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Urban Farm Feeds Fresh Veggies to Tom Colicchio's Riverpark Restaurant

By Mary Johnson | August 3, 2011 7:46pm
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The "Top Chef" judge opened the restaurant last year.
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KIPS BAY — The head chef at Tom Colicchio’s recently opened restaurant Riverpark doesn’t have to travel far for fresh veggies, thanks to a 15,000-square-foot urban farm that has been created right next door.

Riverpark is located where East 29th Street meets the East River, inside a tower of the Alexandria Center for Life Science. Riverpark Farm is adjacent to the restaurant, nestled into a site that is supposed to be the west tower of the 4-acre Alexandria Center complex.

But construction on the site has stalled as a result of the recent financial crisis, according to a press release.

To make use of the now-dormant space, Riverpark’s chef and partner Sisha Ortuzar collaborated with the Alexandria Center, as well as a few environmental non-profit organizations, to turn the vacant lot into the Riverpark Farm.

Now, more than 6,000 plants, including vegetables, herbs and flowers, are growing there. And Riverpark restaurant is benefiting from the proximity of the produce.

"We feel very fortunate to be able to grow our own vegetables in the middle of New York City,” Ortuzar said.

The restaurant, founded by restaurateur and "Top Chef" judge Tom Colicchio, opened last year and has been a hit, with a 72-seat terrace and dishes like oyster tacos and sea-salted watermelon.

In a statement, Colicchio offered his congratulations to all those involved for “literally bringing the farm to the table,” he said. “They have also brought the farm to the heart of the city, providing a unique green space as well as a community resource to show how fresh, healthy food can be produced just about anywhere."

The farm has been built out of milk crates stacked on pallets, which allowed vegetables to grow safely in an urban environment where ground soil is often tainted.

The use of milk crates also makes the farm portable. When construction on the site resumes, the farm will be moved to another location within the complex.

“The farm is a true reflection of innovation and teamwork," said Scarlet Shore, the executive director of corporate strategy at Alexandria Real Estate Equities, Inc. "Here, in a few short months, we have transformed a temporarily idle construction site into a productive urban farm.”

And in September, the restaurant will take the farm-to-table concept one step further.

A construction fence at the site will be taken down that month, and the restaurant will offer private outdoor dining with views of the East River, the city and the farm.