Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Eagle Street above it all

            There’s a really great book I found in the UNC library called BreakingThrough Concrete by David and Michael Hanson and Edwin Marty that documents 12 urban farms across the country with descriptions, photos, and how-to’s. The cover of the book shows a young woman in old farm clothes standing in a farm, against the backdrop of the Manhattan skyline. That woman is Annie Novak and she’s at Eagle Street Rooftop Farm in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. 

Breaking Through Concrete cover, featuring Eagle Street's Annie Novak, a well-known urban farm activist. Photo courtesy of UC Press.

            Eagle Street Farm is three stories up on top of a warehouse near the waterfront in Greenpoint. It is 6,000 square ft. and grows produce, raises chickens and rabbits, and has three beehives. They were the first rooftop farm in New York City to have an on-site CSA, and they also do community outreach and education through workshops on topics like cooking locally, composting, green roofs and urban beekeeping. Annie Novak is the Farm Manager and has become a big name in the urban farming community through a strong media presence, including not only Breaking Through Concrete but other print outlets like the New York Times and dozens of other papers and magazines, national news coverage like the Today Show and CBS Evening News, and documentary and radio stories too. 

            While Eagle Street Farm is going international with their message, they’re also staying true to it by hosting an open house, volunteer day, and farmer’s market at the farm every Sunday of the growing season. That’s where I found them, one sunny Sunday afternoon in July. The part of Greenpoint the Farm is located is full of trendy alternative cafes and boutiques, but as you approach the warehouse district near the waterfront the streets empty out. So when I approached the blank side of the building where my GPS said Eagle Street was located, I was confused… until I saw the little sign saying “farm upstairs.”

If I hadn't seen this, I definitely would have thought I was in the wrong place!

            I walked cautiously through the seemingly empty warehouse until I came into a room where a farm employee was standing at a table with baskets of greens, spices, and vegetables. She told me to walk outside and up more stairs, where I could volunteer or just hang out. The farm is small, but big as far as rooftop agriculture goes, and there were about 15 people volunteering (the project was setting up stakes to support the pepper plants) led by a few farm employees. 

The Manhattan skyline from Eagle Street Farm. It looks just like the book cover.

Volunteers staking the pepper plants. It's not hard to volunteer, you just have to walk in the door!

            At the far edge of the farm is a chicken coop, a flower garden, and a deck with chairs and benches. The 3 beehives are next to the stairs entering the farm, but they’re on another roof not accessible to the public. They have two traditional Langstroth hives and one top-bar hive (which I did not see); Langstroth hives are the ones we’re used to with the four-sided, vertically stacked frames and pre-made comb for the bees to start with, while top-bar hives don’t have frames but instead have one bar from which the bees hang their comb, and they're usually long and horizontal. By the way, guess who Eagle Street’s beekeeper is? Meg Paska from Hayseed’s!

Eagle Street's hives, set apart from the accessible part of the farm (probably for our protection and the bees too)

            After I hung out on the roof a bit, I went back downstairs to the market area. The young woman there was also a farmer, and she could speak from experience about all the food on the table, especially with giving advice to people on how to prepare it. Sadly, they didn’t have any honey for sale that day. I bought some assorted greens ($3 for ¼ lb.), which I took home in a plastic grocery bag that was in my backpack. They later became several tasty salads, which were especially tasty when I thought about the bright New York City sun, the constant gentle breeze from the East River, and pollination from the Eagle Street honeybees that made them possible.  

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