Lets learn about urban food systems

Join UMass Sustainable Food and Farming for a FREE and public screening of the short documentary “Brooklyn Farmer” which tells the story of Brooklyn Grange, a group of urban farmers who endeavor to run a commercially viable farm in New York City.

Brooklyn farmer

The film will be followed by a panel discussion with Dana Lucas (Freight Farms Boston and UMass Hydroponics) & Frank Mangan (UMass Professor of Urban Farming).

The film will be held in

W.E.B. Du Bois Library,

Floor 19 – Room 1920

Film at 6:00pm

Panel at 7:00 pm

Synopsis of the Film:

“Brooklyn Farmer” explores the unique challenges facing Brooklyn Grange, a group of urban farmers who endeavor to run a commercially viable farm within the landscape of New York City. The film follows Head Farmer Ben Flanner, CEO Gwen Schantz, Communications Director Anastasia Plakias, Farm Manager Michael Meier, and Beekeeper Chase Emmons as their growing operation expands from Long Island City, Queens to a second roof in the Brooklyn Navy Yards. The team confronts the realities inherent in operating the world’s largest rooftop farm in one of the world’s biggest cities.


Frank Mangan
umassnutA focus of my program has been to evaluate production and marketing systems for vegetable and herb crops, with an emphasis on crops popular among immigrant communities. Since 2003, farmers in Massachusetts made more than five million dollars in retail sales of crops introduced from my program, crops that had not been grown in Massachusetts before. A majority of the research done by my program is at the UMass Research Farm in Deerfield MA. We also evaluate practical postharvest and pest management strategies for these new crops. Our program works closely with nutritionists at UMass to provide nutritionally balanced and culturally-appropriate recipes for these immigrant groups. This webpage provides information on the crops evaluated and introduced by my program: http://www.worldcrops.org/

Starting in 2011, we have begun to work with urban growers as part of an overall systems approach to provide fresh produce to urban populations. As part of this work we’re also evaluating the carbon footprint used to produce and transport fresh produce to urban settings. We have created a Facebook page to report on this work: https://www.facebook.com/umassurbanag

Dana Lucas
I am from a city and I cherish local food. I have found this appreciation for sustainable produce to be extremely helpful in my own personal development within controlled environmental agriculture.

I work for an urban farm that owns three Freight Farms. I have learned to successfully manage and market almost five acres of hydroponic produce. I also have recently created my own company for urban farm consulting. I design and build hydroponic systems for commercial and residential spaces around Boston, MA. I am most proud of recently receiving a grant to build and design a vertical farm on campus at UMass Amherst, which will provide hydroponic produce to dining halls on campus starting this winter.

I believe the further expansion of city farms will help to give urbanites the opportunity to experience food systems more accessible. Completing my education in agriculture is extremely exciting and important for my career and our world’s future sustainability. I believe that urban agriculture will have a great influence on social, economic, and resource consumption problems.


8 thoughts on “Lets learn about urban food systems”

  1. The “Brooklyn Farmer” presentation was extremely interesting, and getting to talk with the three panelists was an awesome experience. Being able to see how useful our infrastructure can become in the agricultural industry was amazing, especially when I think about how much rooftop space there is out there. These farms are providing local produce to those who may never touch a seed otherwise. Dana and her hydroponics partner brought invaluable insight to the future of local farming, speaking about vertical and technological advances in agriculture that can benefit many. Frank was insightful when it came to the pitfalls of policy in America, and how agriculture works on an international level. Overall, I feel like I got a really cool glimpse into the future of farming, and what we need to do to fix our farming practices now.

  2. “Brooklyn Farmer” was an eye-opening look into the future of urban farming. I hope to someday go into urban agriculture as a profession, and this presentation was a great opportunity to consider my future. When thinking about urban agriculture, the images that come to mind are usually small scale, and it was interesting to see a decently sized farm on a city rooftop. Before I saw this documentary, I thought that I would be seeing raised beds on a small building, not something that resembled a farm I had worked on before. The panel afterwards was very helpful as well. Talking about the pros and cons of different kinds of urban agriculture (soil quality, cost, accessibility, et cetera) helped put into perspective how necessary local farming in urban communities is, and how it is possible for the next generation of farmers to achieve it.

  3. The farm featured in the movie, Brooklyn Grange, is, to me, an interesting example of urban agriculture. When I think of urban agriculture, what I usually picture is either an economically conventional organization that grows in a technologically unconventional manner (hydroponics, vertical systems, etc.) or an organization with alternative sociopolitical and economic structures designed to build community power and self-sufficiency. Brooklyn Grange, on the other hand, follows a decades-old “back-to-the-land” tradition of buying land, setting up a soil-based row-crop system, and setting up a diversified marketing system. But, of course, in this urban setting the “land” is rooftop!

    On a totally unrelated sidenote, it’s a shame the film doesn’t discuss the ecological challenges of soil-based rooftop agriculture—is the wind a serious problem sometimes? what are the water complications of having no bedrock geology or groundwater drainage? etc.

    In my opinion, small-scale alternative agriculture projects like Brooklyn Grange are one of the most important first steps towards the kind of fundamental transformation of society that is required in the face of global ecological destabilization and resource depletion. To people—especially urbanites—who have not been exposed to non-industrial ways of existing in the modern world, projects like this have the potential to shift perceptions of what is possible. For people who have been exposed to generic left-wing pro-community/anti-industrial/“back-to-nature” ideology but are skeptical, projects like this not only show that non-industrial ways of existing in the modern world are economically feasible—even within a system, capitalism, that is designed to make non-industrial existence unfeasible—but they provide a tangible example of pro-community/anti-industrial/“back-to-nature” ideology put into practice. They give people a taste of just how good it can feel to be part of a community, to be connected to the origin of one’s food, etc.

    It’s important to note that Brooklyn Grange is clearly not the best example of pro-community/anti-industrial/“back-to-nature” ideology put into practice (at least, judging by the film). For one, they market primarily to people and organizations who are willing (a.k.a. able) to pay a “premium,” so they’re no social justice hub. Second, they are mostly urbanites with backgrounds in conventional fields like marketing, managing, etc. who felt the need to pursue a career that involved being outdoors with living organisms; they expressed much more interest in their personal wellbeing and the logistics of their operation than in transforming their community or saving the world. Nonetheless, Brooklyn Grange has some transformative value that should not be ignored.

    However, like I said, small-scale alternative agriculture projects like Brooklyn Grange are only a first step towards fundamental change. They inspire people to think bigger and more radically, which allows the next steps toward fundamental change to be taken. With the small but growing presence of alternative agriculture to provide hard evidence for the possibility of non-industrial existence, more and more people begin to say: “Why can’t small-scale, ecological agriculture and local and regional economies become the norm? Agriculture can be a central part of the solution to global ecological destabilization and resource depletion and socioeconomic inequality and colonialism rather than a central part the problem!” From there, the global industrial food system and even capitalism itself come into question.

    Armed with critiques of “the system” and at least the outline of a vision for an alternative future, people begin to believe that another world truly is possible. Community transformation projects spread farther and faster and become more radical. At the same time, agricultural transformation links up with transformations in energy, healthcare, education, etc. At the same time, wage workers, peasants, indigenous peoples, and all other exploited and oppressed peoples join forces and mobilize en masse. At the same time, governments and corporations begin to feel the pressure and submit to popular demands. When it becomes impossible to ignore that an organized multi-racial, multi-gender, feminist, queer, ecological, international proletariat is the most powerful social force that history has ever seen, previously uninvolved and/or skeptical people join in the movement. With surprising suddenness, the system falls. And a new system—based on redistribution of wealth according to need, direct democracy, ecological principles, the dismantling of all systems of oppression, and the fulfillment of individual and collective human potential—rises to take its place.

    Sorry if I overdid it! Agriculture-based community transformation as a core aspect of socialist revolution makes me reeeeeeeally excited 🙂

  4. Let me first state that while I wholeheartedly support urban agriculture in all of its many facets, I have a hard time being truly excited about it. I like rural areas, with trees and wide plains, and I like putting my toes in the soil. I cannot see myself ever being involved in Urban Ag, yet it is so vital to our food supply both now and in the future. Just because I have an overwhelming lack of desire to live in a city does not mean that there are not millions of people who need to eat in the city as well as suburban areas. Many people who live in cities have lived there their whole lives and depend on reliable public transportation and other city services to work, shop, and learn. Rooftop farms are my favorite type of Urban Ag. I think that they are efficient from and energy standpoint and also an excellent way to use otherwise ‘wasted’ space. Yet impermeable structures are not only found in cities. Suburbs and small towns tend to be full of buildings prime for growing on the roofs. Going in to this documentary I wasted expecting to be as educated and pleased as I was following the screening. I think that it was relevant to a variety of issues facing the food system in and out of cities.

  5. There is such a pressing need for urban farming. There are so many people living in cities who do not have access to fresh local food. I was happy to see the amount of people interest in rooftop farms and think they are a great use of space in the city. I understand the importance of urban farming, but I could never see myself participating in it. Urban farming would never be able to lead me to a happy life, due to city living.
    Brooklyn Farmer was a nicely done film. It was short and to the point. I enjoyed hearing a little more about it and then getting the good, the bad, and the ugly from the panelist. The were very honest of all aspects of urban farming, which I appreciated. I hope urban farming continues to rise in popularity

  6. Like some others have said, some people just don’t really like the idea/experience of living in a city. While I would count myself as one of those people (for now) I still find it fascinating and perhaps a crucial piece of infrastructure in the cities of the future.

    Throughout the film and panel, I found myself pondering on what urban centers may look like many years into the future. Unless we are able to make transportation of food a non-issue, it only makes sense to grow food within a city or very close by. Transporting food hundreds to thousands of miles to its eventual consumers is just contributes to an unsustainable food-system prone to collapse. The looming issues of climate chaos and peak-oil (and all it’s associated problems) contribute further to this instability. What happens in a city when power is out for a mere three days or a week? A city full of hungry/thirsty people is not a pretty site.

    Anyways, enough doom and gloom. We humans are an innovative bunch, and with the right pressure we are able to figure solutions to insanely complicated issues. The issue now is, I believe, that the focus of the world power is on economic success, power, and stockpiling of resources rather than the health and happiness of our planet and all it’s occupants. I think if this focus changed or even shifted in a major way, we might have hope for an insanely awesome future 🙂

    Kind of went on a tangent there, but hey, urban ag. might be part of that super awesome future.

  7. I think it is really great that this topic is getting some attention because it is going to be vital to the reorganization of the food system. While many in rural areas can just decide to commit to local food, others in more urban areas do not always have that option. We need to be inclusive and figure out how to make agriculture work in those spaces as well. I love that this screening brought up a lot of positives and negatives of urban farming because that is how we can start to come up with solutions. There are a lot of factors affecting urban farming in different places, but the more educated and knowledgeable we are on those unique systems, the better off we are in addressing the issues. Thanks so much y’all for bringing this important topic to light!

  8. I had first seen the film “Brooklyn Farmer” in my Urban Agriculture class. The first time I saw it, I was interested in the possibilities of growing food on rooftops and impressed by Brooklyn Grange’s operations. It got me thinking about the opportunities of utilizing existing free space in an urban setting, such as rooftops, open lots, alley ways. Why couldn’t food be grow everywhere? I have often considered living in a city, particularly Boston as of now. Cities are hubs of creativity, hosting artists, musicians, performers, poets, theaters, museums, etc. The constant interaction with other people around you prompts questions of identity, expression, connection, and community. I remember visiting New York in 2015 for a short weekend trip and having a strange feeling of isolation and alone-ness even among the hoards of people that occupied the sidewalks. I got the impression that a city (specifically in the US, maybe even more specifically in the North East) was a place where you developed a large sense of independence and freedom, but at the same time, kept you for being able to really invest in each city-dweller/community member that walked by. In my small town on Cape Cod, waving to someone walking by was common, maybe even expected. In the city, if you said hi to everyone you walked by, you would be late, out of breath, and probably get some weird looks. So how, in a city, can there be flourishing personal expression and creativity derived from the independent feeling while also having a sense of community and connection to fellow city-folk? Well, food has been the main connection of humans, from international means to the people in your own neighborhood. So would bringing production of food into the city create a better sense of community? I believe so! Having spaces like rooftop gardens, community gardens in previously abandon lots, brings those in the community together through the work that needs to be done, the network of where the food goes, buyer of produce knowing the grower, and creating communal spaces where people can gather. After watching Brooklyn Farmer a second time, I thought more about the limitations of rooftop farms and thinking about the price of technology that goes into an investment like this or even hydroponics. After the video, during the panel, Dana mentioned that as these technologies become more accepted and used, they will in turn become less expensive and more accessible to low-income communities. I do not think that this is a reason to not grow food in these spaces or using these methods! I think that there is a huge benefit to growing food in the city, including reduction of transportation and reliance on fossil fuels as well as connecting people. All in all, I would be ecstatic to see more urban farm development and even get involved with one in Boston or New York.

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