Big Apple Harvest

Admiring the skyline is standard when you are in New York. But have you ever done it while harvesting vegetables?

Every city has a colour, a tonality that captures its spirit. My hometown Lisbon is sometimes called the White City. When thinking of New York, I think of a dark gray. Urbanized space leaves little room for green spots. And space seems to be a daily dilemma for the inhabitants of this city. But, as true New Yorkers, they react with creativity and invention. There is an urban myth about people using their ovens for storage. According to Marisa, a born and raised New Yorker, the myth is reality:”They only use the microwave to cook,” she tells me, “so they use their ovens to store their clothes!”

As a good Portuguese, I love food. This passion made me aware of another dilemma facing New Yorkers: the difficulty of finding fresh produce without spending the whole pay check. But again: New Yorkers act in unique ways. For this specific problem, the solution is green – and it is out there! I am talking about a new movement called rooftop farming. The principle is simple: No room to grow in the city? Just do it on the rooftops, the city’s most unused space.

It is official: Gotham is turning green, it’s not even St. Patrick’s day. Urban farming has been witnessing an exponential growth. The place I simply had to go see, the Brooklyn Grange, is a one acre big organic oasis on top of an industrial building and the largest urban farming project in the US. I am meeting Ben, one of the proud founders. He takes me to the roof and tells me how the whole Grange idea came up because he was tired of his desk job and “wanted to go back to the roots, and growing seemed like a good option. At the same time, he really did not want to leave his city. The solution was urban farming. Ben managed to gather an enthusiastic group of people with a common goal “The idea is to provide fresher and cheaper products by cutting the middle man. A farm located inside the district can grow food directly to the consumer.”

One of the greatest aspects of the Grange is to see how the community is engaged in this initiative. Volunteers flow into the farm, including school groups that come to learn the basics of farming. Taking your kids to the park is great, but teaching them how to farm in the heart of New York City has no price.

 Who would have thought that during my first week in New York I would be admiring the city’s iconic skyline from the green fields of a farm? That I would be picking fresh jalapeño peppers while looking at the Empire State Building?The city is changing, and its inhabitants will follow: The 21st century New Yorker is putting down his briefcase and exchanging it for a spade.