Urban Farms in NYC Grow More Than Food

In August, RFC’s ED Marianne Cufone visited several of our farming friends in New York City and learned about all the amazing programs happening there.

First stop was Brooklyn Grange. Atop a giant building in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, the farm grows across an expansive rooftop. The Grange hosts workshops, tours and events, including weddings, and has demonstration projects with chickens and bees. It is a beautiful space with 360 degree city and waters views. Their next endeavor is on the roof of the new mall in Sunset Park, across from Industrial City.


Next up, was spending time with Yemi Amu and the Oko Farms’ team, at their Moore Street Garden, in   Buschwick, Brooklyn. The farm practices recirculating farming through a large aquaponics system with tilapia, koi, goldfish, catfish, bluegill and even crawfish! They host amazing community events, classes, workshops and more.


Lastly we learned about a very unique and interesting concept in urban farming – a free floating food forage forest – Swale in the Bronx, NY! Built atop a barge that travels to piers in New York City, the farm offers educational programming and welcomes visitors to harvest herbs, fruits and vegetables for free. The program strives to strengthen stewardship of public waterways and land, while working to shift policies that will increase development of foragable urban landscapes.

If you live in or are visiting New York – don’t miss these cool edible urban green spaces!

A Special Hydroponic Garden – on a bus!

“Meals on wheels” is taking on a whole new meaning now in Reno, Nevada, where local non-profit Urban Roots partnered with the Desert Research Institute to launch “BussAqua” —a hydroponic garden inside an old school bus. The bus hosts tomato plants year-round, and is a tool to teach children all about farming, fresh food, and innovative growing techniques – like hydroponics!

In urban areas across this country, this idea would be a fun and unique way to help address the many food deserts by providing fresh mobile food. It’s also a way to provide access to education about the importance of healthy, local food to under-served communities.  Read more about the BussAqua project, and tell us in the comments how a project like this might work in your community.

New Urban Farming and Food Center!

New Orleans will be home to a new urban farming and food center! The Recirculating Farms Coalition and New Orleans Food & Farm Network announced today that they have received major grants for this innovative project from the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation and the Claneil Foundation, as well as various other donations. When completed, the Center will be a hub for research, education, and training on growing, marketing, and preparing healthy food in the city and beyond.

The core of the Center will be a farm that employs cutting-edge growing techniques for urban settings, including recirculating hydroponics and aquaponics. Recirculating hydroponics uses continuously recycled water in place of soil to grow fruits, vegetables, and herbs. Recirculating aquaponics combines hydroponics (growing plants) with aquaculture (raising fish). Both systems are ideal for cities because they can be built indoors, on rooftops, or on oddly shaped and even paved lots. Additionally, the Center will host a community garden, with raised soil beds and fruit trees.

New Orleans was chosen as home for the new Center because while the city is famous for its unique cuisine, fresh healthy food is not always accessible and affordable for everyone there. In fact, in 2011, New Orleans was named both the best place in America for Foodies and the worst food desert in the U.S. simultaneously, highlighting the vastly different food experiences people may have in the same city. The Center has plans to help change this. Its farm will source fresh food to local distributors, restaurants and grocers, as well as direct to consumers through an on-site farmers’ market. It will also serve as an education and training facility, with a wide range of gardening, farming, and farm-to-table cooking classes, community service programs for youth and seniors, demonstrations, lectures, and presentations.

New Orleans is a popular tourist destination, and the hope is that visitors from all over the world will participate in Center programs or stop by just to check it out and bring back the information and innovative approaches demonstrated there to their own home cities and towns. Read more here.

Roots On The Rooftop!

Innovative ways to build a stable and local food system seem to be popping up all around New Orleans these days, with a growing number of recirculating farms operating in and around the city. One of the newer ones – Roots on the Rooftop – is providing fresh herbs and certain vegetables to Rouses Market for use in its prepared foods and for sale to customers, since the June 1st start of the Locavore Challenge.

Designed and built by Aquaponics Modular Production Systems, a Recirculating Farms Coalition member, Roots on the Rooftop is growing a variety of edible plants in space-efficient vertical towers using a type of recirculating farming called aeroponics. In aeroponics, plants are suspended in air and roots are intermittently sprinkled with nutrient-rich water.

The new recirculating tower garden allows Rouses to use or sell the what is grown on its rooftop soon after picking. Can’t get more local and fresh than that!

We are very excited to see recirculating farming expanding so much in New Orleans – in fact, check back here for an exciting announcement about another new recirculating farm coming soon to the Big Easy!


ED Visits Midwest Farms – Part II

Last week, I wrote about a fantastic visit to recirculating farms in NY. Part II of that trip took me to Chicago, IL. There, I visited several new farms: The Plant, 312 Aquaponics and Growing Power.

The Plant is an old 93,500 sq. ft meat packing building that has been cleaned and is slowly being converted, piece-by-piece, into a multi-use commercial building. The vision is to have a large-scale aquaponic farm and variety of other sustainable businesses under one roof. The plant intends to be entirely off the power grid – self-sustaining and maybe even sell back some of its generated energy to the city. We embarked on an impressive and detailed tour on the history of the building, the area and the future for the Plant.

After about an hour, we paused our general Plant tour to visit one of the sustainable businesses already in residence at Plant building – 312 Aquaponics. (For those of you that don’t recognize it – 312 is the area code for most of Chicago). Mario Spatafora showed us all of his innovative set up and explained the details of his farm. The lights he had were particularly interesting – they slowly moved along the beds of greens. This saves on electric while providing enough light for plants to grow. 312 Aquaponics currently sells microgreens and herbs. Hopefully, they will be able to sell their fish soon too. Many local regulations aren’t designed to support recirculating farming and so it can be difficult for farmers to acquire necessary permits to sell their products. The Coalition is working on this nationally, so hopefully Mario and other growers like him will be able to grow and sell as much as they are physically able and not be limited by a lack of appropriate regulations.

We resumed our tour, catching up with the group and Professor Blake Davis, our tour guide, in the basement. There, the Plant houses a teaching aquaponics facility that grows mainly basil and lettuces, along with tilapia. Students from the Illinois Institute of Technology, under the guidance of Professor Blake Davis, are working on the aquaponics system to develop it into a larger commercial enterprise.  It was an amazing set-up. The students were clearly excited about having such a great hands-on facility to work with.

Next we stopped in at the new Chicago Growing Power – on Iron Street right on the river. We toured the entire facility, (with one of their super cute resident cats joining us) learning about existing projects and future plans. They are primarily focused on training local youth, and have a wide array of programs – creating fresh soil, making value-added products (like lip balm) from their on-site bee hives, growing mushrooms and more. They are just setting up their aquaponic systems, and are planning to raise perch and tilapia, among other fish. Already, they have a number of other farms that they helped incubate and expand. We look forward to seeing the various ideas they shared with us grow and develop there.

The final leg of the trip was our visit to Milwaukee and nearby Racine, WI – to be covered in our next blog post!