Farmers, Fishers, Bakers, Makers: Meet Ben Flanner of Brooklyn Grange
Do you know where to find the world’s largest rooftop soil farms? Believe it or not, they’re right here in Brooklyn! This week I asked Ben Flanner of Brooklyn Grange to tell me more about the two farms he operates–a 1.5 acre rooftop in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and a 1-acre rooftop in Long Island City– and what he’s been cultivating (and selling every Sunday at McGolrick’s Farmers Market). The farms grow over 50,000 lbs of organically-cultivated produce per year. In addition to growing and distributing fresh local vegetables and herbs, Brooklyn Grange also sells local honey from New York City’s first commercial apiary, provides urban farming and green roof consulting and installation services to clients worldwide, and partner with numerous non-profit organizations throughout New York to promote healthy and strong local communities.
Besides the McGolrick Park Greenmarket, what’s your favorite thing about Greenpoint?
I used to live in Greenpoint, and have always loved it. I like the space, the high concentration of small young businesses, and the neighborhood feel. Of course Greenpoint is changing, just like any other place in New York, but I still feel like people know eachother as neighbors. Even at our market, I see lots of people bumping into eachother, saying hello, and chatting about things. That’s important for a neighborhood.
What’s the best part about being a small farmer?
I love all of the challenges that come up. We never know what is going to happen the next day, or what mother nature is going to send our way. I also like the many hats that small farmers wear — we are not just growers, but also spokespeople for good food, and sales and distribution experts.
What’s your biggest challenge as a small farmer?
For small diversified vegetable farms, complexity is always a challenge. We deal with so many different types of crops, seeds, tools, labor, and sales channels. So it’s a challenge to keep on pushing ourselves to figure out what we do best, and remind ourselves and our staff that we can’t do everything.
What’s your favorite fruit or veggie that you grow? And why?
I love growing, picking, and eating delicious sweet cherry tomatoes. We’ll have them in lots of varieties soon. I also love a super sweet pepper, and many of the quirky seasoning peppers that we grow, such as aji dulce. The season is so short for the perfectly sweet sugar snap peas, but that’s also one of my favorites– a fresh picked plumpy sweet sugar snap pea.