City Grown

I was first introduced to the concept of urban agriculture and vertical farms in graduate school and was immediately hooked by the concept! Something about the concept of growing food within our cities, reducing miles traveled and integrating with our built environment intrigues me and keeps drawing me back in. When it came time start my thesis project, this was the area I was positive I wanted to focus on, however it was a hard concept to sell at that time as there were few real-life projects to use as case studies. Now, a few years later, I am happy to do a post about some case studies and projects where groups are attempting to reduce supply chain costs through growing food in the city.

Across New York there are a couple of companies experimenting with different forms of rooftop farming, taking advantage of the cheaply available real estate in the heart of the city. Rooftop farming has become a part of Mayor Bloomberg’s vision for New York City with PLANYC, contributing not only to making food available, but reducing the city’s carbon from transportation and storm water through capturing rain in rooftop soil systems. In fact, zoning regulations have recently been amended, “to encourage green development, including rooftop farms, and the City Council approved the changes (Lisa Foderaro, New York Times).” One of the best examples of a company operating within these new regulations is BrightFarms, which uses a turnkey solution to finance, build and manage rooftop greenhouses with hydroponic systems to produce food for grocery stores. Paul Lightfoot presented the company’s business model at TEDx – Manhattan 2012 highlighting the value in providing higher quality foods at the same price through reducing supply chain costs. This model takes advantage of unused roof spaces, creating a side income for the property owner, while making space available for food production in the city that doesn’t raise cost of production to outpace traditional produce sources.

BrightFarms Installation

In addition to hydroponic greenhouse systems, like BrightFarms and Gotham Greens being used, other companies are experimenting with leasing space and using soil systems to cover the roof in an outdoor field. Brooklyn Grange, for instance, has a twenty year lease with the Brooklyn Navy Yard to farm their rooftop. This model, of course, must adhere to a more limited growing season. The next step I would expect to see is a more efficient combination of these rooftop productions that begin to be integrated with internal building uses. For example, is there a waste heat source that can also be used? Can storm water from other sites be feasibly stored for use?

View of west half of Brooklyn Grange, (Photo by Cyrus Dowlatshahi,

While these systems operate on the rooftops of New York, in Chicago The Plant is trying to open in an old meat packing facility. The Plant intends to combine an aquaponic growing system with sustainable food businesses through running a shared commercial kitchen. At The Plant,

Aquaponics is a closed-loop growing system that creates a symbiotic relationship between tilapia and vegetables. The tilapia produce ammonia-based waste that is sent through a biofilter where solids settle out and the rest is broken down into nitrates. Those nitrates are then fed to plants growing in hydroponic beds. By absorbing the nitrates, the plants clean the water, which is returned to the fish.”

The Plant's process (Matt Bergstrom,

This business model adds the reuse of an old building and integrates with other start-ups to feed on each other’s waste systems and become more profitable.

I will be interested to watch each of these companies over the next few years to see which methods are the most profitable and how these companies influence industry growth. There is a lot of potential with even greater integration of food production within our buildings, and I think for next week’s post I will plan to research low area food production options. These include systems designed for apartments, homes, and integrated with vertical light walls, as well as NASA and private space exploration companies. How can urban production be integrated with previously introduced site one collaborative work site concepts?

Have a great week!


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  3. Emerald says:

    Mostly what I want Mostly what I want to know is what type of hydroponic itagirrion is best for each stage of plant growth. We choose between NFT, ebb and flow, drip itagirrion, aeroponics including ultrasonic teflon ceramic membranes. Some setups use lots of inert growing materials while others use almost none at all. It gets complicated to understand which system results in maximum root health and plant growth. Think I’ll start with simple ebb & flo and move to high tech later.