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Brooklyn Grange: A Rooftop Farm in New York (video)

Geoff Lawton at Brooklyn Grange Rooftop Farm

“That view behind me is not a painted backdrop!” said Geoff Lawton to the camera. But the view looked great from where I was standing. Brooklyn Grange is a rooftop farm with a magnificent view looking over the Manhattan skyline.

Sited on a concrete roof, totaling 2.5 acres and producing over 50,000 lbs of organically-grown vegetables each year, you need to walk its length to appreciate how vast this rooftop garden truly is in scale.

We had been given one hour to film this place. The sun was setting. We were in the “magic hour” to film and needed to hurry. There was a lot to do.

Geoff walked down the narrow lanes of planted vegetables. Four to six inches of dirt was all the plants were allowed to grow in – very well drained dirt that resembled sharp river sand. It didn’t look like a normal loamy soil to my untrained eye.

The whole system looked very well managed with clean straight lines but with a diversity of plants. Lettuce, broccoli, kale, pepper, tomato and flowers — lots of flowers — interspersed with a bee hive along the path. In one corner was a small chicken coop and a few hens. I wasn’t sure the manure from these chickens could sustain this farm? There had to be inputs. But from where?

Geoff explained the system, but then noticed the derelict buildings standing next to us. Pigeons and small birds had made their homes in the abandoned niches. Their droppings over the years had deposited seeds that had taken root and small trees had established themselves, waving to us in the breeze. Geoff Lawton, immediately noticed this and wove it into the story. A wonderful story on the food that could be grown in the city with access to sunlight and water. But also a reminder that Nature is never far from the surface, retaking back what is always hers. If the city did stop beating, how long before Manhattan would be covered in a canopy of forest?

We finish filming and as I’m packing up the gear, Geoff turns to me and says, “Frank, do you know what that thing over there is?”

I said, “Yes, it’s a wheelbarrow!”

Geoff proceeded to demonstrate.

“Everything in life, should have more than one purpose.” he said, turning it into a chair.

Typical permaculture.

Geoff Lawton demonstrates how a wheel-barrow can have more than one use


  1. Great video, love what can be done with even a small amount of soil. I was surprised that there was no mention of designing in windbreaks. Having been involved in a rooftop project for the past two years in Helsinki, I can say without a doubt that the decision to stay longer and set up a simple hardware cloth windbreak around our beds single-handedly made 2013 a much more successful year. The weather was much different in 2012 (colder, even windier [the roof is up something like 12 stories on an old factory right on the Baltic]), but the windbreak kept the plants from being water stressed as quickly. We could only have roughly the same amount of soil in our boxes as the Grange due to weight restrictions, so we know what its like to have to supply water on a constant basis (without drip irrigation as well).

    Watching the video it was hard not to notice the newly seeded rows of lettuce that looked dearly windburned! Here are some of the results from August 2013:


  2. Well I know that permaculture is an adaptable strategy for growing plants and those urban rooftops should be used for something, but, why does this song keep popping into my head?

    Oh give me a home where the buffalo roam and the deer and the antelope play?

  3. Hello I just see your video. It happens that I’m here with Nyc and I would love to visit and learn about your work up there.

    I live in Ecuador and studied permaculture back there

    Best regards

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