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Rooftop farms looking to expand in Queens and Brooklyn


The bucolic farms of middle America are getting some stiff competition from the rooftops of New York City.

A growing number of commercial farms housed several stories high throughout the city are producing crops year-round — in many cases without even using dirt.

Several city farms are looking for more rooftop space to grow their local food businesses. And swaths of Queens and Brooklyn with large expanses of industrial rooftops are prime candidates for the urban agriculture expansion.

“In dense cities like New York, there isn’t an enormous amount of vacant land,” said New School Professor Nevin Cohen, who specializes in urban agriculture.

But “there are thousands of acres of rooftop space in New York City potentially suitable for agriculture — with more than 1,000 acres in Queens,” he said.

The Brooklyn Grange, a 40,000-square-foot organic farm that sits on top of the Standard Motor Products building in Long Island City, Queens, plans to open a new rooftop operation each year over the next five years.

The group is set to open a 45,000-square-foot farm in the Brooklyn Navy Yard this spring.

“On the ground level, either the space is too small or you’re under the constant threat of development,” said Grange Partner Gwen Schantz. “The roof is the next best option. “They’re these big open spaces [and\] they’re not being utilized.”

The farms are also a boon for building owners who can collect rent on previously unused space and reduce energy costs, she said. Farms typically insulate buildings, trapping in heat in the winter and cool air in the summer.

Her group is looking for roofs that are at least 30,000 square feet and no higher than 15 stories. The buildings must also be structurally sound enough to support about 1.2 million pounds of soil.

“We’re looking at old, industrial buildings or factory buildings,” Schantz said. “They can bear a certain load.”

Several rooftop greenhouse operations, such as Gotham Greens and BrightFarms, are also looking for elevated space.

Gotham Greens, a 15,000-square-foot, hydroponic operation built on a Greenpoint, Brooklyn, manufacturing building, is searching primarily in Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx.

“We’re just starting to look at sites,” said Gotham Greens CEO Viraj Puri. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to expand within the next couple years.”

The enclosed farm currently provides a year-round supply of greens and herbs to local restaurants, Fresh Direct and supermarkets, such as Whole Foods Market and D’Agostino.

Plants are grown without dirt using nutrient-enriched water.

“More New Yorkers are interested in greening the city and trying more innovative technologies,” Puri said. “There’s potential for growth, but the industry needs to take it one step at a time.”

BrightFarms, a Manhattan-based company that builds and runs greenhouses, is particularly interested in sites in Long Island City and Sunset Park, Brooklyn, said spokeswoman Kate Siskel.

“Our goal is to produce food in a way that conserves land, water and the environment,” she said.

Seth Bornstein, executive director of the Queens Economic Development Corp., said rooftop farms are a great way to use space and create green jobs.

“It’s local produce, it’s better for the environment and it helps us create a sustainable economy,” he said.

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