It seems city farming in New York is all the rage these days. Just a few steps from the Long Island Rail Road's Jamaica Station, a church's rooftop will soon transform into New York's first hydroponic rooftop farm. At least, that is the hopes of a startup called Gotham Greens.
Winners of the grand prize at New York's Green Business Competition, they plan to start construction of the 12,000 square-foot greenhouse this fall and yield their first harvest early next year. The project, with an estimated cost of $1.4 million, will be powered by 2,000 square-feet of solar panels and will capture rainwater for irrigation. In fact, the project's energy-savings potential even garnished them a $400,000 grant from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.
"We are trying to demonstrate that sustainable, urban agriculture can be economically viable in the city," said the company's greenhouse director, Jennifer Nelkin, 30.
The water-based, soil-free farm is expected to yield roughly 30 tons of fruits and vegetables each year. To remain competitive, the company will deliver their own produce via biodiesel-based vans. Delivery services usually cost farmers a markup of 10% to 15%.
Nelkin and company's managing director, Viraj Puri, met at the New York Sun Works nonprofit. There they helped develop the Science Barge, a hydroponic greenhouse built atop...well, a barge.
Benefits of hydroponics include the elimination of fertilizer and pesticide runoff, a leading cause of global water pollution according to Puri.
"The biggest challenge that we are facing right now is not the technology - we know the technology," Nelkin said. "It's moving this technology into the city."
Their first customer is Whole Foods--70% of the produce will go to its New York stores--but Gotham Greens also hopes to deliver produce to farmer's markets around the city.