How to be a urban farmer
Ben Flanner, cofounder, Brooklyn Grange.
Mon Aug 1 2011
Former profession: Marketing manager
Making the switch: Before tending the rooftop farm that supplies produce to restaurants like Fatty 'Cue and Bobo, Ben Flanner crunched numbers as a marketing manager for E-Trade. Flanner, who kept a compost container at his office desk, nurtured his interest in farming by staying up late studying. He read materials like Eliot Coleman's book The New Organic Grower and online manual The Greenhorns Guide for Beginning Farmers, while arranging day trips to local farms. After reading an article about green-roof designer Chris Goode, Flanner sent him an e-mail to gauge his interest in creating an organic rooftop vegetable farm. The two hit it off and put together a plan in five months—Goode oversaw the technical installation, while Flanner used his quantitative background to create a business plan and brought on veteran farmer Annie Novak (New York Botanical Garden) as a partner. The 6,000-square-foot Eagle Street Rooftop Farm opened in 2009. That same year, Flanner upped the ante by teaming up with the founders of Roberta's restaurant to open a rooftop farm six times the size—the 40,000-square-foot Brooklyn Grange.
Word to the wise: "Open up your network. I work hard to talk to my friends in the [agricultural] world and exchange ideas. Farming is a collaborative industry and small producers definitely support each other because it is a difficult [field]."
Get your feet wet: Find urban farming workshops—led by growers from local outfits like the Brooklyn Grange and Newton Farm Cooperative in the Catskills—at the eight-plot garden inside the brand new Dekalb Market. 332 Flatbush Ave Ext between Fleet and Willoughby Sts, Downtown Brooklyn (no phone). Check dekalbmarket.com for class schedule and price.