What an Urban Farmer Looks Like

Until the mid-nineteenth century, most of New York City was farmland. Now, thanks to the constant drumbeat of locavorism, some of it is going back to seed. Urban horticulture has long been practiced at hundreds of community gardens around the city. But a new class of growers is more concerned with bolstering a sustainable food system and, if possible, turning a profit than with cultivating a peaceful vegetable plot. In studiously trendy neighborhoods like Red Hook, Greenpoint, and Long Island City, the farming is done on rooftops and old basketball courts, mostly by the young, idealistic, and educated. Some still follow the old church-pantry model, but others are more entrepreneurial, relying on restaurant sales and CSA (community-supported agriculture) subscriptions to turn farming into a viable business. Here, a portfolio of the city’s most prolific food producers, and a map of where to find them.

1. Added Value
370 Van Brunt St., at Wolcott St., Red Hook; added-value.org
Harvests enough food to support a CSA, a farmers’ market, and sales to restaurants like the Good Fork and Fort Defiance.

2. Bed-Stuy Farm
255 Bainbridge St., nr. Patchen Ave., Bedford-Stuyvesant; brooklynrescuemission.org
All produce goes to the Brooklyn Rescue Mission’s pantry and a weekly farmers’ market.

3. BK Farmyards
Multiple locations; bkfarmyards.com
A growing network of small plots farmed mostly by students and community members.

4. Brooklyn Grange
37-18 Northern Blvd., nr. 37th St., Long Island City; brooklyngrangefarm.com
A for-profit rooftop farm founded in part by the owners of Roberta’s.

5. Eagle Street Rooftop Farm
44 Eagle St., nr. West St., Greenpoint; rooftopfarms.org
Shallow veggie beds and a chicken coop on 6,000 square feet overlooking the East River.

6. East New York Farms!
Schenck Ave. nr. New Lots Ave., East New York; eastnewyorkfarms.org

7. Garden of Happiness
2156 Prospect Ave., nr. 181st St., the Bronx
Karen Washington, urban farming’s de facto godmother, co-founded the garden in 1988.

8. Hands and Heart Garden
New Lots Ave. and Georgia Ave., East New York; eastnewyorkfarms.org.
Gardeners at the four-square-block communal farm harvest, then sell (or share) whatever they like.

9. La Finca del Sur
E. 138th St. and Grand Concourse, the Bronx; bronxfarmers.blogspot.com
The first all-female farm in the South Bronx.

10. Queens County Farm Museum
73-50 Little Neck Pkwy., nr. 74th Ave., Floral Park; queensfarm.org
The city’s oldest and, at 47 acres, largest working farm.

11. Rikers Island GreenHouse
Rikers Island, the Bronx
One of two on-site gardens cultivated by the prison’s inmates.

12. Taqwa Community Farm
W. 164th St. and Ogden Ave., the Bronx
A few dozen children tend four-by-eight-foot plots and 43 fruit trees.

13. Tenth Acre Farms
215 Richardson St., nr. N. Henry St., Greenpoint; tenthacrefarms.com
Started by a bunch of CollegeHumor.com staffers on an abandoned basketball court.

14. Truck Farm
A mobile farm planted in the bed of a 1986 Dodge pickup.

Annie Novak
Co-founder, Eagle Street Rooftop Farm, Greenpoint
Scenic it may be, but farming atop an old bagel factory overlooking the East River isn’t easy. “It’s not the right type of soil, it’s not the right depth, and it’s enormously sunny,” Novak says. Still, the proceeds from a sixteen-member CSA and sales to restaurants like Eat and Marlow & Sons are enough to sustain the farm year-round. All photographs by Andreas Laszlo Konrath

Hilda Krus
Director, GreenHouse Program at Rikers Island
“Inmates often experience time as something wasted,” says Krus, who also manages the prison’s herb and butterfly gardens. “If they can watch a vegetable grow, they see time is not the enemy anymore.”

Kristen Schafenacker
Farm Manager, Added Value, Red Hook and Governors Island
Between a three-acre spread on an old baseball field in Red Hook and a recently cultivated three acres on Governors Island, Added Value possesses one of the bigger farming operations in the city. “We can grow pretty much everything except daikon radishes and trees,” says Schafenacker.

Ian Marvy
Executive Director, Added Value, Red Hook and Governors Island

Abu Talib
Co-founder, Taqwa Community Farm, the Bronx
When Talib helped start the Taqwa Community Farm in 1992, the Bronx’s Highbridge neighborhood was in a much different state. “They burned a lot of cars in those days,” he says; some of them were left to rot in a quarter-acre lot a few blocks from Yankee Stadium. Today, that same lot yields about 10,000 pounds of food annually.

What an Urban Farmer Looks Like