A bumper crop of city farms, rooftop gardens, and futuristic urban greenhouses here and abroad is changing what it means to eat local.
“That’s our mockingbird,” says willowy Annie Novak, immaculate and breezy in ankle-length linen and high-heeled strappy sandals. She points at a bird in a beleaguered tree outside the industrial building in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, whose stairs we’re about to climb and apologizes that the bird is about to run through its entire repertoire. “I hope it’s not too annoying.”
Like most New Yorkers, I find birdsong anywhere inside the concrete jungle a surprise and charm. But it pales beside the rooftop Eden into which we emerge. Here, one story above the soundstage where Master of None and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt are filmed, are a fussing chicken coop and sixteen beds of dark soil bearing blackberries, calendula, lavender, basil, sage, chives, parsley, kale, mizuna, mustards, broccoli, zinnias, and row upon row of chiles. There are three types of English rose, a hazelnut tree, and a single slim peach tree in a very deep pot. Annie calls the peach “my only concession to romanticism.” It’s the one plant in her seven-year-old Eagle Street Rooftop Farm—which has the distinction of being the first commercial green roof farm in the United States—not selected for its ability to withstand a hot, windy, city roof. Annie admits she loves the peach tree, but she won’t name it. “That would be too sentimental,” she says. Thus a theme develops. Annie—whose classic Roman face (she also models) expresses utter impatience with my slightly impudent questions about terroir (“Does a certain eau d’oil spill find its way into the herb bed?”)—calls my misgivings about hydroponic vegetables “nostalgic” and lets me understand, in gentler words than these, that my idea that real farming happens only in the countryside is a regressive fantasy.