Ben Flanner is leading a revolution in farming with Brooklyn Grange, the world’s first commercial rooftop farm. The business is guided by Ben’s triple bottom line goal of being “sustainable in regards to finances, the environment, and community."
“To do an operation like this in New York City, you do need to be paying some sort of a rent. It’s interesting to pioneer the market for ’what’s a roof worth?’”
Although Ben Flanner always knew he’d be doing something else besides analyzing spreadsheets all his life, it wasn’t until a chance visit to a winery in Adelaide, Australia that the kernel of an idea was planted in his mind. Ben watched the viticulturists and noticed that they were constantly problem-solving and working to make the process more efficient. He liked that.
Inspired to learn more about farming, Ben visited several farms once he returned back home. In 2009, he finally left his desk job to transform a Brooklyn rooftop into the Eagle Street Rooftop Farm. He didn’t stop analyzing spreadsheets, but this time, they were all about the crops; the numbers told him he’d need a much bigger space — as much as an acre — for the farm to turn a profit and began shopping for another rooftop. He found one in Queens and partnered with locavore restaurant, Roberta’s, to open Brooklyn Grange.
Ben’s focus on efficiency means he’s constantly looking for new ways to make the farm more productive and says he enjoys “the challenge of trying to make something work that is so new and interesting.” For example, the extra windy rooftops stressed the plants, so he created special teepee frames to slack the wind.
Of course, having the freshest produce, eggs, and honey aren’t the only benefits to the farm. The crops serve as a habitat for bees, dragonflies, and birds; and since the cover insulates the building below, the tenants benefit from lower energy bills. The farm can also adapt more quickly to local food trends and respond to special orders from clients — things a national grocer can’t compete with.
Spring 2012 brings a second location to the business on a Brooklyn Navy Yard rooftop. The extra space allows for more crop rotation and diversity; and adds value to yet one more under-used roof.