New York City's Most Urban, Portable Farm

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Posted: Tuesday, August 9, 2011 11:36 pm | Updated: 11:58 pm, Tue Aug 9, 2011.

NEW YORK -- New York City has applauded the creation of the city's most urban farm, the 15,000 sq. ft. Riverpark Farm at the Alexandria Center for Life Science. The farm's large scale, direct connection to the Riverpark Restaurant, highly urban location, and operation within one of the city's 600+ stalled construction sites distinguish it from all other urban farms in New York. The farm is a landmark example of the temporary alternative use of a stalled site to stimulate local interest and economic activity, benefit the environment, beautify an area, and engage the community.

A stalled site is a construction site where work has been temporarily suspended. In the wake of one of the greatest economic crises in history, the number of stalled sites has increased tremendously; in New York City alone there were more than 600 stalled sites reported by the New York City Department of Buildings in July 2011. Showing how the land of a stalled site can be put to productive temporary use is a key goal of the Riverpark Farm at Alexandria Center.

The Riverpark Farm was developed through a partnership of Riverpark Restaurant and the Alexandria Center for Life Science - New York City. Created under the direction of Riverpark's Chef/Partner Sisha Ortúzar, Riverpark Partner Jeffrey Zurofsky, and Alexandria Real Estate Equities, Inc.'s Executive Director of Corporate Strategy Scarlet Shore, the farm is already supplying dozens of varieties of fresh produce to the adjacent Riverpark restaurant. In September 2011, the construction fence at the site will come down to reveal a unique green space offering private outdoor dining at a farm table with views of the city, the East River, and the unique urban farmscape.

"We feel very fortunate to be able to grow our own vegetables in the middle of New York City. This is a great opportunity not only for our guests who will get to eat hyper-fresh produce, but to the members of our staff that want to be more connected to the food they cook," said Ortúzar. "The incredible support and collaboration with Alexandria has made this a reality, and serves as a model for making productive use of stalled construction sites citywide."

The farm's location is the future site of Alexandria Center's west tower, the second phase of a potential 1.1 million sq. ft. science park, where construction was temporarily suspended due to the unprecedented worldwide financial crisis. When construction on the west tower resumes, the Riverpark Farm, which was created with portability in mind, will be relocated to another part of the 4-acre Alexandria Center campus.

"The farm is a true reflection of innovation and teamwork," stated Shore. "Here, in a few short months, we have transformed a temporarily idle construction site into a productive urban farm - making purposeful use of 15,000 sq. ft. of space until construction resumes on the west tower."

There are presently more than 6,000 plants growing on the farm, which include about 100 different types of vegetables, herbs, and flowers. Many of the plants began their life at Wilklow Orchards in the Hudson Valley prior to the availability of the farm site. Planted entirely in milk crates, the plants were subsequently relocated to the Riverpark Farm at Alexandria Center. Fall crops will be planted and grown entirely at the Riverpark Farm, as will next season's spring crops.

The farm was created with advice and support from GrowNYC, a non-profit focused on improving New York City's quality of life through environmental programs, green markets, community gardens, and education initiatives such as Learn It, Grow It, Eat It and the School Garden Initiative. Riverpark is also working with the Fresh Air Fund, a not-for-profit agency that has provided free summer experiences in the country to more than 1.7 million New York City children from disadvantaged communities, as part of a summer internship program involving the restaurant and the farm.

Architected by ORE Design and Technology, the farm's simple but effective modular approach of employing milk crates stacked on pallets makes the whole farm portable within hours, and enables sites previously thought unsuitable for urban agriculture to be viable for farming.

"Thousands of soil-filled milk-crates sitting on a concrete foundation is just another way to think about a farmer's field," said Zach Pickens, one of the urban farmers at the Riverpark Farm at Alexandria Center. "Add some sun, water, and patience and a great harvest will follow."

SOURCE: Riverpark Farm at Alexandria Center

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