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Urban Agriculture Takes Root in Brooklyn With Huge Rooftop Farm

By Alissa Ambrose | May 9, 2012 7:54pm
A rendering of the Liberty View Industrial Plaza with rooftop farm. Construction of the farm is expected to begin in late 2012.
A rendering of the Liberty View Industrial Plaza with rooftop farm. Construction of the farm is expected to begin in late 2012.
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Bright Farms

BROOKLYN — Up to a million pounds of fresh, locally produced lettuce, tomatoes and herbs are expected to fill New York groceries by early next year.

But the veggies aren't coming from a farm upstate — they're being cultivated in a new state-of-the-art farm in an unlikely location — a Brooklyn rooftop. When completed, the project is expected to be the largest rooftop farm in the world.

The farm will be the crown jewel in the redevelopment of the Liberty View Industrial Plaza, a huge structure in Sunset Park’s industrial waterfront that has been empty since 2000. Planners say that the project will benefit the neighborhood in more ways than one.

“We strive to positively impact the local community by growing produce more sustainably, creating jobs, and community-building,” said Paul Lightfoot, CEO of Bright Farms, the company set to build the rooftop facility. “The positive impact of our work will be magnified in Sunset Park, because it will be the largest of our greenhouses and the world’s largest rooftop farm.”

Construction of the rooftop facility should begin later this year with a first crop expected by early 2013, according to Bright Farms. Plants will be grown directly in water using a method called hydroponic farming.  This technology is ideal for rooftops because it weighs much less than soil-based planting.

Galvanized steel and glass greenhouses will cover about 100,000 square feet of the enormous waterfront building located near the corner of 31st Street and Third Avenue in Brooklyn. The lower eight levels of the building are designated for light industrial manufacturing and some retail shops.

Construction of the farm component should get going by the end of 2012, according to Bright Farms, with a grand opening planned for early 2013.

On Tuesday, Sunset Park District Manager Jeremy Laufer, got his first peek at the space since plans for the farm were announced in late March. And though the vast roof, which offers sweeping views of Brooklyn and the New York harbor, is now empty, he could envision the potential impact the farm will have on Sunset Park.

“It’s exciting. It puts us on the map in urban farming,” said Laufer.

Laufer looks forward to exploring potential benefits that the farm will create for the community. He would love to see a strategic partnership with P.S. 971’s nutrition program, for instance. But these are details that are yet to be worked out.

Sunset Park has a large walk-to-work labor force, according to Laufer and he said it was important to the community board that the Liberty Plaza building be developed in a way that would create local job growth.

“We are very zealous about protecting out industrial waterfront,” Laufer said.

Bright Farms said that the greenhouses will provide at least 25 full-time jobs. Salmar Properties, the developers of the Liberty View project, have promised to create at least 1,300 jobs for local residents as part of a tax exemption agreement with the New York City Industrial Development Agency, the Real Deal reported.

Crops produced at the Sunset Park farm will be sold in markets around the city. Bright Farms already partners with the Best Yet Market chain of grocery stores which sells arugula, spinach and other greens grown in a Huntington, Long Island greenhouse. Bright Farms has not yet announced which stores will carry the Sunset Park produce, but do say that the vegetables grown in Brooklyn will be sold at competitive prices because of their local production.

“By creating a dramatically shorter supply chain, we’re able to reduce costs and shrink rates and deliver fresher produce at competitive prices,” said Lightfoot.