It was none other than First Lady Michelle Obama who, not long after her husband’s swearing in as President, inaugurated the brand new vegetable garden on the White House lawn.
It was a simple idea but one with a profound aim: to help Americans rediscover the traditions and values of eating well by growing food organically and locally. Which is not only better for the planet and your body, but tending to a garden is also an excellent stress reliever. And this symbolic gesture of hers has become a tangible trend, even in big cities like New York, where residents notoriously have little or no personal green space of their own. But that hasn’t discouraged anybody and urban gardening has won New Yorkers’s heart.
With sustainable as the new buzzword, New Yorkers have jumped on the gardening bandwagon and they have created interesting rooftop farming initiatives. While just a little while ago, it was enough to buy organic produce from sustainable-minded sources, like the Union Square farmers’ market or Whole Foods, today that’s not enough. The true believers now want to grow their own.
If you’re in the mood to get your hands dirty, you should check out Eagle Street Rooftop Farm, in the Greenpoint neighbourhood of Brooklyn, and Brooklyn Grange on Long Island. Here, on the rooftops of two warehouses, these private urban vegetable gardens have been created to provide local markets and restaurants with organic products, as well as giving the chance to school children and curious volunteers to learn gardening techniques.
The Eagle Street Rooftop Farm even proposes a membership that allows members to come to the garden and pick the seasonal fruit and vegetables for their own use. It’s a perfect solution for those who don’t have time to tend to a garden themselves, but who want to be able to choose what they bring to their table, and know exactly where it comes from.
If dining out is more your thing, but you still want to be certain that what you’re eating comes from a sustainable source, the list of eateries that procure their much of their produce from Rooftop Farm is extensive and varied.
The gold medal winner is surely Bell Book & Candle. Its own organic garden is able to grow around seventy different varieties of herbs, fruits and vegetables, making it possible to supply the restaurant with between 60% and 80% of its base ingredients. What’s the secret to their efficiency? A series of plastic towers that renders even a small space suitable for cultivation and features an effective irrigation system. Every 12 minutes, water is pumped for 3 minutes at a time, thanks to solar panels.
The best lettuce salad can be found at Brooklyn’s Palo Santo Restaurant in Park Slope, which offers a selection of around thirty different greens and herbs, all of which have been grown on the rooftop garden of the restaurant.
For those who want to stay in the chicer borough of Manhattan, look no further than Maialino, the restaurant of the Gramercy Park Hotel, where the executive chef Nick Anderer delights his clients with a Roman-style menu cooked with flavours and herbs gathered from the terrace garden. While it’s not the easiest way to grow food and feed customers, the gardeners themselves, Dan Dilworth and Kevin Dento claim that «serving someone a pea you just picked, with the shoot on one end and the flower on the other? You just can't buy that.»
But this mania for garden-grown food is not exclusive to New York restaurants. Those residents fortunate enough to have a balcony or terrace of their own have formed a kind of “green tribe” – armed with gloves and hand shovels they dedicate themselves to their tomato plants and basil with the same passion and discipline they display in their yoga or spinning classes.
But where to begin? The list of books and blogs that will guide you through your first attempts at urban gardening are long and varied. After all, there’s nothing New Yorkers love more than to keep busy, follow rules and reach their objectives!
Don’t miss the blog by Mike Lieberman, an internet marketing consultant who has managed to grow a small business around his garden, and has created a way of expressing himself on the internet. Beginning with a “fire escape garden” in New York, with no planting experience whatsoever, Mike slowly learned the basics of gardening, personally experimenting in his own little garden and regularly updating his blog with its evolution, his mistakes, and the dishes he’s prepared from the vegetables he’s managed to grow.
Now, having moved to Los Angeles and with a bigger garden, his green thumb has become quite an authority, and he provides precious advice on how, when and what to plant for other urban gardeners.
Lastly, a couple of suggestions for those who’d like to add a touch of organic green to their lives but who are utterly devoid of a green thumb or desire to tend to a garden themselves. The first solution is to call a company that specializes in vegetable gardens, and they’ll do the work for you: try either GreenLiving or Skyvegetables. Or to keep things even more simple, you can rent out your terrace to a local garden that, in no time, will create a space for rosemary, sage and thyme – and help you earn a little money. It’s a great solution for those who want to join the ranks of the New York “green addicts”, but who want to keep their own hands dirt-free!