In a very basic sense, it’s hard not to pull for Brooklyn Grange, the planned one-acre rooftop farm in Long Island City that has garnered a bunch of publicity of late despite still being in its nascent, spreading-dirt-around-the-roof-of-the-Standard Motors Building stage. Or at least it’s hard for me not to pull for it — while I know well that urban agriculture as a movement isn’t the sort of pragmatic movement I usually like most, I do indeed like me some food. If I had to choose between better insulation and a rooftop farm in Long Island City as the hope for a greener and more responsible New York City going forward, I’d obviously have to ride with insulation. But 1) longtime gbNYC readers know that I’ll pick insulation over just about anything and 2) thankfully I don’t have to choose between those two things. So, yeah: here’s to Brooklyn Grange. You have received the gbNYC seal of approval, and your souvenir t-shirts and decoder rings should arrive in six-to-eight weeks.
Diane Cardwell’s New York Times’ piece on Brooklyn Grange paints a pretty appealing picture of what these kids — they’re led by a transplanted Wisconsite named Ben Flanner, and since they’re all a couple years younger than me I will exercise the Early Curmudgeonhood Clause in my gbNYC contract and refer to them as “kids” — are trying to do. Which, in short, is growing tomatoes and eggplants and peppers and whatnot on 40,000 square feet of rooftop in Long Island City (they picked their name before they found a suitable space). For anyone who has ever entertained the fantasy of a back-to-the-land exodus from New York City — the sort of reverie that happens often on stalled rush hour subways, and usually involves tomatoes and eggplants and peppers and whatnot — the idea of being able to get your hands dirty, grow some tasty food and then get on the subway to check out a concert or ballgame seems pretty irresistible. And yet, amid the random acts of hatefulness and senseless acts of subhuman nastiness that define the New York Post comments section — scroll down on this Post article, if you dare — a more human-ish Post commenter made a point that occurred to me as well, in reading the initial Times piece. Namely that when it’s finished, Brooklyn Grange will represent 1.2 million pounds of dead load on the roof of the old Standard Motors Building, give or take the odd farmer/prize eggplant, and that 1.2 million pounds dead load is, you know, a lot. And quite possibly too much for the roof of the old Standard Motors Building.
Which is exactly why the New York City Department of Buildings issued a stop-work order on Brooklyn Grange on Friday. “According to department records, organizers of the project… had not secured permits and engineering plans showing the roof could handle nearly a million pounds of dirt, which will weigh even more when wet and rooted with vegetables,” Cardwell (again) wrote in the Times. (Brooklyn Grange’s resident farmer insists that Goode Green, the New York-based green roof specialist that consulted with Brooklyn Grange, has signed off on the project’s safety) This story obviously isn’t finished yet, but for the time being Brooklyn Grange is on hold.
How much you care about it getting off hold and back in action depends, to a great degree, on you. Urban agriculture — local agriculture, in general — will simply never be able to feed everyone in New York City. I say this as a card-carrying Obnoxious Greenmarket-Type Person, CSA subscriber (ride with us), and fastidious-if-not-terribly-gifted home cook, and therefore as someone who would love for this to be true. As someone whose attraction to green building has less to do with a love for architecture or techno-geekery than it does with the idea of responsibility and intelligent planning, the impracticality of urban agriculture — of which Brooklyn Grange, in its wait-what-paperwork glory and despite all its Queens-bucolic appeal, is an almost perfect satire — is something I know I should be inclined to dismiss. Like installing a personal wind turbine or buying carbon offsets every time you eat a burger, the idea of eggplants from Long Island City is symbolically appealing and admirable in its intentions, but kind of the opposite of the sort of broad-ranging, beyond-the-individual thinking that will (or won’t) actually give us a greener, smarter, healthier nation. And yet… maybe it’s because I love food, or because the image of it is so appealing, but I find it difficult to muster the will to exhort the Brooklyn Grangers to give up their macro-scale rooftop garden and lobby for, say, farm subsidy reform and less of an emphasis on nitrogen-based fertilizer usage. I find it almost impossible, in fact. So, yeah: I’m pulling for the Grangers, futile though their quest may be. But… guys, make sure the roof isn’t going to collapse. Please.
UPDATE: And… that’s that for the stop-work order. The Times reports that Brooklyn Grange produced the necessary paperwork, paid a $5,500 fine, and got back to work on Wednesday. Again, good luck, ye Grangers.