The Hell’s Kitchen Farm Project is only in its second growing year, but they have already integrated themselves into, and become a thriving part of, the surrounding community. The HKFP is run by community members, and aims to benefit community members. The fruits and veggies that they grow are given back to local food pantries, like the MCCNY Sylvia Rivera Food Pantry, and Hell’s Kitchen residents can become part of a small CSA. Community volunteers do the majority of the farming, tours are available for groups, and the rooftop is always open.
The HKFP aims not only to provide easier access to healthy fresh produce in the city, but also to generate a deeper understanding of where food comes from and how it reaches our plates. The project provides the access by delivering to vegetables to the people, but it builds the understanding by bringing the people to the vegetables.
I had the opportunity to talk to Lauren, who left her position as marketer at high-end shoe design company to become the head of the Hell’s Kitchen Farm Project, who said that they had the choice to give produce to just people, or to show them that they had the power to grow it themselves, so they chose both. This lesson is especially pertinent in Manhattan, where access to farms is limited, and growing your own produce can be difficult to imagine.
Since starting out the HKFP has had to overcome many obstacles unique to urban farms. For starters: Stairs! For every plant that is grown on the rooftop planters, seeds, soil, and tools have to be carried up five flights of steep stairs! Luckily most of the equipment can stay up there, but the initial set up was challenging and exhausting.
When they first began to set up the farm they immediately learned that if they were to blanket the entire roof in soil the weight could potentially cause the roof to collapse. To ensure that the roof could support the project the farmers found a specially engineered lighter soil, and decided to grow their goods in planters (kiddie pools) rather than traditional plant beds. The lighter soil is effective, but the farmers have had to be careful to keep it adequately supplied with nutrients.
Another urban obstacle that the Hell’s Kitchen Farm crew has had to overcome is the constant war of pigeons vs. produce. The fruits and veggies of the HKFP are under 24 hour aerial attack at the talons of Manhattan’s fiercest pigeons. After losing a good portion of their first planting, it was clear that something had to be done. The farmers didn’t want to resort to chemical warfare, so now each planter has a cylindrical chicken wire shield that protects both the side and top of the plant from feathery foes.
As the project continues to grow Lauren has hopes for some improvements and modifications. While the farm already uses organic growing practices, they have not yet obtained official certification, and seek to be recognized for their efforts. Additionally, the project want to be able to expand the educational programs that they offer to children, but before they can bring up large groups they need to build a higher fence around the walls for safety.
I can’t wait for the day that all rooftops look like this one.
Summer 2012 NYC Food Warrior
This post is from one of the interns in the Real Time Farms Food Warrior Internship Program. These interns are collecting data, pictures, and video on the growing practices of our nation’s farms, gathering food artisans’ stories, and documenting farmers markets. We all deserve to know where our food comes from! Boring legalese we feel we must include: this was written by a real live person who has their own opinions, which we value, but that do not necessary reflect, though they may (or may not), the values and opinions of Real Time Farms. That is for you to guess and us to know.