Tour The Hi-Tech Farm That's Growing 100 Tons Of Greens On The Roof Of A Brooklyn Warehouse


Photo: Gotham Greens

Yesterday we got to take a tour of Gotham Greens, the country’s first commercial urban rooftop greenhouse.It’s an impressive, 15,000 square-foot facility atop a two-story warehouse in Greenpoint, Brooklyn that aims to grow 100 tons of produce a year.

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The state-of-the-art greenhouse uses a hydroponic system, meaning there’s no soil involved.

Gotham Greens harvested the first of its veggies in May and they’re already selling out at upscale Manhattan grocers like Whole Foods and Mario Batali’s Eataly, co-founder Viraj Puri told us. And the company will soon start selling directly to chefs at local restaurants.

The company was founded in 2008 by two friends — Viraj, who has an environmental engineering background, and Eric Haley, who heads up the business side. Jennifer Nelkin, who runs the greenhouse, joined a year later.

The business aims to put farm fresh greens in the mouths of New Yorkers within 24 hours of harvesting.

And they’re trying to do so with a focus on the environment. The greenhouse is powered by 55-kilowatt solar panels, and the hydroponic system uses one-twentieth the land and one-tenth the water of a conventional farm.

Plus, since the greens are grown so close to market, they use a relatively small number of “food miles,” Viraj said.

Gotham Greens‘ first crop includes six types of lettuce and basil, though the company has plans to expand its produce selection and will eventually build several more rooftop greenhouses.

Despite the high cost of New York real estate, prices are competitive.

When we checked out the packaged salad section at Whole Foods, Gotham Greens’ products were all $3.99, the same price as other similarly packaged greens and $.50 less than the organic versions. On FreshDirect, their lettuces were between $2.99 and $3.49, and comparably priced to similar salad greens.

Gotham Greens is located in a warehouse district in north Brooklyn.

From street level, there's not much to see.

But rest assured, there's a greenhouse in this building (along with a woodworker and an industrial workshop).

Two flights up, and we're in a 15,000 square-foot, climate-controlled greenhouse.

It's very warm, and smells fresh.

The greenhouse is hydroponic, meaning there's no soil. The plants get their nutrients from the sun and water that's streamed in through tiny pipes.

Everything is carefully labelled. This lettuce was planted just 24 hours before our arrival.

In addition to six types of lettuce, the greenhouse also grows basil. The company started with salad greens since that's where they saw a market opening, said Viraj.

The entire facility is automated and run from a computer room adjacent to the greenhouse.

Even so, the company employs 25 people and plans to harvest year-round.

The eastern side of the rooftop is covered in 55-kilowatt solar panels and provides a great panorama of Manhattan -- Gotham Greens' target market.

Here's what the whole operation looks like from above.

We didn't leave empty-handed. This clamshell of gourmet lettuce was just packaged.

Meet the founders: Viraj is on the left and Eric is on the right. Jenn, who runs the greenhouse, joined the company in 2009.

When we stopped by Whole Foods in Union Square to check out the salad selection, Gotham Greens' products were front and centre.

They were sandwiched between organic greens and lettuces grown on a Long Island farm.

At $3.99 a package, they were the same price as comparable products and cheaper than the organic greens.

But they're really a bargain on FreshDirect, where two packages go for $6.

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