Hell's Kitchen Rooftop Farm Celebrates First Growing Season

By Mathew Katz on November 3, 2011 8:04am 

The kiddie pools used to grow fresh vegetables, on the roof of a church between the Port Authority Bus Terminal and the Lincoln Tunnel.
The kiddie pools used to grow fresh vegetables, on the roof of a church between the Port Authority Bus Terminal and the Lincoln Tunnel.
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hell's kitchen farm project, rooftop farms, metro baptist church, farming, produce, local food

HELL'S KITCHEN — Sandwiched between the Port Authority Bus Terminal and the Lincoln Tunnel, Metro Baptist Church is as far removed from farm life as Manhattan gets.

Yet the building's 1,000 square foot rooftop space is an agricultural haven that's producing a huge vegetable crop.

The Hell's Kitchen Farm Project, which grows vegetables in about 50 soil-filled kiddie pools on top of the 121-year-old church at 410 W. 40th St., is at the end of its first-ever growing season.

Since the project's members first began planting their crops in June, they've yielded enough fresh veggies to supply Metro Baptist's own food pantry, as well as for a few other local ones.

"It disappears from our pantries very quickly," said Alan Sherouse, the church's pastor and one of the leaders of the project. "People are very excited that what they eat came from the roof."

The project is a collaboration between the church and several other organizations, including the Clinton Housing Development Company and the Metropolitan Community Church of New York.

Throughout the summer and into the fall, the rooftop farm has grown lettuce, collards, kale, carrots, tomatoes, and all kinds of peppers.

The urban farmers behind it also ran into several unusual challenges that come with growing fresh food just blocks from Times Square.

"We've always had plenty of pigeons around here, and they seem to have spread the word quite quickly that we've got food on the roof," Sherouse said.

Those New York pigeons were immune to traditional anti-bird deterrents. Sherouse and his team of farmers tried everything from scarecrows, which were ignored, to sprinkling cayenne peppers on the plants, which the pesky pests quickly got used to.

Finally, they decided to cover their plots in removable cages, which have been bird-proof — so far.

The project got its first-year funding from the United Way, but is holding a fundraiser on Nov. 10 to raise the funds it needs to be self-sustainable.

The benefit, Urban Harvest, will feature home-cooked food using ingredients from the rooftop, a silent auction, farm tours, and some down-home bluegrass music.

"This year, we learned that this will work," Sherouse said. "This benefit will help us see growth next year."

The Urban Harvest Benefit is on Nov. 10, 2011 between 6:30 p.m. and 9 p.m. at the Metro Baptist Church, 410 W. 40th St.

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