All Articles
All Articles

Brooklyn Grange: A Portrait of Urban Farming


Brooklyn Grange: A Portrait of Urban Farming

Three teasers from the upcoming documentary about Brooklyn's biggest rooftop farm

by Perrin Drumm
on 28 August 2012

Earlier this year the five core members of Brooklyn Grange, well known by now as the largest soil rooftop farm in the world, signed a 20-year lease for a 65,000-square-foot rooftop at the Brooklyn Navy Yards. In just two years they outgrew their 40,000-square-foot Queens location, which services a CSA membership, regular farmers' markets as well as local restaurants like Roberta's and Paulie Gee's. Now, with more than two acres of fertile ground as well as chicken coops and a commercial apiary, Brooklyn Grange seems poised to conquer underutilized rooftops all over the city. But back in May, when the Navy Yards location had yet to be greenroofed and growing season was less than a month away, their future seemed uncertain. Could the Queens location do enough business to support their expansion while they struggled to prep the roof and plant the seedlings in time?

As they faced rainy days and a number of delays, no one was sure what might happen. Director and CH contributor Michael Tyburski and Group Theory producers Ben Nabors and Burke Cherrie knew that triumph or fail, it was not only a story worth telling, it was an important moment to document. During his first visit to the Navy Yards in May, Tyburski remembers standing on a completely barren rooftop that needed to be fully functional by the end of the month in order for the business to stay afloat, and wondering whether they were really going to pull it off. But the more he filmed the daily tasks involved in running a farm in the middle of a bustling city, the more he realized that the narrative of the documentary was less about whether or not Brooklyn Grange was going to succeed or fail, but about creating an honest portrait of the urban farmer.

Brooklyn Grange is run by head farmer Ben Flanner and four partners who see to the day-to-day operations of the growing business. Since May, Tyburski and his crew have filmed the greenroofing, planting and Monday morning business meetings at the Navy Yards, which Tyburski describes as "one of the most fascinating places [he's] visited in New York. It's a whole different world just beyond the gates off Flushing Avenue." The former naval base was deactivated in 1966, but is now home to a growing community of new businesses. To get their operation up and running in under a month, Flanner and his fellow farmers worked from dawn to dusk for six to seven days a week. They labored constantly, even through downpours, stopping only to make ponchos from large trash bags and tie bodega bags over their heads.

Though you might be skeptical of a Brooklyn resident in his early 30s who calls himself a true farmer, Tyburski—who grew up in rural Vermont—said the only difference he saw between the farmers from his hometown and the Brooklyn Grange crew is that the latter have to parallel park their cars before going to work. There are other differences too, of course, ones that highlight what it means to be an urban farmer, specifically. One early morning the documentary crew went to Flanners' Williamsburg apartment to pick up a gaggle of baby chicks he was nursing in a cardboard box in his closet. Those chicks now reside in a rooftop chicken coop with prime views of the East River. There are other moments, too, that can only happen on a farm located in the busiest city in the country. Yes, Bloomberg paid a visit, but the farm also plays host to a large and ambitious apiary that involves an apprenticeship system, and plans to breed a bee with heartier, city-strength DNA. They deal with very location-specific issues, like transporting a colony of rogue bees that started a hive in an old fire hydrant and rescuing the honeycombs.

Principle photography for the documentary has been completed and—spoiler alert—the Navy Yards farm was indeed humming along by June. Tyburski expects to complete the film by the end of the year. Visit Group Theory to follow the project or support the film, and if you're in New York, see their stockists for places where you can buy raw honey or fresh vegetables grown by Brooklyn's finest urban farmers.

The CH25 is a showcase of creators and innovators from a broad range of disciplines who are currently working to drive the world forward.

Douglas Riboud + Justin Guilbert

How a mission to create great coconut water led to a whole new way of doing business

Read More
We’ve made a conscious decision to be as transparent and honest as we can, and let people decide for themselves

Melissa Kushner

Addressing the needs of orphans and vulnerable children in Malawi through microenterprise

Read More
Poverty is complicated, there is an increasing temptation and pressure in the development space to oversimplify things

Kathleen Supové

The NYC performance artist who’s radically reinventing the piano recital

Read More
I like pieces that are virtuosic, that show off the piano and what it can do, and are awe-inspiring

Vanessa Newman

Redesigning pregnancy for the post-gender generation with Butchbaby & Co.

Read More
I want my customers to feel comfortable and unchanged, in that becoming pregnant didn't take away from or compromise their identity

Marcus Weller

Using technology to turn motorcycle helmet design on its head

Read More
I was taken aback both by the number of people that doubted it, and by the equally large number of people that got behind it

Tarren Wolfe

The next-generation appliance making kitchens greener—literally

Read More
Our goal is to provide food for everyone in the world, and the best place to start is in our very own community

Jonathan Sparks

Reinventing electronic music by inventing multi-disciplinary instruments

Read More
Recorded music is becoming so cheap, so the value of music is now in live performance

Lulu Mickelson

A civic leader bringing change to NYC through design

Read More
Human-centered design is one of the many tools that we can use to better engage the public

Pauline van Dongen

The Dutch designer blazing the wearable technology path

Read More
I’m fascinated by concepts of change, movement, energy and perception; since they are closely related to the way we experience the world

Corinne Joachim Sanon

The chocolatier bringing social change to Haiti and bean-to-bar chocolate to the world

Read More
Seeing the poverty surrounding me and the lack of jobs and opportunity bothered me

Alex Kalman

The tiny museum in Manhattan that’s redefining museums

Read More
The mission is to put this small simple and powerful tool into the hands of as many people as possible

Cynthia Breazeal

How an emotional, empathetic robot named Jibo stands to revolutionize communication

Read More
The thing that's so provocative about social robots is that it's fundamentally a community technology

Meredith Perry

How searching the Internet helped a 22-year-old invent wireless electricity

Read More
It’s not about where the information is, it’s about how you use the tools

Tal Danino

The bioengineer who’s programming DNA to fight cancer

Read More
[Manipulating genes] is very new, people are just learning how to program these organisms

LaToya Ruby Frazier

Documenting the slow, troubling change in Braddock, Pennsylvania

Read More
I am not a journalist, I am a conceptual documentary artist using my visual expression for building narratives that are unseen and unheard

Roxie Darling

From un-shampoo to transgender identity, the NYC colorist boldly defining the next chapter of hair

Read More
Hair color is as much a science as it is a craft

Matt Kenyon

Fusing art and technology to disrupt concepts of corporate America

Read More
I want the work to live in the world and circulate, so it can generate more dialogue

Joshua Harker

Pushing the boundaries of sculpture with intricate 3D printing

Read More
My intent was to explore and depict the architecture of the imagination, to interpret and share forms evident in the mind’s eye

Sarah Kunst

The entrepreneur single-handedly changing the landscape for women in tech

Read More
People who live on a planet that is half women but can never seem to find any when they need one, I have solved your problem

Dan Barasch + James Ramsey

A quest to make the future brighter—underground

Read More
We both share a passion for groundbreaking technology and a shared love of New York

Eelke Plasmeijer

The locally driven restaurant that’s upending Balinese food culture

Read More
We really try to keep things simple and let the produce do the talking

Leopoldine Huyghues Despointes

The young filmmaker and non-profit founder who just wants people to follow their dreams

Read More
I feel confident and ready to accomplish so much more, the movement is on

George Arriola and Monohm

An heirloom electronic for the post-smartphone era

Read More
We agonized during the design process as all hyper-obsessed craftspeople should

Kegan Schouwenburg

Revolutionizing orthotics through 3D-printed insoles

Read More
What orthotics do is they effectively change the geometry of what your alignment is like

Sabine Seymour

A future where smart clothes are as ubiquitous as zippers

Read More
In the future you will not buy a piece of 'functional' clothing without SoftSpot
Loading More...