By Randy Mueller(GSB ‘20), Food Impact Investing Practicum.
When we think of urban agriculture in New York City, some of us might picture community gardens and balcony greens. Here at Fordham, St. Rose’s Garden reflects the dedication of many students to community supported agriculture (CSA) and the greater urban agriculture movement. The future of urban agriculture, however, lies in getting farming off the ground and onto the rooftops above us.
On April 22nd, as the international community celebrated Earth Day, myself and two other Fordham students, Claire Siegrist and Sarah Speranza, visited the Brooklyn Grange. Located in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, this rooftop farm defies many millennia of farming practices by growing produce on a 65,000 square foot plot of “land” twelve stories above the streets below.
Cecilia de Corral accommodated our visit and offered a tour of the farm. As a design and installation project manager, Cecilia left her career in teaching to join the Brooklyn Grange team and assist in the construction and maintenance of the rooftop farm. She guided us around the farm, introducing us to their three chickens and explaining the ins and outs of farming on a roof.
Immediately as we stepped onto the rooftop, the paradoxical sight amazed me. Countless rows of soil blanketed the building’s surface, and beyond the walls of the roof we could spot the industrial cranes and smokestacks of the naval yard as well as a stunning full view of the Manhattan skyline. At first it did not feel right to walk along sprouting beds of flowers and produce while hearing the blaring horns and sounds of the city, yet my senses came to embrace the experience. Cecilia led us into the Grange’s two greenhouses where they grow microgreens, the small edible plants that chefs use to add bursting flavors to their dishes. I winced as the muddy ground underneath caked my sneakers in dirt and as soil stained my white shirt. I was dressed for the city, not a farm.
When we asked Cecilia about her involvement with the Brooklyn Grange, we were surprised to hear that none of the members of the team had farming experience beyond backyard gardening before they formed the company. Coming from all walks of life, the Brooklyn Grange team has tackled fundraising and the logistics of farming on a rooftop with impressive success. Now in its fifth year of operation, the Grange’s Navy Yard farm enters another growing season having solidified its connection with the surrounding city as a wholesale and CSA produce provider. A second location in Long Island City is thriving as well, and the Grange hopes to secure more funding to construct a third rooftop farm in New York City. As I reflected on Earth Day’s purpose in fostering environmental health and awareness, it was rewarding to see firsthand and learn about an organization living out this mission.
Claire Siegrist (GSB 18), Sarah Speranza (GSB 18), Randy Mueller (GSB 20)