Monday, July 23, 2012


Urban agriculture is a hot topic in some countries because of the supposed advantages for vegetables from such endeavors in the form of lesser carbon emission, freedom from pesticides, relatively lesser from pathogens. Though it started in a very small way twenty years ago, recent developments in this sector is raising the possibility that urban gardens may play a critical role in meeting the requirements of vegetables for a significant segment of the city population without depending on arrival from far away places or from other continents. There is even a more friendly version of urban gardening where fresh produce retail shops are installing such gardens in the same building for the customers to pluck their need directly from the plants. It is amazing that a city like New York with a mega population and sky rocketing real estate prices is leading in establishing urban gardens on roof tops which is considered a far sighted development initiative. Here is a report on this interesting phenomenon.

"Today, she could have had both. New York City (the stores!) is suddenly a farming kind of town (the chores!). Almost a decade after the last family farm within the city's boundaries closed, basil and bok choy are growing in Brooklyn, and tomatoes, leeks and cucumbers in Queens. Commercial agriculture is bound for the South Bronx, where the city recently solicited proposals for what would be the largest rooftop farm in the United States, and possibly the world. Fed by the interest in locally grown produce, the new farm operations in New York are selling greens and other vegetables by the boxful to organically inclined residents, and by the bushel to supermarket chains like Whole Foods. The main difference between this century and previous ones is location: whether soil-based or hydroponic, in which vegetables are grown in water rather than soil, the new farms are spreading on rooftops, perhaps the last slice of untapped real estate in the city. "In terms of rooftop commercial agriculture, New York is definitely a leader at this moment," said Joe Nasr, co-author of "Carrot City: Creating Places for Urban Agriculture" and a researcher at the Centre for Studies in Food Security at Ryerson University in Toronto. "I expect it will continue to expand, and much more rapidly, in the near future." For city officials, the rise of commercial agriculture has ancillary benefits, as well. Rooftop farms have the potential to capture millions of gallons of storm water and divert it from the sewer system, which can overflow when it rains. And harvesting produce in the boroughs means fewer trucks on local roadways and lower greenhouse gas emissions, a goal of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's administration. Community gardeners and educators have tended plots and grown food for years. But they have only recently been joined by for-profit companies intent on getting back to the urban land. Gotham Greens began harvesting from its hydroponic greenhouse on a rooftop in the Greenpoint section of Brooklyn last year; it plans to open three more next year in Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx. The existing operation, with 20 employees, grows bok choy, basil and oak leaf lettuce, and sells to retailers like Whole Foods and FreshDirect. Brooklyn Grange, another farming operation, incorporated with the intention of finding a site in Brooklyn. But two years ago, a one-acre rooftop became available instead in Long Island City, Queens. The partners, led by Ben Flanner, the president and head farmer, spread out 1.2 million pounds of soil and started planting. This spring, Brooklyn Grange finally made good on its name, starting a second farm on a 65,000-square-foot roof at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, where more than 100 rows feature pattypan squash, scallions and beefsteak tomatoes. Mr. Flanner pointed out two benefits to an agricultural aerie — plentiful sun and an absence of pests. "There are a number of parallels with regular agriculture," he said. "What we don't have are deer or foxes or rodents".

A garden friendly policy like that is in place in New York goes out of the way to help potential "gardeners" to establish such productive system and added to this the city itself is offering the roof tops of its own buildings for gardening at reasonable contract fees. The changing attitude of established and reputed retailers towards produce grown in urban gardens is encouraging many citizens to enter this area. These retailers are tying up with those growing salad vegetables for marketing locally and thus create a win-win situation for both. Though all urban structures are not suitable for raising roof top gardens, there are still millions of such apartments and building complexes which may eventually get into this loop. Probably future designs of urban dwellings may incorporate gardening features, suitable for raising small gardens either as a part of the individual units or as a collective roof top facilitiy.


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