percent germination, which also surprised me.”

The Brooklyn restaurants Marlow & Sons and Anella are already buying the produce; Joseph Leonard and Applewood are interested. “The idea is to keep it in the community,” says Flanner, meaning nearby restaurants and schools. “Greenpoint and Long Island City. Maybe a trip or two into the city for friends.”

1. Cabbage and Kale
The 6,000-square-foot roof has a diversity of crops. Cabbage and kale are thriving in this bed.
2. Peas and Lettuces
To maximize space and soil, Flanner and Novak (both pictured) “intercropped” (put compatible plants close together). Here, they’ve paired peas and lettuces.
3. Peppers
A new row of peppers with the irrigation system visible.
4. Mixed Greens
Peppers are intercropped here with lettuces and mixed greens.
5. Soil
The ground cover is a mix of lightweight shale with compost.

To volunteer, go to

This Is a Roof