How Rooftop Farm Brooklyn Grange Got Off The Ground

A new book tells the story of getting rooftop farm Brooklyn Grange off the ground

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This April, join us as we take a deep dive into the future of food. Here's where now meets next.

With Earth Day approaching, instead of focusing on the doom and gloom this year, we've decided to celebrate some special achievements in environmental sustainability. We examined the turning tide of sustainable seafood, the focus on slower-growing and more humanely raised chickens, and now we're looking up—up at the rooftop gardens that have made urban farming mainstream.

Rooftop farms are thriving on top of restaurants, schools and hotels these days, and nowhere is the success more evident than at Brooklyn Grange, the world's largest rooftop soil farm.

In The Farm on the Roof: What Brooklyn Grange Taught Us About Entrepreneurship, Community, and Growing a Sustainable Business, a new book that came out earlier this month, founder Anastasia Cole Plakias chronicles the story of how she got Brooklyn Grange off the ground. Instead of a how-to guide to farming, the book focuses on building a sustainable business—one that has a triple bottom line: social, environmental and financial.

The journey to build Brooklyn Grange began in 2008. Despite the recession, Plakias followed her lofty dream. Together with current president and director of agriculture Ben Flanner and COO Gwen Schnatz, she built a farm that currently grows more than 50,000 pounds of organic produce each year.

It was a tenuous time to start a business, let alone a farm. As Plakias says, "In an industry as fickle, susceptible and lean as farming—and in an economic climate as competitive as the one in which we found ourselves—success was not a given."

Thanks to what Plakias calls the "pathological optimism" of her cofounder Flanner and the persistence of everyone who worked to build the farm, Brooklyn Grange was more than successful. Today, it has become a shining example in the world of urban agriculture.

Readers may be surprised to recognize the now-iconic pizza restaurant Roberta's, where two-hour waits are a given these days, as one of the early places where Plakias started to cultivate her dream. At the time, they were "boiling pasta water in the pizza oven" at Roberta's and just planting their own garden out back, which is where Schnatz came in. Others might feel a similar nostalgia like I did when learning that Flanner came from Eagle Street Farms, an early urban farm I, myself, remember discovering in 2008 as a recent transplant to the city and fellow idealist trying to get my footing in a tanking economy.

The Farm on the Roof is an inspiring tale, well worth reading for anyone interested in urban agriculture, starting a business or triumphing against so many odds.

Find Roberta's Pizza here, or in our DINE app.

A dinner party at Brooklyn Grange. 

Photo: Adam Milliron

Bird's-eye view. 

Photo: Anastasia Cole Plakias

Sunflowers at Brooklyn Grange. 

Photo: Les Loups

The Navy Yard farm.

Photo: Anastasia Cole Plakias

Tending to new crops. 

Photo: Anastasia Cole Plakias

Greens growing at Brooklyn Grange. 

Photo: Anastasia Cole Plakias

More from the farm. 

Photo: Anastasia Cole Plakias

Yoga on the roof. 

Photo: Anastasia Cole Plakias