Intervale Green Rooftop Farm

A Bronx Urban Farm Sponsored by Women's Housing and Economic Development Corporation (WHEDco)


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Finally! Some well-deserved rest for the rooftop farm.

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The rooftop farm is finally enjoying some well-deserved rest and relaxation. It was an amazing season and we were able to pull out over 1,000 pounds of produce for the tenants and neighbors of Intervale Green.

I want to thank all the tenant farmers, all the WHEDco employees, and all the volunteer groups that helped us throughout the season.

Thanks to the enthusiastic crew from St. John’s University!IMG_1821 IMG_1823

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Thank you to the hard working group from Central Synagogue!

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With the help of the volunteer groups, we were able to clear all the plots, plant bulbs and garlic, and sow cover crops. I encourage all the volunteer groups to come back and help us with our pre-season set-up and to kick off our planting season.  In the meantime, the Intervale Green Greenhouse will be in full operation. Updates and Greenhouse news will be out shortly so stay tuned!

Powdery mildew, a busy greenhouse, and the next generation of urban farmers.

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So the the nasty fungal disease known as powdery mildew has attacked our zucchini, squash, and pumpkins. A few dozen zucchini were harvested before the plants were taken over but the squash and pumpkin didn’t even get a chance to flower. I tried to eradicate the disease with a home remedy of water and baking soda when I first noticed the powdery blotches, but the mildew proved too tough an adversary. There is one squash plant and one zucchini plant that survived and I’m hoping they make it through the flowering stage. For now, I’ve taken out the rest of the affected plants and disposed of them, all that remains are the empty containers.
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While the plants on the rooftop farm are enjoying the twilight of their lives, new life is thriving down in the greenhouse.

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The spinach seedlings are loving the coziness of the greenhouse.  They’ll get some breathing and growing room once they’re thinned out.

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The collard greens are also growing like crazy and will also need some serious thinning out.
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Whatever your stance on thinning seedlings may be (whether you take mercy on them and leave them to crowd each other out, pluck them without a second thought, or any other routine), the best tool for thinning out seedlings is the human hand. More specifically, small hands. That’s where my future urban gardeners come in. They helped me sow the seed, they helped transplant some rooftop okra, and they will help thin out the seedlings. Once the amount of space remaining is determined, these young farmers will plant carrots and a few varieties of lettuce.
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These young urban farmers will also help monitor the health and growth of the greenhouse plants. One young urban farmer is experimenting with the benefits of compost. Her plot is divided into two sections, one section has lettuce growing in conventional soil and the other half has the lettuce growing in soil amended with our own homemade compost. We’ll be recording the first data numbers in the next few days.
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In addition to the beans, collards, spinach, and okra that have been planted in the greenhouse, our tenant farmers have transplanted some pepper and callaloo (or amaranth) that seem to be doing very well.

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Please stay tuned for more updates from the rooftop farm and the greenhouse!


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Hello Fall! Hello Greenhouse!

The greenhouse is built and the beds are planted! I want to extend a heartfelt thank you to all the wonderful people that made this possible.
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The custodial staff at Intervale Green were a huge help, their expertise was definitely appreciated.

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The young and energetic tenants of IG also helped out filling the raised beds with soil and compost, and helped plant the first greenhouse crop of vegetables.

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The greenhouse will help educate the next generation of urban farmers. The young people of Intervale Green will not only experience first-hand the benefits of fresh, organic produce but they will also have a personal stake in the process.

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Meanwhile, up on the roof, the fall crops are doing well. The beets and beans will be ready in a few weeks and our squash has started flowering and growing.

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Thanks again to all of you who helped us realize this goal. Please stay tuned for more updates.


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Reflecting on Summer, getting ready for Fall and beyond

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The end of the summer growing season can be emotional and bittersweet. The cucumber and tomato plants that seemed to be producing fruit as soon as the ripe ones were picked off have slowed down production and the plants themselves are dying back from what can only be described as exhaustion. The peppers and eggplant are still going strong but I’m noticing a slight reduction in production and the beginning stages of yellowing and wilting are setting in.
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The basil that gave us powerful pesto and the cilantro that added the underlying freshness to our salsa, along with the lettuce that withstood the insane heat we had here in New York City, finally decided to bolt (go to seed). In a few weeks, these plants will go back to the soil from which they sprouted and help replenish it for (hopefully) another booming summer.
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But enough of the sadness and melancholy! Let’s celebrate our successful summer! Let’s celebrate…the rooftop watermelons!!
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A total of six watermelons, averaging a bit over 3 lbs. each, grew on the roof this summer. These cute little orbs looked so unassuming but packed a big time punch with their mind-blowing sweetness and juiciness. I’m definitely planting more watermelon next year.

And it’s not over yet because we’ve planted for Fall! As the Summer crops die back, the fall and early winter crops are taking hold and stepping into the spotlight. We have more beans and lettuce, three different types of beets, Brussels sprouts, sugar snap peas, zucchini, collard greens, and a variety of squashes and pumpkins. So there’s really no time for dwelling on the past when the future promises to be just as delicious.

On a quick side note, I’d like to thank everyone that donated money to our greenhouse campaign and to everyone who worked tirelessly on making it a success. I’m very excited to announce that we met, and actually surpassed, our goal. We were able to purchase all the equipment and materials needed to grow fresh, organic produce for the tenants of Intervale Green through the winter months. The greenhouse kit was ordered, it has arrived at Intervale Green, and we’re building it this weekend. Please stay tuned for upcoming posts as we put the rooftop farm to rest and recuperate, and move into the greenhouse for some hot winter growing!


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A heat wave, a greenhouse campaign, and peak summer harvest.

Things have been incredibly busy on the rooftop farm so far this summer. We made it through a brutal heat wave, we kicked off our greenhouse campaign, we had a Summer Harvest Festival, and through it all we harvested and harvested and harvested.

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The Heat Wave:

The Northeast was hit with a nasty heat wave in the beginning of July which was followed by alternating monsoon rains and more days of over 100 degree (38 degree Centigrade) weather. Needless to say, the plants had a bit of a rough time. Flowering and fruit production slowed down, ripening of already developed fruit was interrupted, and the plants just looked stressed. Mulching helped to alleviate the stress to a certain degree and the fact that some of the taller plants shaded the smaller ones helped as well.

But everything turned out fine. The plants made a full recovery and are producing at an alarming rate. In the last four weeks we’ve harvested over 500 lbs. of produce for families of Intervale Green and our neighbors.

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The Greenhouse Campaign:

WHEDco also kicked off the 10forbxfarm greenhouse campaign a few weeks ago to raise money to build a greenhouse in the courtyard of Intervale Green. The greenhouse would allow the tenants to enjoy fresh greens through the winter months. We were visited by NY1 on a beautiful and hot morning to interview us in order to spread the word about the campaign. By early afternoon, thanks to a generous donor and matching funds from Deutsche Bank, we had reached our initial goal and had enough funding for the greenhouse.

We are continuing our fundraising efforts to raise money for greenhouse lights, heaters, and growing equipment.  Please visit http://www.whedco.org/10forbxfarm to donate $10 toward our goal.

Here are the links to the NY1 interviews to get a better idea of where your contribution is going.

http://www.ny1.com/content/186407/rooftop-greenhouse-could-help-bronx-residents-have-a-healthy-diet-year-round

Also in Spanish:

http://www.ny1noticias.com/content/186417/programa-ayuda-a-residentes-de-el-bronx-a-alimentarse-mejor

The Summer Harvest Festival:

WHEDco held their annual Summer Harvest Festival at Intervale Green last week, complete with activities for the whole family, cooking demonstrations, and an Iron Chef competition. Tenants and neighbors gathered to learn about urban farming, environmental care, and healthy life choices.  Here’s a link to the event page where you’ll find great pictures of the celebration.

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10152110506834918.1073741834.47257009917&type=1

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Bees love flowering coleus and the watermelons in the background seem to get bigger by the hour.

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Cheers to my fellow farmers and gardeners! May your harvests be rewarding!


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Meet Intervale Green’s Tenant Farmers!

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One of the main purposes of the rooftop farm is to provide tenants a place where they can plant and grow their own produce. This is the epitome of “Farm to Table”, where fresh, organic food travels less than 200 feet from harvest to plate. The area of the Bronx where Intervale Green is located would not necessarily be considered a “food desert” since there is a grocery store across the street. However, the produce selection is slim, there are no organic options, and none of the produce is local. Farming on the roof allows tenants to grow what they want to eat and allows them to experience firsthand the food production process.

One of our more prolific tenant farmer families at Intervale Green are the Mandervilles: Tashika Manderville, her mother Vivian, and Tashika’s three children.  In the short time that I’ve been working on the farm, I’ve had many conversations with the Mandervilles, especially with Vivian. Vivian grew up on a farm in rural Georgia where fresh vegetables and fruit were readily available during growing season and canning was necessary for the winter months. A carpenter by trade, Vivian came to New York City and worked renovating the penthouse apartments of the city’s rich and famous. Now working for the NYC Department of Transportation, Vivian wants to share aspects of her childhood experiences on the farm with her daughter and grandchildren. Vivian couldn’t wait until her granddaughter would take her first bite of a freshly picked tomato, or to show her grandkids how a cucumber grows.

A few weeks ago, as the heat was increasing, their spinach was in danger of bolting (producing flowering stems and producing seeds) and I advised them to harvest. Tashika and Vivian discussed the uses of spinach as they picked the shiny, deep green leaves. I popped one in my mouth for a taste test. It was delicious. Apparently, the spinach never made it to the plates because the kids kept asking for more spinach leaves as dinner was being cooked and there were none left when it was time to make the salad. Luckily, they had also harvested arugula and green leaf lettuce.

Tashika Manderville chose to farm on the roof because she wants her children to learn something new and to get them, “involved in eating healthy.”
She says that, “City kids don’t get the opportunity to learn about farming or get to grow their own vegetables, pick them, and see what they taste like.”
The Manderville’s plot is about 56 square feet and within that space they are growing tomatoes, cucumbers, jalapeños, basil, carrots, green beans, lemon thyme, parsley, okra, and strawberries. Tashika’s children have helped plant everything they’re growing, they’ve weeded, built trellises, and they’ve literally eaten the fruits (in this case the vegetables) of their labor.
When I asked Tashika what are positive aspects of having a plot on the roof, she responded, “Gardening soothes me. You come home from a stressful day at work and you want to do something that relaxes you. I don’t know what it is but digging in the soil and playing in the soil relaxes me.”

The Mandervilles are not just looking forward to enjoying their harvest at the dinner table, they’re looking forward to sharing the results of their hard work. Vivian, Tashika, and I have discussed filling baskets with produce and flowers and not only sharing with their neighbors but distributing baskets to the adjacent building which is an elder care facility. The Mandervilles understand the importance of community farming: a small plot can produce sufficient food for a family with enough to share with those in need. They are not just learning about farming and eating healthy, the Mandervilles are strengthening their community and bringing people closer together.

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The trellis, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind.

You would think that growing vegetables and flowers on a rooftop would present few challenges. Furry critters that plague ground-level gardens and farms are pretty much non-existent when you’re eight floors up.  Let’s not forget that squirrels, mice, and rats run amok in New York City and that these creatures love the bounty of an urban garden, whether it be in an empty lot, a stoop, or a fire escape. In some boroughs, we even have raccoons. Yes. Raccoons. Big, lumbering raccoons that will make quick work of all your ears of corn the day before you harvest. Creatures of the feathered variety still target the young shoots and fruit on the roof, but are really of no consequence – not yet anyway.

At Intervale Green our main adversary is unpredictable, inconsistent, and invisible. It wreaks havoc across the roof, leaving plants and trellises uprooted. It is the wind. I was told that the wind would be a huge factor in the success of our farm and I immediately started tracking the wind direction and its effect on our plant beds.  I figured I could build a few trellises in its path, train beans or cucumbers on them and they would alleviate the issue.

I greatly underestimated my opponent.

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The wind knocked this trellis over three times and my bean trellis twice. I reinforced the trellises to the point that they resembled sturdy lean-tos, to no avail. The wind has overpowered at least a dozen pepper plants, ten tomato plants, and a few basil plants. I have a new plan that consists of anchoring the bamboo poles in small pots full of natural clay to give the trellis more support. We’ll see what happens.

On the bright side, the plants that have survived the wind and rain (with some help from bamboo stakes) have grown resilient and strong. They barely sway when the gusts rip across the roof.
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Please check back for more updates, including farm member profiles and recipes.

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