This week our Tent Talk guest is Anastasia Plakias, co-founder and vice president of Brooklyn Grange Rooftop Farm, co-founder of City Growers, and author of The Farm on the Roof: What Brooklyn Grange Taught Us about Entrepreneurship, Community, and Growing a Sustainable Business. Anastasia will also be a keynote speaker at the 2019 InTents Conference!
In this episode Anastasia gives us the lowdown on how Brooklyn Grange came to be, fills us in on the what it’s like to grow food in an urban environment, and explains the importance of collecting data and understanding return on investment.
Getting Brooklyn Grange off the ground & onto the roof
Running a business requires creative problem-solving skills, especially when your business is growing food in an urban environment. Thinking outside the box has worked out well for Brooklyn Grange, which operates the world’s largest rooftop soil farms, located on two (and soon to be three) roofs in New York City.
This ambitious project required a unique location and much faith on the part of landlords. However, since it’s inauguration in 2010, Brooklyn Grange has been warmly received by their city.
“New Yorkers are hungry, like urbanites all over the world, for access to green space, for a connection to their food system, and for some sense of autonomy in the food choices they make every day,” explains Anastasia. Even their landlords have found that this urban farming space has added value to their properties.
Growing food in the concrete jungle
As a native New Yorker, Anastasia is dedicated to making the city that raised her a more sustainable place to live. Her love for her city makes her passionate about finding solutions to the problematic food system currently in place. While Brooklyn Grange may not be the silver bullet solution, Anastasia is happy that it can serve as an educational tool and inspiration.
Brooklyn Grange customers can pick up the organically-cultivated produce grown in their neighborhood at the Greenpoint Farmers Market or via CSA, May through October. In addition, Brooklyn Grange neighbors can take part in the 2.5 acres of farmland in the middle of a bustling city many days out of the year.
“They can jump in and get their hands dirty alongside our farm team on Saturdays. They can take a tour of the farm. They can meet the chickens or watch the bees flooding in and out of the hives. And then they can buy the cucumbers that are being pollinated by those bees,” says Anastasia.
Saturdays shoppers can stop by their Long Island City farm for produce and value added products. And their farms are also open to the public for community events, yoga classes, weddings and workshops.
Keep your eye on those margins
Not only does Brooklyn Grange grow food using sustainable methods, their business model is also sustainable. How do they do this? They utilize a variety of revenue streams including farmers’ markets, CSA, wholesale channels, events, and design work. Also, they keep a watchful eye on their margins.
“We’ve never stopped focusing on the bottom line, on the margins, it’s all about the margins and how healthy are the margins,” says Anastasia. Over time they’ve honed in on what is garnering the best return and have learned to invest their energies accordingly. “By really focusing on which crops are the most valuable, we are able to create more jobs and pay our farmers a better hourly rate.”
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