Aiming high: FarmingUp has sights set on Greenpoint
by Lisa A. Fraser
Mar 07, 2012 | 1714 views | 0 0 comments | 17 17 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A new rooftop farm plan is growing toward the sky in Greenpoint. Alec Baxt, the founding farmer of FarmingUp, created in 2010, has his eyes on a roof in Greenpoint where he and partner, Lise Serrell want to explore rooftop agriculture.

His mission is to create a large-scale, financially self-sufficient farm that grows food and is made as widely available as possible.

“We will be primarily selling to people on an individual basis,” he said. “They can

come to the farm, see where food is coming from and we'll be removing as many obstacles as possible between people and their food supplier to provide opportunity for direct involvement.”

Baxt is hoping that the farm can be set up in the spring of next year, and he has plans to get locals involved though classes, volunteering, and apprenticeships, while bringing in local farmers to sell.

Ever since he developed the green thumb at the age of 19, Baxt said he never looked back. He has 15 years of experience in the industry working for Prospect Park, as well as the Brooklyn Botanical Garden. But it wasn't until 2010 that he became really interested in farming.

“I left the city for a few years in part to learn how to farm, but I wanted to do it in an urban environment,” he said. “I heard about rooftop farms, but for me first test

in series of feasibility tests – ranging from structural to economic – was the question of nutrition.”

He decided to find out if food grown on a roof is worth eating and found that no one had done research on that aspect of rooftop agriculture.

“It stopped me right in my tracks,” he said. He decided to pursue research with the Cornell Agriculture Extension of the USDA and found the answer to be pretty promising.

He is still conducting research into various questions surrounding rooftop agriculture, such as nutrition versus toxicity in an urban environment. Baxt and Serrell conducted one of the studies in the Gowanus section of Brooklyn and the research aspect is something that will be included in the FarmingUp project.

“It will exist also as a research mission, one that we plan on carrying on even once we're up and running,” he said.

FarmingUp currently has an advisory board complete with landscape architects with specialties in green roof design, who he says are looking at the larger ecological picture, as well as a business consultant who will study whether the model will be financially self sufficient.

The building in Greenpoint that Baxt is most interested in is near the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Facility. He is working with Councilman Steve Levin's office and with the tenant and building owner in the coming weeks to secure the location.

“Part of idea is to make a case that it's the property owner's interest to own a farm,” he said. “They become engines of urban agriculture, and the energy and maintenance savings are an incentive.”

Currently Baxt and Serrel need $100,000 in funds to get the farm going. Through various fundraising portals, such as Kickstarter, as well as USDA loans, they plan to begin pooling the money together soon.

Baxt, who lives in Cobble Hill, chose Greenpoint because he believes it is a perfect location to have a rooftop farm in the city.

“Rooftop farms are an incredible intersection of agriculture and green infrastructure,” he said. “And with the demographics of Greenpoint – the higher than average diabetes rates and other diet-related illnesses – I think the community wins on so many levels.”

The soil-based rooftop farm will operate like a ground farm, following the seasons. One advantage of urban environments, he said, is that it tends to be a few degrees warmer than outside of the city, so the farm gets a longer season.

Baxt also believes that there would be no reason for farmers to come from outside of the five boroughs, allowing the produce to be even more fresh.

He touted the farm's potential to give residents easier access to fresher groceries, a site for education, accessible green space, and its ability to keep trucks off the road that would normally be delivering fresh produce.

He noted that the farm will also retain millions of gallons of rainwater that would otherwise end up going directly into the harbor, as well as reduce the building's carbon footprint.

“Nobody loses in this equation,” he said.

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