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building spring

April 27, 2012

In celebration of spring and the coming summer, Caleb is going to share notes, on Fridays, from his current project The Space of Food. These will be musings on the economics, impact and consequences of the current farm and “foodie” fixations. Please follow and comment!

Brody’s Farm

Seth Brody farms a small plot in the Red Hook Houses public housing projects. A mere 37×85, it is just over seven percent of an acre. He gets as much produce as he can use, and all of the rest is donated to the local food pantry. In the last year Seth has increased the cultivated area by 300%. His production figures for last year are impressive: 250 pounds of tomatoes, among other things, so this year’s harvest should be 750 pounds of tomatoes. He grows heirloom tomatoes – lower yield, better taste, which Annie refers to as “college tuition” (sorry, Mad, state school…). These fetch about $5.00 a pound retail at the farmer’s market, so he grows about $3750 in tomatoes alone. He is growing a range of crops: mint, rosemary, lavender, sage, oregano, garlic, lettuce, potatoes, carrots, and sunchokes. In addition, he has grapes, apples, blueberries, and peaches.

I doubt that there’s any kind of a business model in this under our current economic model. Land acquisition costs in NYC are prohibitive. Yet the group 596 Acres has identified… wait for it – 596 acres of publicly owned vacant land in the borough of Brooklyn alone. Projecting the tomato output of Brody’s diversified farm to the rest of this land we see over six million pounds of tomatoes for an economic output of thirty million dollars from tomatoes alone. This could be over 600 jobs paying a middle class salary of $50K a year, just from the tomatoes alone.

Our current economic model would hardly consider farming to be the highest possible use for the land. But under this model, a Central Park or Prospect Park would also be highly unlikely. We here in NYC have been fortunate to have leaders with vision from time to time. Thus the amazing development of the waterfront in the past decade, the creation of the Highline. With any luck, these parcels could be set aside for agricultural production in perpetuity, paralleling the work of such groups as the Maine Farmland Trust. Imagine that – Brooklyn becomes farmland once again!

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Sara permalink
    April 27, 2012 11:24 pm

    Brody’s farm does not have to reinvent the wheel.

    Here is a group that is a fleshed out model of the same thing, in my area, Holyoke MA:

    Nuestras Raices is a grassroots non-profit orgaization that is based out of Holyoke, MA. Nuestras Raices was born out of South Holyoke in 1992, by a few community members who wanted to make a change in their community. Nuestras Raices which means ‘Our Roots” represents the strong agricultural ties and history that the Puerto Rican community has here in Holyoke. Today, Nuestras Raices has grown to become a large organization, one that is considered “a national model on how to develop sustaianble agriculture and green cities”.

    NR is part of a well established network- it would be great to tie these groups together. They work collaboratively with another group originally funded by the Kellogg Foundation. There are nine communities across the country working together to solve food and fitness related problems. NYC is one of these communities receiving similar funding.

  2. April 29, 2012 4:20 pm

    One thing I missed in relation to 596 Acres is that they are advocating the use of these typically long-vacant lots for use as green space – not other uses.

    Regarding Sara’s comment above, Seth Brody essentially did have to reinvent the wheel. He had to argue long and hard to get access to the lot – there was a lot of resistance on the part of the Red Hook Houses management, and they continue not to make things easy for him. In reality, each lot has to be negotiated independently. However, I do agree that there is benefit from tapping into existing networks, especially knowledge communities.

  3. May 15, 2012 1:23 pm

    I’ll be following his farm posts, as well. Look forward to hearing more stories from you guys, too!

  4. May 23, 2012 8:15 pm

    Nice work you guys. How are the crops so far? Any profit?

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