A startup is fundraising to build a rooftop aquaponic farm in Bushwick. The guys behind Verticulture farms have outlined a plan to utilize the rooftop of the Old Pfizer building on Flushing, which has been converted into an incubator for small food suppliers, to grow fish and vegetables. We spoke with Ryan Morningstar, one of four Brooklyn-based co-founders of Verticulture this afternoon for a better idea of what the farm will look like.
Ryan met co-founder Miles Crettien working on a vegetable farm in Massachusetts. Ryan stayed for five seasons, and eventually left for Brooklyn to continue his education in agriculture and environmental sustainability. Miles followed the same path, and eventually the pair bumped into each other again.
“We both fell in love with the city and we selfishly wanted to do both things, we wanted to be farmers, but also wanted to be in the city,” Ryan explained. “So we started researching alternative technologies, and aquaponics is just such a beautiful, beautiful way to grow food. Through the research we met [co-founder] Peter Spartos and we were all like ‘Hey, let’s do this.’”
The group’s first experiment was a farm on the rooftop of the Metropolitan Exchange Building in Downtown Brooklyn. “We ended up having great success, and we’ve been planning and developing our business model ever since.”
As an experiment, the team’s first farm was dismantled, but the guys behind Verticulture are confident they know what they’re doing now. “We’re going to provide to companies like Fresh Direct and Good Eggs, but we’re also going to be selling directly to tenants in the building, [the 60 or so retailers below],” Ryan explained. “So that takes away a lot of the trouble for early stage farms– we’ll be able to harvest and literally deliver to people right in the building.”
But what about aquaponic farming? What even is aquaponic farming? Well, it’s what the kids are doing these days–sustainable, organic, efficient agriculture. Basically, aquaponics combines the practice of fish farming with hydroponics. Plants and fish live interdependently within the same system. What we’d normally just write off as “fish poo” becomes an essential nutrient source for the plants– in this case, vegetables.
“We’re really looking to close the loop completely. Right now we use commercial feed, but if you can develop a way to grow your own food for the fish, you’ve basically closed the loop,” Ryan said. “You have your own synergetic food production system. And that’s something that we’re really interested in, trying to create a system that’s self-sustaining.”
Though cutting edge, the techniques used in aquaponics have been around for ages: rice paddies in Southeast Asia have made use of aquaponics for centuries, and the Aztecs used similar techniques. But aquaponics also addresses modern dilemmas, a local, self-sustaining farm will bring food production much closer to consumption, drastically reducing the carbon footprint from transportation.
Like just about everything these days, Verticulture is getting its start via an Indiegogo campaign, and so far they’ve raised almost $9,000, just short of the $10,000 they have 8 days left to raise. And the guys at Verticulture are totally not pussyfooting around. “We’re looking to have construction complete within a month of the funds being issued,” Ryan said. And if the commercial-sized operation in Bushwick works out, he says they’ll go on to set up other farms around the city.
But for now, they’re excited about the prospects of working in Bushwick. “We are really a social mission driven company,” Ryan said. “One of the things we really want to do is to provide fresh, affordable food for people who don’t necessarily have the best access to it. And though Bushwick does have its fair share of community gardens and little farmers markets, we feel like there’s definitely opportunity to provide more fresh local food and that’s one of the reasons why we’re there.”