A Food Network Kitchen Field Trip
On a warm afternoon a few days back, the Food Network culinary team took the F train to the banks of the Gowanus Canal, Brooklyn’s very own Superfund site, for a private tour of Gotham Greens’ third New York sustainable farm. “Don’t touch the greens,” Nicole Baum, Gotham’s marketing and partnerships manager, tells us on the way up to the roof. This is a rare event — to keep the facility sterile, the farm is closed to the public.
It’s hard not to rub a leaf or two between our fingers as we wander through rows of spiky lettuces and purple baby kale. We can smell the basil as we walk toward the herbs; Nicole says that during the daily morning harvest, the whole roof fills with the smell as workers snip and pack it to sell in the store below. That’s hyperlocal distribution, and it keeps GG’s carbon footprint to a minimum. (And allowed Gotham to deliver locally when Hurricane Sandy shut down most access to the city.)
All of these beautiful greens grow in waist-high troughs. Nutrient-packed water courses through the troughs — there’s no soil in sight. This farm is completely hydroponic, which is crucial for city farms: What we lack in arable land, we make up for in rooftops. We could see acres of them, stretching out in all directions, from up there.
The troughs are angled slightly so that the water runs downhill and can be collected and reused. Nicole tells us that this half-acre farm in the sky yields 200 tons of produce every year, the equivalent of a 10-acre soil-based farm, while using about 20 times less water.
We head to the farm’s nursery under open sky and sun; today the retractable roof is open. The roof, along with heat blankets, retractable shades, misting systems and fans, are all keyed to sensors that deploy automatically, keeping the farm operating year-round.
In the nursery, seeds get their start in little islands of volcanic rock. Just a few tiny flies flit about, and Nicole points out the swaths of yellow paper ringing the perimeter. Flypaper! One of the low-tech if sophisticated forms of integrated pest management that GG uses instead of pesticides. GG also brings in ladybugs to feast on aphids and other garden enemies; sometimes clean farming is gritty business.
We head to the last stop on our tour, a tangle of tomatoes on the vine — Sweet 100s, cherries, large heirlooms, all sold in the store below. Before we leave, Nicole treats us to an informal tasting of baby kale, Asian mixed greens and an FN staff favorite, Blooming Brooklyn Iceberg lettuce, a leafier, more-tender version of the crisp heads we’re used to. Then we’re back outside on the ground. We can no longer see the miles of rooftops above us, but it’s nice to imagine them someday transformed into a crazy quilt of vegetables bound for dinner tables down here.