Last week I was privileged to spend the afternoon at Eagle Street Rooftop Farm with food colleagues. The outing was organized by Liz Young, the indefatigable and enthusiastic president of the New York Woman’s Culinary Alliance, who just happens to lead fabulous, customized culinary tours all over the city.
After a few train changes and a short walk, I found myself at the downstairs entrance to a farm in Greenpoint Brooklyn. Once there, we were warmly welcomed by farmer Annie Novak, who looks like she stepped out of a Botticelli painting, donned a straw hat, and did a quick change into working clothes.
Then we climbed a few flights of stairs and had a jaw-dropping vision: rows of beautiful vegetables blowing in the breeze, clucking chickens taking dirt baths to cool off, and a multi-million-dollar view of the river and the Empire State Building.
And then there was Annie, the kind of person who makes you feel that anything is possible. She thinks nothing of growing vegetables on a rooftop and then– during the winter down-time–buying a one-way ticket to Bolivia to check out how Andean farmers grow 23 varieties of potatoes. How does she meet the farmers? By going to the market, of course.
Annie loves to teach and she’s a natural at it. Perhaps that’s why she founded Growing Chefs, a field-to-fork food education program for children. It’s a proven fact: when kids grow vegetables, they want to eat more of them!
I got to be a kid myself when I was there, and put my hands in the dirt for about three hours. I also learned a great deal about soil, compost, and the invigorating fun of being around healthy plants and happy chickens.
I also took lots of videos so you could have a virtual tour of the farm, meet Annie, and learn how to compost.
In the first clip Annie tells us how the rooftop garden came about, what heirloom vegetables she grows, and where she sources her seeds. It was quite hot on the roof, so we stayed downstairs in the “office” for the first few minutes.
Here Annie talks about compost: how local restaurants contribute their vegetable scraps and why chicken poop is such a valuable part of the process.
Here we are in the roof garden watching Annie harvest the greens as she talks about the meaning of organic and air quality. (We’ll be having these very greens for dinner at Anella, a restaurant a few blocks away. It that turns out to have fantastic food. Go!):
I ask Annie to tell us about the educational program she runs for children, Growing Chefs:
Annie talks about what to look for in a healthy plant and the economical advantage of growing from seed:
What to look for in potting soil and how to amend last year’s batch:
How to make compost based on shredded newspaper and worms!
A good way to transplant and how to keep your little plant thriving: