Sunday, February 14, 2010

A Farm Grows In Brooklyn

This heirloom tomato makes me very happy. It gives me hope. It's a gentle reminder that even when the going gets tough -- and right now, the going is tough for a lot of people -- we can use the resources we already have to find nourishment, health, and community. I know -- it's just a tomato. Let me explain.

Last weekend, I decided to hop on a bus to Ananda Ashram, a beautiful yoga and spiritual retreat located at the foot of the Catskill Mountains. (My fellow New Yorkers will understand my sudden and overwhelming need to escape the gray madness of the city in February.)

I discovered Ananda not only because of its reputation as a quiet refuge, but also because of a burgeoning farm located on its grounds. Called Ananda Harvest, the green project was started last year by a group of Brooklynites who noticed that the land had farm-to-table potential. If they could grow their own vegetables, the farmers reasoned, the ashram could feed guests and residents their delicious vegetarian menu using really local food.

Now flash back to last summer. While Ananda Harvest was just beginning to bloom, a rooftop in Greenpoint, Brooklyn was overflowing with fresh, organic vegetables. Sitting atop a cavernous lighting studio and warehouse, Rooftop Farm became a living example of urban agriculture and green design:

By June, Rooftop Farm's 6,000 square feet will once again be teeming with heirloom veggies (see tomato!) and edible flowers, all of which are harvested every Sunday and sold to neighborhood residents and local restaurants.

Food sells out fast. I know this because the farm is a mere 15-minute walk from my apartment.

And as if that weren't good news enough, I've just learned from Gotham Greens that a hydroponic farm is now under construction on top of a one-story church in Queens. If all goes well, its significant crop yield could signal remarkable progress for urban farmers by making it a viable market for investors, as well as a means to feed local communities.

Excited yet?

I know the secret's already out. Masses of people have embraced the local food philosophy that's sweeping our nation. People who care about what they put in their bodies and their environments are reading Michael Pollan's work and Jonathan Safran Foer's Eating Animals. And there's no doubt that the movement comes with its own set of nuances, complexities and complaints -- especially when framed within a global context. Bloggers and Brooklyn residents Matt and Joanna touch upon these issues in their thoughtful article.

But I'm sharing these projects with you because they represent the innovative work that will fuel this blog. It isn't exactly the best of times, but people are making the the most out of what they've got, and I find that pretty inspiring. Connect with each other. Cook together. Eat good food. If it feels right, get involved. Please leave comments about other farming projects around the country. Stay tuned for interviews with farmers. And keep telling yourself: spring is on its way.

Photos courtesy Ananda Ashram and me.