AUGUST 19, 2010
On August 19th, about forty Young Leaders met in Long Island City, Queens, for a tour of the only commercial rooftop farm in the United States. Seven stories above Northern Boulevard, with unobstructed views of the Midtown Manhattan skyline, the “Brooklyn Grange” stretches 40,000 square feet to cover nearly the entire roof of the Standard Motor Products Building. (The name is a holdover from the company’s previous foray into rooftop farming in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.)
Ben Flanner, a founding partner of the Brooklyn Grange, addressed the group along with Jeff Rosenblum of Acumen Capital Partners, the owner of the Standard Motors Building which was constructed in 1919. Because the concrete slabs that support the roof of the building are so strong, it is an ideal site for a farm of this size. In the spring, Flanner installed a green roof membrane to protect the rooftop and, with help from a group of volunteers, spread over 1 million pounds of soil on to the roof before planting vegetables. Flanner explained that the soil mixture, made of mushroom compost and gravel, is 25 percent lighter than typical topsoil and produces fewer weeds. His company paid approximately $5 per square foot to install the roof, which now generates approximately $2.50 per square foot in revenue. According to Flanner, a scale of 40,000 square feet or larger is ideal to turn a profit on rooftop farming.
Rosenblum spoke about some of the benefits of rooftop farming for landlords. Because the rooftop space is not typically leased, it is essentially “found revenue” that has no impact on the building’s FAR or operating costs. In addition, the City provides a one-time tax credit to the landlord, and green roofs contribute to a building’s LEED certification. The Brooklyn Grange has signed a 10-year lease with Acumen for the rooftop. Both Rosenblum and Flanner were enthusiastic about the future prospects of rooftop farming, and recommend it for other landlords in New York City.
After the presentation, the Young Leaders Group sampled a salad and gazpacho made from the farm, and enjoyed beer and spirits produced in Brooklyn as the sun set over the skyline.
The Brooklyn Grange currently sells produce at the Brooklyn Flea on weekends, and from its farm stand in the Standard Motors Building at 37-18 Northern Boulevard in Long Island City on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 3-7 p.m. Their produce is also available in New York City restaurants such as Roberta’s, Marlow & Sons, Del Posto, and Blue Hill.