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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Introducing our Farm Teas!


Post by Chrissa, with much help from Bailly

We hit our first frost last night and we're definitely feeling the chill. When temperatures began dropping in late October, we cut back out perennial herbs, resulting in big, end-of-season harvests. So...what to do with winter on its way? Make tea! We've made lemon verbena tea before, but this year, the bar team led by head bartender Bailly, outdid themselves with four blends:





Marshmallow & Oregano
Marshmallow has been known to help with pain, swelling and feeling ill (such as a cough or stomach ache). And oregano can help with respiratory tract disorders (such as a cough or bronchitis). So if you're feeling under the weather, this might be your tea.*


Chamomile & Anise Hyssop
Chamomile is known for its stomach-soothing and calming effects. Anise Hyssop appears to be beneficial in many areas--from blood sugar control to respiratory health, building up blood cells, and for digestive health.*


Basil & Lemon Verbena

More than the sweet aroma of summer, dried basil has vitamins A, K and C (just not as much as fresh basil). And lemon verbena might protect against muscle damage.*


Lavender & Mint

Lavender is believed to be an antiseptic and anti-inflammatory that can aid in restlessness and insomnia. Mint is invigorating, but is also known to contain many (but small amounts of) key vitamins and minerals for good health.


So come by, warm up and relax. Once you're all warmed up, you can move to wine!


*We have not tested these remedies, so cannot speak to their effectiveness.  The above is a rough summation of some online research we did of the herbs' most common medicinal uses.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Visiting Cornell


Post by Chrissa



Earlier this month, we had the pleasure of visiting Cornell University to speak at their annual Floriculture Field Day. You might wonder why floriculture academics and flower retail professionals would be interested in our work as an urban produce farm, but this year’s theme was “What’s Trending in Horticulture,” and our long-lived farm-to-fork trend is beginning to pique the interest of other plant growers—especially greenhouse growers.


Friend of the Farm, Marty Gottleib


In our first conversation with Associate professor and floriculture extension specialist at Cornell Neil S. Mattson, he explained to us how greenhouse growers in New York once supplied a greater percentage of the industry’s flowers, but that many are now imported from outside of the state (and country). He felt greenhouse growers could benefit from hearing some out-of-the-box thinking to inspire new ways to attract business.





While we were happy to hear that our presentation did inspire change in several attendees, we too found inspiration from them. We gained perspective of a part of the horticulture industry we didn’t know a lot about. On the urban ag front, however, we saw several smart container planters (as part of a competition), and I’m particularly excited to have met a specialist professor of small fruits to talk strawberries with this winter.




Thursday, July 03, 2014

More Growth for Good: City Growers


Post by Chrissa

Another great organization inspiring city kids with urban farming is City Growers, a charitable non-profit organization rooted at the Brooklyn Grange.  We can’t provide enough food and farming education to kids, so we’re happy introduce you to (or remind you of) the good work these folks are doing.


City Growers offers hands-on workshops and intensive farm programming for New York kids—from pre-kindergarten through high school—led by the Brooklyn Grange team introducing kids to urban agriculture and sustainability and exploring plant science, composting, bees, chickens, and healthy eating. Definitely see all that they’re teaching, here.


Because we think CG is making a difference and committed to education and advocacy for healthy young communities, we try and support in their efforts. Zach sits and talks on their board, sharing his wealth of insight and ideas. I attend their events and play kickball—for the kids, of course


Another way to support City Growers is to buy tickets to their second annual Rooftop Farm-to-Table Dinner

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Growth for Good: Edible Schoolyard NYC


Post by Chrissa

As soon as spring hits and it’s warm enough to get plants in the ground, it’s warm enough to get kids over here to visit the farm. From the end of April through June, we see hundreds of kids come by, and we love it. We love hearing their perspectives on growing food—where it comes from, what plants need to grow—the young ones have the best answers. When asked what plants need to grow, a kindergartener shouted, “respect”! Truly, little friend. We agree with you!

We have to tip our hats to the teachers—many of which are incorporating green, sustainable living and healthy eating habits into their classrooms, then bringing their students outside to see New York City’s urban farms. We can see the difference in these classes. The kids are excited to see food growing and recognize different crops and their stages of growth. They’re excited to smell herbs and eat edible flowers, and talk about composting.




All this excitement and recognition can be traced back to really great programs like Edible Schoolyard NYC, which is in two schools right now: PS216 in Gravesend, Brooklyn and PS7 in East Harlem. ESYNYC empowers participating students to make sustainable choices—for their health and the health of the planet. They experience hands-on learning in garden and kitchen classrooms, and we hear one of these schools just got chickens! Right now and through July 17th, ESYNYC is campaigning specifically to raise funds to expand their Harlem project, including strawberry plants, fruit trees, asparagus starts, canning jars and a drip irrigation system. Definitely check out what they’re doing in these schools, and donate to ESYNYC’s good work for growth if you can.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

A Field Guide to Micro Greens


Post by Chrissa


If you follow us on social media, first, thank you, and second, you've probably heard us talking about our micro green production and the green house we're growing them in. If you don't follow us, you can find us on Twitter and Facebook via @riverparkfarm, and on Instagram with the restaurant via @riverparknyc. And we'd love to share what we're doing with you.


Back to the micro greens. Considering they're quite small, and a delicate compliment to our dishes at Riverpark, they're easy to over look. If you're like me, you might pick up the small greens from your plate and taste them alone; if you're not like me (you're normal) you may not notice them much.


So here's a guide to the smaller things in life. A field guide, if you will, to identifying that small special green on your plate. Come by and taste them on our menu--or come by and see them in the green house during our open farm tours on Tuesdays at 12:30pm. You might event get a taste during the tour, too.




Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Out and About, Teaching Urban Ag. Skills


Post by Chrissa


Last Friday we participated in 4th annual Urban Agriculture Conference, put together by the good folks at The Hort. Urban agriculture is still growing, with no signs of slowing down, recruiting more and more people each year. All around the world, people are joining in. So it only makes sense to get together and teach each other what we've learned, discuss challenges and brainstorm solutions for more efficient and productive growing. 

We gathered at the Smiling Hogshead Ranch, a truly urban growing project on old LIRR train tracks in Long Island City. Here are some photos of Gil Lopez, showing off his sub-irrigated bed design (something he started working on with Zach at a Farm Hack), some photos of the site, and of course, Zach, sharing best practices for container farming/gardening. 

For more information about the conference and how to join next year, click here.




Gil's session taught us how to build sub-irrigated planters. And instead of talking about it,
the whole group jumped in and built one!




Smiling Hogshead Ranch, LIC.


The Smiling Hogshead Ranch team is working on various remediation methods
to clean up their soil. Until then raised beds are the best way to ensure
you're planting in safe-for-food-growing soil. 




Zach demonstrating how to build a milk-crate planter and sharing tips for best
practices when it comes to growing in them.




One of many smiling hogs around the garden.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

An Edible Tour of the Farm


Post by Chrissa


Visitors often ask me what my favorite dish is on Riverpark's menu. It's hard to choose, because I have many; but my favorite dish to talk about is our Baby Lettuces and Greens. In it, lettuces, herbs, flowers and greens all lend their individual flavors, textures and color to this deceptively simple salad. If you've ever taken a tour of our farm (especially at this time of year, when so many greens are flowering), you'll see all of these crops growing in milk crates or in trays in the greenhouse. If you have yet to take a physical tour but order this salad, you are in part, taking a tour of our farm this spring. Here's a closer look (or click on the image below to really get closer)!


Sunday, April 06, 2014

Come Visit the Farm!


Post by Chrissa


We know you don't need a reason to be outdoors now that the sun is finally out, but we have some really good ones. Did you know, that every Tuesday starting May 6th, you can come join us for a free tour of the farm? It's true! Tours start at 12:30pm. You can come check us out on your lunch break, grab lunch (quickly at 'wichcraft next door, or leisurely at Riverpark) on your way back to the office.


In addition to tours, we host weekend planting workshops on select Saturdays that are also free. Grab some friends and get involved! We'll plant, compost, harvest, save seeds and have  good time. Then, email our reservations office and make brunch plans. 


Here's the schedule and don't forget to sign up for workshops (so we can save you a spot) via farmer@riverparkfarm.com.


2014 Workshop Schedule

May 3
Soil Preparation and Planting Summer Crops 
Learn why we turn and amend soil for a new growing season and how to transplant plant starts and direct seed summer crops. 


May 17
Composting and Soil Mixing 
Master Composter Zach Pickens shows how to build a productive compost pile and discusses the critical ratio of browns to greens. We’ll teach you how to maintain and finish your compost pile, then how to apply finished compost to crops. We will also talk about soil mixes and how to determine the right mix for what you’re growing. 


June 7
Plant Maintenance 
Learn why we mulch for summer crops, how much and how often to water, which weeds to pull and which may be worth keeping around. 


June 21
Composting and Soil Mixing 
Master Composter Zach Pickens shows how to build a productive compost pile and discusses the critical ratio of browns to greens. We’ll teach you how to maintain and finish your compost pile, then how to apply finished compost to crops. In this workshop, we will show you how to make compost tea (and why). We will also talk about soil mixes and how to determine the right mix for what you’re growing. 


July 12
Harvesting Techniques and Plant Maintenance 
Learn how, when and how much to harvest, and methods for keeping your plants healthy and productive. 


July 26
Planting Fall’s First Crops 
Seeding and transplanting: We’ll show you how to mix and make seed blocks, techniques for seeding into soil blocks and talk about when to transplant crops into larger beds and how to prep for the transplant. 


August 9
Pest and Disease Maintenance 
Learn how to prevent, identify and treat plant diseases. 


August 23
Saving Seeds 
We’ll show you how to identify your best producing plants, how to prepare them for seed saving and then how to process and store seeds for next season. 


September 13
Composting and Soil Mixing 
Master Composter Zach Pickens shows how to build a productive compost pile and discusses the critical ratio of browns to greens. We’ll teach you how to maintain and finish your compost pile, then how to apply finished compost to crops. In this workshop, we will show you how to make compost tea (and why). We will also talk about soil mixes and how to determine the right mix for what you’re growing. 


September 27
Growing Micro Greens 
Learn how to prepare potting mix for micro green-growing, how to seed, maintenance and harvest techniques. 


October 11
Preparing for Winter Part 1 
We will plant winter crops (direct seeding and transplanting) for overwintering and prepare perennial herbs for winter. 


October 25
Preparing for Winter Part 2 
Learn how to set up low tunnels and tips for winter mulching. 

Thursday, March 27, 2014

When Spring Still Looks like Winter


Post by Zach





Riverpark Farm, full of flowers, March 2012


There's nothing quite like looking back at pictures of the farm this time two years ago to make you pine for warmer temperatures. At this time in 2012 we were harvesting spinach as big as our hands and arugula flowers by the handful. Mother Nature hasn't been quite as kind to us this year, throwing a major curve ball to farmers and gardeners across the Northeast. So what does this super cold winter mean for this growing season?


Basically, it means a little less time with the spring crops we love, as farmland Upstate is still frozen solid and won't be ready for even the earliest spring plantings for another week at least. With the most recent snows, we can expect one week from now to be a pretty ambitious start date for our Hudson Valley friends.  


For ourselves, we've faired slightly better and are benefitting from our low tunnel set-up and our hotter urban-heat-island climate. While we didn't harvest as much as we would have normally expected this winter, we were still able to keep quite a few of our winter-hardy varieties alive, giving us an early jump on the spring season. Ruby streaks, arugula, claytonia, mâché, and leeks survived under protection while one bed of mâché and certain ale varieties stood up to the worst of the winter without any protection-- a major, and welcome, surprise. We'll be saving seed from this mâché and kale, prizing it for its hardiness and growing them again next year with confidence that they can well handle the cold.


For now, we're busy planting the more cold hardy spring crops, like radishes and peas, under low tunnels and are just waiting a bit longer to get busy in the rest of the field. New York City's traditional last frost date is April 1, but you won't see us going all in until at least the second week of April.  

Ultimately, patience is truly the key to a successful crop.  Especially in unusually cold years.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Riverpark Farm Nominated for Edible Manhattan’s Local Heroes 2014!


Post by Chrissa


Each year, the editors of Edible Manhattan nominate local farmers, chefs, merchants, food artisans and nonprofit organizations and let readers vote for their favorite Local Heroes in five categories. We are absolutely thrilled and honored to be nominated in the farm/farmers category, and invite you to celebrate the good local work accomplished by all the nominees by spreading the word and casting your votes. 


Click here to vote—just be sure to do so before March 1st! 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Looking Back to Look Ahead


Post by Chrissa


Our biggest takeaway from the panels and workshops we attend is to keep better records. This is an ever-evolving process, but an important one if you want to improve production yields—which of course, we do. 


In order to compare our production from two growing seasons, we must recognize the incomparable variables that affected it. As you will recall, we moved the farm last year into a new location. The below comparison and following sections highlight some of the other differences between our 2012 and 2013 growing seasons. As you can imagine, our findings will greatly influence our crop planning this year.




Sunlight
Our new location has significantly less sunlight, therefore necessitating an adapted crop plan with fewer sun-loving nightshade plants. We saw the yield for tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, okra and cucumbers drop dramatically compared to our 2012 yield-per-square-foot averages. However, cool-loving, high value crops such as bronze fennel, greens and radishes grew better with less direct sunlight.


Weather and Temperatures
In addition to the decreased amount of sunlight, we saw cooler aggregate temperatures, higher precipitation and increased average wind speeds. Even a two-degree difference in temperatures throughout a season can have a significant impact on plant growth. When plants are grown in conditions that are less than ideal for their type, disease starts to effect production as well. Our tomatoes, squash and cucumbers showed the most disease damage this year, resulting in the plants being cut out half-way through the season.





Space
The last significant variable we considered was space. The new location is slightly smaller, leaving about 100 milk crates unplanted. Additionally, when we planted peppers and tomatoes in 2012, we staggered the crates so the plants would receive more direct sunlight and airflow, helping to prevent potential diseases. In the Farm’s original location, we had enough space to place unused planters from these beds in other locations. In our new location, we do not have additional space to place the removed crates, resulting about 200 square feet of unused growing space during the summer. We can utilize these crates in 2014 by growing crops that require less growing space.


So with this in mind, let’s take a look at our 2013 production by week, both in pounds and revenue.




Analysis of Annual Comparisons in Production: By Week
2012 was a very successful year for nightshade crops such peppers and tomatoes. This can be seen on the graphs, above, as the large spikes in weeks 34 and 37, during which they were predominantly harvested. The spikes in 2012 during weeks 34 and 36 are directly correlated to when the Farm had less available labor, when there were significant harvests to compensate for the week missed. 2013 was a smoother year, in general, showing only one notable spike in week 28, which marked the week we finished installing the irrigation system and returned to a normal harvesting routine.


There is a marked difference between 2013’s production in pounds and revenue. This was caused by two main factors: We adjusted our pricing per an increase in market value for certain crops, and we grew items lighter in weight, but higher in price per pound. For example, we might harvest 10 lbs of tomatoes at $5 per lb. From the same milk crate, we might harvest 5 lbs of lettuce at $10 per lb., providing equal revenue in less weight. As a percentage of 2012 production, in 2013 we produced 75% of the 2012 revenue and 58% of the 2012 produce by weight.


Below is another way to analyze the impact each crop has on our production.







Analysis of Annual Comparisons In Production: By Crop
The crops we grew in both 2012 and 2013 are shown below with their production yields in pounds. The total harvests for each crop are divided by the square footage used to grow that particular crop, showing its change in productivity from the Farm’s original location and it’s new one.

 These numbers show a clear and significant drop in production from our night-shades and heat-loving crops such as basil, lemon verbena and okra. Some crops produced at less than 50% of their 2012 rates. This was mostly due to a decrease in sunlight and aggregate temperatures. 

However, we nearly doubled our production of lettuces and radishes in 2013. These grew better for environmental reasons, but also from strategic weekly planting schedules.




Our Conclusion and Planned Improvements for 2014
The above is very instructive as we plan our crop list for 2014. We clearly had much more success with crops such as lettuces and other greens, radishes and fine herbs such as bronze fennel. We will concentrate more growing space on these crops and aim to cover 100% of the restaurants needs for these items.
Due to the relative inefficient production of nightshades, it is our conclusion that we stop growing these crops all together. We may also choose to grow one variety of a crop that is particularly hard to source and concentrate our growing space on just that one variety.  For instance, we may choose to only grow Aji Verde peppers or Fairy Tale eggplant. If we choose to grow squash, we will source a variety that yields many blooms, as most of our squash plants become susceptible to disease after fruit is set and maturing.


In general, we should grow fewer crops more abundantly, while leaving plenty of room to explore new specialty crops that we would not otherwise have access, or consistent access to. We should also continue to grow crops for Riverpark’s beverage program, utilizing unique crops for infusions and syrups.

Lastly, it’s important to consider your seed cost each year. In 2013, ours was 4.3%. The industry standard according to the Organic Seed Alliance is 5%, but we achieved a lower-than-average seed cost by producing some of our own seed. So it looks like we will continue to save seed, too.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Resolving to Look Even Closer into Our Soil


 Post by Zach



Kingsborough Community College, which incorporates an urban farming operation in their course offerings, has been kind enough to write all of us urban farmers into a new grant they’ve just received. Mara Gittleman, the KCC farm coordinator, wanted to be able to do on-farm soil testing and thought it would be great to include all the urban farmers in New York City so we can hopefully get a better view of the big picture of farming in the city. She hopes to shed light on answers to important questions, such as: What are some common nutrient deficiencies? What soil-borne diseases do we all struggle with? What is extraction solution, exactly? To find these answers, she's conducting a long-term study, including as many farms as possible.
 
I was fortunate to get invited to their first open lab day and performed a number of tests on our soil and compost for nutrient content and bio-activity. Analyzing our compost under a microscope was probably the most enlightening, as I was able to take an up-close look at the microorganisms that help feed our plants. Most exciting was looking at the difference between two different batches of compost that we have ready to use on the farm. One batch was heavy with carbon rich materials like wood chips, one was more balanced between carbon-heavy and nitrogen-heavy materials (See our blog post on how to build a compost pile for more info on this).  Not surprisingly, the carbon-heavy compost had many more beneficial fungi present. The more balanced pile had noticeably more beneficial bacteria. The advantage of seeing this in person is all in next year’s application. I now know to use our carbon-rich compost on perennial herbs, like lemon verbena, that love the carbon content. The nitrogen-rich compost will be great for crops like lettuces and basil.


 
This is an ongoing study, so I’m excited to give periodic updates on our findings and how we’re keeping up our soil quality around the farm. Until then, Happy New Year! What resolutions are you digging into?



Thursday, December 19, 2013

National Young Farmer's Conference


Post by Zach


This year for the first time I had the pleasure of attending the Stone Barns Center’s annual National Young Farmers Conference in Pocantico Hills, NY.  While Stone Barns has always served as an inspiration to me—they’re like a big brother farm, working directly with the on-site restaurant Blue Hill at Stone Barns—this conference was a great way to dig in a little deeper and learn from the experts how to run a tip top operation. 


 
Eliot and Clara Coleman teaching a workshop on mobile greenhouse construction.


One of the main points of hosting a conference specifically for new and young farmers is to take an intensive look at the business realities of starting a new farming operation.  It can be daunting searching for land (and learning the ‘lay of the land’), identifying one’s target market, and learning how to keep one’s operation in good economic shape.  Many of the presenters came back again and again to good record keeping as the biggest first step to running a new farm well.  Whether its soil nutrient analysis or dollars and cents, the presenters made it clear that if you’re not keeping good notes in the field, you’re not going to know what’s going on, and may be putting your operation at risk.  Even with three seasons under my belt at Riverpark Farm, it’s still always good to get that reminder and encouragement.  So my biggest take-home was just that—track everything.  I’ve never been so excited to build Excel spreadsheets.

 


Stone Barns Farm director Jack Algiere and Cornell plant breeding expert Michael Mazourek,
teaching an on-farm plant breeding workshop.


On the other hand we were asked by keynote speaker and world-renowned writer on farming and food Wendell Berry to not overlook the small pleasures of farming.  Berry's sage advice is closely listened to among the young farming community, and his words were heeded well by all in attendance. It lead to some great discussions about how we can all take some time out of our busy farming schedules to appreciate the land on which we work and the forces of nature that yield the more sustainable and healthy food system that we’re all working towards.  He half-jokingly recommended simply walking out into the woods from time to time and sitting on a log to think and reflect.  While I may be short on woods to explore around here, his words were an important reminder to appreciate our surroundings.




Microgreens harvester demonstration by its inventor Jonathon Dysinger,
a tool in which he invented when he was 15 years old!
 

Fortunately, Winter is a great time to reflect on all of this and synthesize it before the busy work of Spring rolls around.  I’d like to think after this conference, I’m a little more prepared and ready to take it all on in 2014!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Winter Wisdom from Alex Paffenroth


Post by Chrissa


During the colder months, production slows down for us and we have a little more time to spend with our local farmers—to learn their stories, views on farming and ways of growing. This fall, we had the pleasure of spending time with Alex Paffenroth of Paffenroth Gardens in Warwick, NY, at the end of a Wednesday morning rush at the Union Square greenmarket.
 
Alex comes first to our minds when we start thinking about winter farming and especially root vegetables. Known as “King of the Root Crop,” we learned from Alex that if you want to keep a root vegetable happy and nurture its flavor, leave it in the soil as long as possible. That sounds simple enough until you’re faced with snow storms and frozen soil. But it’s worth it. So, the next time you’re at the Union Square greenmarket (on Wednesdays and Saturdays), look for Alex. He’ll be there with parsnips, beets, sunchokes, carrots and potatoes (sweet potatoes if you’re lucky), reining through the cold. 


We hope you'll enjoy our conversation with Alex as much as we did. You'll find it all, below.

 



We look to you as a master of winter farming. Why do you like to grow particularly during the winter?
 
I started at the greenmarket in 1990, I came off one-item farming—I was an onion farmer before—so I came down here in my pickup truck with my daughter and we basically had a few items we knew how to grow. It didn’t go over too well. You have to learn what New Yorkers want. They want things like arugula, and they want things that are different. So, I experimented a lot—I did tomatoes for a long time, and cauliflower in all the different colors when it was not common, and I do a lot of different roots and put them in storage for the winter. I have about three acres of carrots now which I have to harvest before it gets too cold.
 
Celery root is real nice this year and stores real well. Potatoes, I got 24 different varieties of potatoes. And they’re not potatoes you can get at the supermarket, they’re all different. They’re fingers [fingerling potatoes]… we like sweet potatoes, which I can never grow enough of, and keep them in storage, and they’re probably almost gone already. Sweet potatoes are one of the longest storage items you can get. Because they develop that hard skin, you can store them for almost 12 months.
 
Those are the kind of items I like. I like cabbage. Squash doesn’t hold up too well, it’ll go until January, but that’s about it. My beets, which we’re pulling now, they’ll hold up real well. They’ll probably go until April.
 

We really like your sunchokes and parsnips. Do you dig them all winter, or harvest them at once and store them?
 
Parsnips…I dig them all winter—same with sunchokes. Actually when the frost is deep, I bought heating mats that they use to thaw out concrete, and I take a generator down and I start the generator and the heating mat thaws the ground out a little bit and we can start digging that section. That’s extreme, you know.
 
But most of this stuff I try to bring—like the carrots were actually pulled yesterday or the day before. They’re all fresh pulled. It kind of makes the difference. The parsnips, the same way. You can see them there—they’re white. You notice in the store, they’re yellow, because they were in storage.
 

How long will you be pulling up parsnips?
 
I leave them in the ground, then about the end of April, we’ll finish. [For] parsnips, when it gets cold, that’s when they get good. They’re a spring harvest crop anyhow. Sunchokes, too.
 
Sometimes you can pull ahead and put dirt in a crate—just like they were in the ground. Most of these roots are happy in the ground. So if you duplicate the way they are in the ground—you put dirt in a crate in a cold area so they have moisture—that’s the best way I’ve found to keep them. If a big snow storm is coming, and you have to pull ahead, you can get a week ahead.
 




How many acres in total do you have?
 
I farm 72 acres. The farm is larger than that with headlands, the house and barns, but the acreage that I farm is 72 acres. It’s all black, organic soil. I’m a fourth generation farmer. My father was an onion farmer. It basically was an onion farming area before. My great, great, grandfather, he had a little section that he grew onions on. Actually, the area was the onion capital of the world in the 1950s. But now, everybody is diversifying to split up what they’re bringing to the greenmarkets. And doing a lot of different things, and actually, the farmers are doing a really great job diversifying over there. They’ve learned a few things and experimented. I have neighbors that are doing a really good job with some crops that were never grown in the area.
 

Did you always want to be a farmer?
 
Well, how I came to be as a farmer, was that I got out of college and my father, he had the farm. And he did have a problem with his heart, but I decided I wanted to get out. I grew up on a farm and it was hard work. You always want to do something different, you know. At that time, back in ’66, I volunteered for the army, which would have been a two-year stint. When I was in there, my father died, so I had to come out. I was the only child and I got a hardship discharge to come out. I decided to [farm] for one year, then I did it for a couple years. I tried another job, I worked for a seed company one year on the side. I still farmed, but only a small acreage. But then I went back to it and found that I like farming better. I didn’t make the money that I made, but I felt better about doing it. And my wife always had a good job, where we had benefits, so we were never in bad shape. Farming is really risky.
 

When did you start coming to the greenmarkets?
 
What got me into this was in 1986 and ’87, two big hail storms came and wiped me out completely. I was out for a couple of years, I was out of faming completely. I didn’t have any money, so we started going to local greenmarkets and eventually made it down here [Union Square]. Like I said, I came down with a pickup truck and my daughter. And we learned the greenmarket. That’s all I do now. I don’t do wholesale—just greenmarket, two days a week, Wednesdays and Saturdays.
 
[Before the hail storm] I was a single crop—only onions, then the hail wiped me out. I was leveraged, but it was a tough time, but I came out of it. The greenmarket has been good to me. If it wasn’t for the greenmarket, I would not be farming.
 

What did you bring to the greenmarket after the hail storms?
 
I brought onions and a few odd things. My father-in-law [also a farmer] he had been going to greenmarkets, actually doing wholesale, bringing odd things like black radishes. He taught me a few things other than onions, showed me a few little tricks. At first I started with carrots, collards, thinks like that. The more I diversified I came, the better I did, I found. Just bringing a smaller portion of anything and the sum of the total gives you a better return.
 

What are your most reliable crops?
 
Most reliable and a crop that I like? Carrots. I kind of like carrots, and I like eating carrots. I do all the different colors and they’re pretty much unusual. I see other farmers are doing it now, but I was the first to introduce them…probably about ten years ago. I do radishes, which is a good crop. I do multi-colored radishes, all the different colored beets…Whatever I do, I do the whole gamut of that particular item. Radishes, squash and potatoes in particular, because they make a good storage crop I can market in the winter. In January and February, it’s very cold and it’s very problematic. In the market we put up walls and bring heaters to stand by. But fewer farmers come in then, so there’s not as much competition.
 
Some things you try and they don’t work out. Then I got cilantro—delfino cilantro, which most people don’t sell. I think I’m the only one who does it. Because they can’t find the seed. I have a seed source, but I’m not divulging. I think [Zach] found some; you can buy it in small portions, but it’s not readily available. Somebody will catch on though.
 




Do you save your seeds?
 
No, but I do belong to Seed Savers. I learned a lot from them. I do one variety of their carrots which actually do really well. It’s a purple carrot called Purple Dragon. I get all my seeds from Seed Savers for that and a few of the odd items I don’t grow a large quantity of. But they have different items that do really well for me. As you know, they’re not hybrids or anything—just basic seed.
 

So, you grow in black soil, can you tell me a bit about that?
 
Black soil is the only soil I know how to raise in. It’s problematic in many ways because it was the bottom of a lake years ago when the ice age receded—it left that. In the 1900s they came and drained the area and started farming little portions of it. There’s still about 3,000 acres of farm, about 14,000 acres total, but some of it has gone back to wetlands. There’s a good portion of onions, lots of vegetables that farmers had to grow to get out of the onion business because of competition. They’re all trying to do something different. We’re close to a good market. Not just the greenmarkets. Farmers up there do wholesale—with Hunts Point and supply restaurant on their own.
 

But you don’t do wholesale.
 
Well, I don’t do wholesale. Everybody asks me, but most people don’t even know what wholesale prices are. Zagat rates me as “inexpensive.” I base my prices on what it would cost, for the least amount I can spend. Some farmers ask me to raise my prices…but I try to keep my prices…some might be high, most of them are low. I think that I’m the only “inexpensive” farmer on Zagat.
 

Well, why not raise your prices?
 
Some people—like my wife—when they shop, they like low prices.


Thursday, November 28, 2013

A Green Housewarming


Post by Brittany




Brittany is a server at Riverpark and our farm assistant at Riverpark Farm. Brittany became a part of our farm team this season, after we learned about her interest in urban farming and knack  for DIY projects. She helps  Zach with daily operations and special efficiency projects--such as building a greenhouse! Outside of Riverpark and Riverpark Farm, Brittany pens the lovely and practical blog Meanwhile in Brooklyn, so we're thrilled to have her contribute to our blog, too!





“Consult your weather forecast, and discontinue construction in the event of high winds,” is what the directions read half way through the process of assembling the new greenhouse at Riverpark. But anyone who has visited the East River in November can attest that there is no such thing as “no wind” thus assembly continued until the structure was complete, becoming yet another way in which the Riverpark Farm has not only done with what its got, but made the absolute most of it. 




Riverpark Farm’s latest venture in urban farming was built on November 11th and will house the variety of microgreens grown for Riverpark restaurant. At Riverpark, we pride ourselves on utilizing seasonal ingredients to create thoughtful and creative dishes. In the fall and winter months, when what is seasonally available has severely diminished, we still strive to find ways to add a fresh pop of color and nutrition to our dishes. Microgreens (such as micro mustard greens and micro kale) are greens harvested very early in their stage of growth and typically used as a unique, colorful garnish on our dishes. But other than adding flavorful and textural balance to the dish, they are also packed with nutrients, more-so than their full-grown counterparts. 



For the ever-evolving Riverpark Farm the new greenhouse is a welcome addition that allows yet another way in which Riverpark creates a unique culinary experience unlike any other.  



Monday, November 18, 2013

Planting Garlic Now, For Spring Harvest


Post by Zach


It’s finally starting to chill out in New York City after an unseasonably warm Fall.  Believe it or not, that’s exactly what we need for planting garlic.  We want to get our garlic established now so it jumps up fast when the weather breaks in the Spring.  The tricky part is knowing the right time to plant.  If we plant the garlic too early, the greens will shoot up out of the ground and be much more susceptible to frost damage.  If we plant it too late, we run the risk of our garlic cloves not sprouting and establishing roots.  Non-sprouting garlic cloves can rot in the ground if planted too late.  So we’re looking for that delicate balance between the two.  I usually plant the garlic in Mid-November, after we’ve had our first frost, but haven’t had any deep freezes.


Planting the garlic is relatively easy.  Simply take a garlic bulb, break off the individual cloves, and place the cloves—skin and all—in the ground about 1.5” deep with the part of the clove that was connected to the bulb facing down.  





Here’s a couple of fine-tuning tips to maximize your future harvest:
Plant the biggest cloves to ensure bigger future bulbs
Don’t plant the cloves that have already sprouted or are rotting
Soil should be loose and well fertilized
Towards the end of the month when nighttime temperatures are consistently near freezing, add a layer of mulch, like hay or leaves.



Space your cloves according to your desired harvest.  If you want full bulbs, space your cloves 4-6” apart and grow them out until the following July.  If you want to enjoy Spring (or “green”) garlic, plant cloves about 2” apart and harvest at your desired size between mid-April and mid-June.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Easiest Way to Grow "Overwinter"


Post by Zach


In 2011, we wrote a series of blog posts on how to get your plants geared up for winter—by either adding protection with greenhouse plastic or giving your perennials some insulation so they come back strong in the spring. I recommend taking a scroll down through our posts, if you're interested. This year we’re doing it all again, but with a new kind of planting method. For a small selection of crops, we’re going to simply “overwinter” them, or plant them now and expect to harvest them in the Spring.  This is probably the easiest winter production method for any skill level.  The basic steps are: 1.) Put your seeds in the ground late in the growing season,  and 2.) wait until spring. This way, when the weather breaks in late March-to-early April, we’ll have a few weeks’ head start on the 2014 harvest.


The key to overwintering produce is choosing the right crops and getting the timing right. This year we’ll be overwintering broccoli rabe, garlic, and about 1/3 of our kale—all of these varieties can stay alive through the winter and acquire an added sweetness from the cold temperatures. You can also overwinter carrots, chard and spinach with minimal plant loss. We planted our kale and broccoli rabe in mid-October and will plant our garlic in mid-November. This timing is strategically planned in order to get them to germinate right before it gets too cold for them to grow substantially. Once they germinate, they’ll just hang out until the warmer months. If they don’t germinate, there’s a risk that the seed will die as the soil freezes and thaws.



The only protection we’ll offer these crops is a layer of Agribon row cover material, to keep snow off and give them a little protection against any extremely cold winter nights—below 10 degrees—which is pretty rare in New York City. We’ve tucked these crops into a section of the farm that gets less sunlight so we can use that extra source of warmth to keep our low tunnel crops as warm as possible in the cold months. 


Friday, September 13, 2013

Highlighting Papalo


Post by Chrissa




We have a few rows at the farm we call the “Interesting Herbs” section, where we experiment with new plant varieties, or grow the weird herbs we like that aren’t easily sourced or consistently available. Although we’re seeing more farmers bring papalo to market this year (which means, more people are asking for it!) we still like to grow our own—and it grows quite well over here during the summer with full, sunny days.



So why are we into papalo? If you like cilantro, you’ll likely take a liking to papalo. Although, it’s much stronger in smell and taste. Collectively, we think it tastes like a combination of cilantro and jalapeño (though, without heat), with floral and citrus flavors, too. But it's still more unique than that. It’s delicious in a salsa verde the kitchen makes, added to meat or fish dishes. Right now, Riverpark serves it with their Greenmarket whole wheat reginetti with smoked lamb, peppers and cumin. 



To boot, and according to this piece by the LA Times, it can settle the stomach and is known to lower high blood pressure. So, try it!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Tomato Talk with John Ameroso


Post by Chrissa


About a month ago, we reached out to John Ameroso: the most passionate and knowledgeable urban farmer we know. We were looking to compare notes and get a couple of tomato questions in front of some agents at the Cornell University Cooperative Extension to best prepare for a summer season that started out with heavier-than-usual rain and colder-than-typical temperatures.


To our surprise and major luck, John said he would be glad to come see our operation and talk tomatoes with us. We found his presence assuring and entertaining. Who else would describe a sucker by saying it would look like something growing out of someone's armpit? And that's not to make light of his expertise. John is a pioneer in urban farming in New York, and we're honored to have him as a friend of the farm. We now have a couple of plans in place for more productive tomato plants next year, and John agreed with our thought to grow some later-season tomatoes since they would have avoided the season's cold start. We'll let you know how it goes.


John and his entomologist wife, Linda, came back to Riverpark for dinner just a couple of weeks later, so we asked if he wanted to talk tomatoes for our blog. To your luck, he was happy to do it. Even Linda got involved.





If like us, you're intrigued and grateful for John. You'll enjoy this Times article about him from 2010.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Appreciating Even-Flow Irrigation


Post by Justin


Justin is an Environmental Science major at NYU and we're lucky to have him as one of our summer interns this year. He came to us with an impressive amount of green roofing experience and has been such a joyful, hard-working asset to our summer season. He and our other wonderful summer intern Mark did great work helping Zach build our new irrigation system, and now Justin's working on a project comparing water run-off and retention from hand-watering and our new system. So, here's an update on how that's been going. 



On a cooler days likes some of the ones we had this month, it hasn't been too difficult keeping up on watering, but on a more typical summer day, we are more than thankful to have our irrigation system set up here at the farm. We knew it would save us countless hours of watering, but we hoped there would be other measureable benefits as well. Zach wanted to know how much more efficient and effective the irrigation system is compared to watering by hand, by looking at how much water is saved and how much more evenly the water is distributed. So, he asked me to design an experiment. 


I came up with an experiment that used five pairs of planters and subjected one in each pair to watering by hand and the other by irrigation. I collected water run-off and measured the weight differences between the planters, and realized that due to the heavy flow-rate of the hose, more run-off is created and the plants do not get watered evenly, even though it may look like it. The irrigation system has drippers that flow very slowly, but evenly, so run-off is minimal and the planters retain most of the water. 


My experiment is still in progress, but so far the results support what we were looking to accomplish with the irrigation system. The system creates a negligible amount of run-off, whereas watering by hand can produce as much as 5 liters per planter. Since we have around 3,200 planters here at the farm, not only are we saving countless hours of our time by using the irrigation system, we are saving a lot of water every day. 


Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Breaking Down an Efficient Compost Pile


Post by Zach and Chrissa


We talked about the importance of compost as a part of your soil mix, now how do you build your own? Here is a quick guide to getting the ratios just right. The breakdown of material categories (browns, greens, bulk materials and trace minerals) is to help keep the right 30:1 ratio of carbon to nitrogen, which is crucial for creating a hot, fast-decomposing, non-smelly pile that keeps the right temperature (140-160 degrees) for growing thermophilic bacteria (the good stuff) and keeping out pathogens.





Expert composters use a formula to calculate this C:N ratio, but we’re going to give you a little shorthand. Most home composters are dealing with how to process kitchen and yard scraps and can use the following rule of thumb. For one part fruit and vegetable scraps or fresh grass clippings, mix in three parts dried leaves or ½ part newspaper interchangeably.


Here’s a great link with Carbon and Nitrogen levels for many items one might typically find in a compost pile. They also have instructions on how to calculate your C:N ratio.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Composting More Efficiently


Video by Chrissa & Zach


The health of your plants and their production throughout the season is directly related to the compost your build for them. Each season, we look to see how we can improve the nutrients of our soil. We look back on systems we built, tinker, and talk to other urban farmers. Over the winter, we visited the compost project team at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden and they told us about their O2 Compost System. We saw it in action at the Brooklyn Grange, too, and quickly understood the value in an aerated static pile system. They're faster and more efficient than turning hot piles by hand; they cut the processing time in half; and they maintain a consistent temperature, which is important for killing off pathogens and harmful plant germs. Here, Zach explains:



Saturday, June 22, 2013

How to Build an Herb Propagator Using a Fish Tank Air Pump


Post by Zach




We all know I love seeds, but some plants grow best by taking cuttings of well-developed plants and rooting them, or soaking them in water until new roots develop. Rooting plant cuttings can be an inexpensive way to grow new herbs and trees to expand your garden. Riverpark Farm primarily roots herbs for food production, expanding our selection and volume of fresh herbs for the kitchen and bar.





For a simple project, you can root mint at home by taking cuttings from an established plant, remove any leaves that would be under the water level, and place your cuttings in a glass of water.  Change the water once per day to feed the tender cuttings fresh oxygen. Within two weeks you should see roots forming at the bottom of your cuttings. At this point you need to put your cuttings in small containers of soil so the roots can get used to their natural environment. Whatever plants have survived the transition can be transplanted into your garden.




But there are some downsides of doing your own propagation. Rooting new plants can take a long time and require you to change the soaking water up to twice per day, meaning it will take a lot of patience and attention. What’s more, if you miss a few water exchanges you run the risk of losing all of your cuttings— your cuttings need the fresh oxygen in the water and will quickly fall off if they don’t find it.


We’re working on our own solution that you can try at home if you’re serious about propagating herbs. We are constantly brewing compost tea (we’ve blogged a recipe in the past) using a fish tank air pump, providing a steady supply of fresh oxygen to the beneficial bacteria in the compost. So we’re applying the same theory to our propagation—we’re using the same air pump to supply oxygen to our cuttings. Check out my write up on Farmhack.net for more details on the system and give it a shot.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Riverpar's First Annual 4th of July BBQ!


Post by Chrissa




Come celebrate the 4th with us at our first annual BBQ!


At Riverpark, we have a lot of outdoor space, so we're throwing a big BBQ with plenty of cookout classics and icy cold drinks. It wouldn't be an afternoon BBQ without activities (other than eating and drinking) and entertainment, so we're setting up some fun games and have asked our friends Sea Monsters, Ski Lodge and Rocket & the Ghost to come jam out on our terrace. 

And when you've had your fill of fried chicken, kick back with a pop with personality from CITYSTICKS, and enjoy the show with the East-River backdrop before moseying over to the other river to enjoy the fireworks.

(REMEMBER: THIS YEAR, THE FIREWORKS ARE ONLY ON THE HUDSON RIVER AND WE'RE ON THE EAST RIVER. YOU'LL HAVE PLENTY OF TIME TO GET CROSSTOWN BEFORE THEY START.)

Bring your friends, bring the kids, bring mom and dad! We look forward to having you for an awesome afternoon.


ON THE MENU
Smoked Wagyu Brisket
Whole Roasted Pigs
Riverpark's Famous Fried Chicken
Grilled House-Made Sausages
Fish Kabobs
Corn On The Cob
Tomato Salad
Cole Slaw
Potato Salad
Farm Vegetables
Biscuits
Watermelon
Banana Pudding
Strawberry Shortcake
Brownie Sundaes
And More!

Ice Pops By CITYSTICKS

AT THE BAR
Cold Beer From Brooklyn Brewery, Ommegang & Peak Organic
Red, White & Blue Sangria
Iced Tea & Lemonade
And More!

MUSICAL LINE UP
1:30pm - Sea Monsters
2:30pm - Ski Lodge
3:30pm - Rocket & the Ghost
5:00pm - Caged Animals

////////////////////////////////////////////////////

Riverpark's First Annual 4th of July BBQ
Thursday, July 4, 2013
1-6 PM

RAIN OR SHINE: In the event of inclement weather, we will move the party inside.

Riverpark
450 E 29th Street (between 1st Ave. and the East River)
New York, NY 10016
www.riverparknyc.com

If for an Act of God reason we must cancel this event, tickets will be fully refunded.


Thursday, June 06, 2013

Highlights from the Farm, One Month In


Post by Chrissa


Happy Summer, everyone! Over the last month, we've had our hands full moving in, planting, harvesting and hosting tour groups and workshops. But thanks to the plentiful rain and sunshine, we're happy to share this picture progress report.  



Flowering Cacho de Cabra peppers



Toscano Kale



Icicle rasishes



Lemon verbena, back for its third growing season



D'Avignon radish starts, just a short few weeks before they're ready for harvest



Here, a volunteer tomato plant, invading the eggplant's crate.
Wonder which one will win...



Riverpark Farm mixed mustard greens



Sunflowers



Our first squash blossoms



Red-ripening strawberries

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

The Farm is Back, Come Visit Us!


Post by Chrissa


This week, Riverpark Farm re-opens for its third consecutive growing season, continuing to provide fresh produce to Riverpark restaurant AND offer an innovative learning resource for our communities. We're thrilled to welcome you all back to the farm and all the details you need to know about visiting us, are below:


Weekly Farm Tours
We host weekly farm tours every Tuesday at 12:30pm, from May through October. The tours are free and open to the public—all you have to do is show up! 
 
School Visits and Group Tours
If you’re interested in bringing a group to the farm for a class field trip or private tour, please email us at farmer@riverparkfarm.com.  
 
Planting Workshops
For urban gardeners looking to learn new skills, or visitors who just want to get involved, we offer hands-on planting workshops on select Saturdays covering different container gardening skills. All workshops begin at 9:00am and end at 12:00pm. If you’re interested in joining us, please email farmer@riverparkfarm.com to reserve a spot.  
 
Spring and Summer Workshop Schedule:

Saturday, May 18th, 9am-12pm
Seeding and Transplanting: Learn the importance of turning and amending soil; tips and methods for transplanting plant starts and direct seeding; and which methods are best for the types of plants you want to grow.


Saturday, June 8th, 9:00am - 12:00pm 
Plant Maintenance: Learn when, why, and how much each plant needs when it comes to watering, mulching, weeding and pruning.


Saturday, June 22nd, 9:00am - 12:00pm
Seeding and Transplanting: Learn the importance of turning and amending soil; tips and methods for transplanting plant starts and direct seeding; and which methods are best for the types of plants you want to grow.


Saturday, July 13th, 9:00am - 12:00pm 
Plant Maintenance: Learn when, why, and how much each plant needs when it comes to watering, mulching, weeding and pruning.


Saturday, July 27th, 9:00am - 12:00pm
Composting: Learn the science and benefits of composting and how to build and maintain your own system.

Saturday, August 10th, 9:00am - 12:00pm
Seeding and Transplanting: Learn the importance of turning and amending soil; tips and methods for transplanting plant starts and direct seeding; and which methods are best for the types of plants you want to grow.


Saturday, August 24th, 9:00am -12:00pm
Composting: Learn the science and benefits of composting and how to build and maintain your own system.


Stay tuned for fall workshop dates, including preparing beds for winter and amending soil between seasons!


 

Monday, April 22, 2013

Happy Earth Day!


Post by Chrissa



Wishing everyone a great start to the spring growing season! We'll have news to share
 about our own spring season soon...

Monday, March 25, 2013

Pre-Season Farm Trips


Post by Zach and Chrissa



W. Rogowski Farm's black dirt in Pine Island, NY.


A few days into the spring season (by calendar date, that is), now is the perfect time to jump in a car and drive out of the city to visit with our fellow farmers. This time of year is perfect because we're both well into our planting plans, but not yet out in the fields all day, chasing the sun. We can chat about what worked well—both in the fields and in the kitchen—and compare product lists for the upcoming seasons. We've learned that some things grow better than others in our urban environment and these farm trips help us make ahead-of-season plans to bring the best of all of our farms back to the Riverpark kitchen. 


We took two such trips last week, to W. Rogowski Farm in Pine Island, NY and Windfall Farms in Montgomery, NY.  Both farms have been staying busy through the winter, planting microgreens and main season plant starts for tomatoes and peppers.



Lettuce starts are just one of the many starts and micros we saw at Rogowski Farm.


Windfall Farms’ greenhouse operations were particularly instructive, as we got to see how they grow high volumes of greens in a small amount of space—the same challenge most urban farms have. They're constantly focused on efficiency, conserving space and motion, and timing. We also talked a lot about the proper tools for this type of farming, which, incidentally just like chefs, involves having the proper knives for the different jobs at hand.



Talking about space efficiency methods with Windfall Farms.


For another unique perspective, we had the opportunity to see the scaled-up, black-dirt operations of Rogowski Farm, which grows on about 150 acres—significantly more space than us. Thousands of years ago when glaciers receded from this region of New York, they left behind boglands that built up nutrient rich soil from decaying plant matter. Especially rich in sulfer, it's been known for producing onions since Polish immigrants prepared the land for farming in the early 1900's.



Early spring onions showing a trace of magenta; Cheryl is going to try and isolate these to see if she can grow more.


Owner and head farmer Cheryl Rogowski graciously showed us around the farm she grew up on and talked about the day she was granted a T. MacArthur Foundation fellowship for the progressive farming methods she used to diversify her produce list to much more than just onions. She was the first full-time farmer to receive the award. Cheryl's energy and excitement for new varieties of crops was inspiring and contagious. We look forward to working with her, and sharing many of her crops with our Riverpark guests this year.



Onion crates that have been used in production since Cheryl's parents ran the farm.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

See This Film in Theaters This Week, and Your First Round is on Riverpark!*


Post by Chrissa


A Place At The Table is an important film to all of us here at Riverpark and Riverpark Farm, and we’d like to invite you to see it in theaters (to help keep it in theaters!).

A Place At The Table is an engrossing new film about an issue that impacts us all, even those fortunate enough to never know hunger. It takes audiences on a riveting journey that will change forever how you think about democracy, and show how we can end hunger quickly and effectively in America, forever. 


For NYC listings, click here! (The film is also available on iTunes and On Demand; www.takepart.com/table).



*See the film before 3/10/13, bring in your ticket stub to Riverpark, and your first round of beer, glass of wine or specialty cocktail is on us! (Through 3/17/13.)

Friday, February 22, 2013

Farm Hack!


Post by Zach

 
If you'll recall our post about the Slow Tools Summit at Stone Barns this winter, then you’ll remember my emphasis on the need to make small farm tools more efficient so sustainable farming can thrive economically, as well as ecologically. A similarly minded group within the National Young Farmers' Coalition called Farm Hack is working with the same goals in mind—smart, low-cost tool development to help farmers work more efficiently—but with a slightly different approach. Farm Hack organizes in-person meetups just like the Slow Tools Summit, and they also use the Internet as a platform for open-source tool development where all interested minds are encouraged to offer input and suggest tweaks.


I was invited to present at two of Farm Hack NYC’s meetups and am currently working with the group to develop a solar-powered ventilation system for my greenhouse to reduce the stress on tender young plant starts through spring. I was able to present my designs to a diverse group of engineers, wood workers, tinkerers and farmers that were very helpful in brainstorming the best way to build my ventilation system. I also posted my designs on the Farm Hack website, where other farmers have made helpful suggestions and changes to my design.


Thanks to the help of the Farm Hack community, I should have a simple ventilation system, with solar powered fans up and running by the end of next week. You can check out the current designs and chime in, here. Or, post your own hack-able project! 

Friday, February 15, 2013

Ready, Set, Seed!


Post by Zach


Believe it or not, it's about that time againtime to start thinking plants! Because of our shorter growing season in the Northern United States, crops like tomatoes and peppers need a bit of a head start to hit their peak productivity while the weather is right. So folks who start their plants from seedoverwhelmingly the cheapest way to start plantshave to start planning in advance, and start growing warm weather crops during the coldest months of the year. Seed starters plant their seeds in transplant trays (or plugs) indoors and often with added heat and light.




Starting your plants from seed may sound great on paperyou'll feel good about raising that plant from seed to harvest, grow out many different varieties, and save some money while you're doing itbut it's not as easy as popping some seeds in the ground and watering away. So, here are three quick tips that will help you make the most of DIY incubation inclination:

  1. Don't cover your seed with soil, instead use a damp paper towel or loosely cover your planting tray with a plastic lid. This is the best way to avoid planting your seeds too deep.  If your seed is planted too deep, it won't be able to force its way up through the soil and will rot in place.

  2. Water using a spray bottle on the mister setting until the seed has germinated and grown out for at least two weeks. Over-watering can suffocate your seeds or even wash them away. It can also compress your soil, making it hard for your young plant to spread its roots.

  3. Make sure to keep your warm weather crops (like Tomatoes, Eggplant, Peppers and Okra) close to a heat source until they germinate. Some seed varieties won't even sprout unless the temperature is over 80 degrees. So if you can put them in a sunny windowsill next to a heater, it will help significantly. If you can add some florescent light above and/or a heating pad below, your plant will start even happier.

Happy Sprouting!

Friday, February 08, 2013

Food, Finance and Fish


Post by Chrissa


This week, I had the unique opportunity to meet some of the students and faculty of Food and Finance High School, a public school in NYC’s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood that focuses its curriculum on preparing its students for careers in culinary arts and finance related to the industry . Chef Sisha was attending the tour as a board member and I was lucky enough to tag along.
 


The tour took us through classrooms, where students worked on their knife skills, practicing a medium dice on potatoes and others working through an egg course, trying their hands at making frittatas. But then there were two other rooms—locked labs with an MIA professor that captured my interest. I knew the school had a rooftop garden and taught curriculum in hydroponics, so I was hoping we’d be able to see them.
 
Finally, we met Professor Warner, an applied scientist at Cornell University Cooperative Extension who is the Founding Director of the CUCE, NYC Hydroponics, Aquaculture and Aquaponics Learning Labs, which are active labs within the Food and Finance High School where eligible students may apply for internships with Professor Warner.
 
In the first hot, humid room, we found several suspended lights, thriving plants and fans deliberately positioned to create centrifugal air flow on the hour (or was it twice within the hour…?). We weren’t fooled by Professor’s wide smile and stylish bow tie. His systems are intricate, precise, developed, and patented—he plans to re-patent them with the addition of another system. He showed us proof that his air was unpolluted (the presence of lichen is a natural sign) and walked us through his Nutrient Drip Flow Technique System, which is producing head lettuces, basil and experimental pineapple. He also “tricked” Cuban Oregano to grow hydroponically, producing huge leaves. And next to his NDFT hydroponic system was the aquaponic system, a mutually symbiotic, closed-loop system that feeds nutrient water from a system raising fish (the other lab) to the plants. In turn, the plants clean the water and return it to the aquaculture system—Professor Warner’s other lab—which is house one floor below.
 
The BHS aquaculture system is currently raising more than 10,000 tilapia in bacteria-monitored tanks, with connected water pumps that continually recirculate the water to feed the fish and remove waste from the system. Bacteria is also monitored  and prevented. Professor Warner made us use antibacterial wipes on our hands before allowing us inside the lab. Essentially, the water is really clean and the fish appear healthy. Their bodies were unblemished, and they smelled sweet, pointed out by Sisha and happily affirmed by the professor.


 
The fish are then used in the school’s culinary program and student-catered events. There’s a hope to also sell the fish, with proceeds going back to the school—another closed-loop system.
 
It’s an incredible opportunity for the students, one I’m quite honestly jealous of. Hopefully in the spring, we can visit their roof garden, and share our farm with them.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

NOFA-NY Winter Conference


Post by Zach


The Northeast Organic Farming Association - New York (NOFA-NY) Winter Conference is always a great opportunity to hear the stories of other farmers and learn from their experiences, successes, and failures. This year was no different, but this time around I was digging even deeper. I was able to attend some great workshops that will help us maximize our farm's efficiency. Andwhat's starting to become an organic farmers mantrathe presenters emphasized over and over that the health of the soil is crucial to the health and vigor of crops. Dan Kittredge from the Bionutrient Food Association was especially adamant about this and brought some great research along to help his case.

I came home with some great tips on greenhouse management, soil amendment, and herb propagation that will go far to make our farm more productive and efficient. But my favorite speaker of the conference was probably Sandy Arnold from Pleasant Valley Farm in Argyle, NY. Sandy is the portrait of a no-nonsense, organic efficiency machine. She shared a lot of tips on how they control weeds, insulate their crops in the heat of Summer, and manage greenhouses. All at a rapid-fire pace that I would have expected from a banker before a farmer. But that's how you know she's serious about making her farm work. We even managed to pick up some of her farm's spinach at the Saratoga Springs Saturday farmers' market, which is impressive considering we were experiencing negative-degree-temperature nights.


Saratoga Springs Saturday Farmers' Marketthis would be great in NYC,
and we think our Union Square farmers would agree.


Of course, winter conferences are also a great opportunity for farmers to spend some rare time hanging out and communing. Some growing seasons it's amazing how little I will end up talking to farmer friends in the city, let alone Upstate. So after all our sessions were complete for the night and our heads swimming with new ideas for the coming year, we were able sit down with a beer and chat about the future, or even just basketball.


Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Slow Tools Summit


post by Zach

The number of small farms has been on the rise recently, as people have become more wary of where their food comes from and strive to get their ingredients from the freshest sources possible. This is great in theory, but unlike large-scale food production that makes produce abundant and available at a lower cost, local, organic vendors might be too expensive for many average consumers. Furthermore, small farms being exactly that—small—means they can only feed a portion of those folks that are seeking to buy their  fresh, local ingredients. So what's a farmer to do?


One big answer is to make small-scale farming more efficient and easier on the farmer so they can feed even more folks and bring down prices. Many farmers tweak existing tools and try to invent totally new ones so they can grow and harvest their food faster and with more consistency. Like many advances in method, collaboration is key. So enter the Slow Tools movement; an organized gathering to get all the tinkering farmers' heads together to share ideas and show off their designs, so that everyone can chip in on how to make improvements. Slow Tools is a group of collaborators hoping to develop open-source designs and projects to support that growing number of small-scale farmers.



Barry Griffin talking about the history of the tractor and how an electric model fits into its evolution.


Last winter, as in the past, the summit was held at Stone Barns and was attended by some super productive and creative farmers, like Eliot Coleman from Four Season Farm and Jack Algiers from Stone Barns. Some great tool developers were there, including Adam Lemieux from Johnny's Selected Seeds and Greg Garbos from Four Season Tools.


But leading the charge was Barry Griffin. Barry has done a tremendous amount of work in applied engineering and small farm tools and spearheaded trials of some of the design ideas that have come out of the Slow Tools summits of the past. This year, Barry was showing off a battery-powered tractor that could be charged with barn-top solar panels. This small footprint tractor would be just enough power for a small-scale farmer to plow beds and pull carts holding equipment and transplants. And best of all, it wouldn't rely on fossil fuels. Barry had a test model in the parking lot that we were able to take for a spin at the end of the days activities. 



Ben Flanner testing the electric tractor, Barry further explaining.


All in all, the summit was a great opportunity to meet likeminded farmers and share ideas for the upcoming growing season. I definitely learned some best practices for greenhouse growing and seed starting that I'll be putting to good use this winter and spring.


And best of all, a bunch of in-ground farmers were blown away by the idea of having a mobile farm working hand-in-hand with a restaurant.

Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year from all of us at Riverpark Farm!




Photo by Martin Edwards

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Greenmarket Co.


Post by Zach


As a part of our ongoing effort to source ingredients from as many local farms a possible, sometimes it’s nice to have the goods show up at your door.  Don’t get me wrong, I love riding the trike, but it can get a little hectic when I have 200 pounds of cauliflower and winter squash in the back. 

 
Enter Greenmarket Co.  Greenmarket Co. is a project of GrowNYC that began in May with the goal of bringing the best of local farmers to the businesses that demand them. They work like regular purveyors, but instead of warehousing food grown all over the world, they source directly from local farms, to order. The farms participating are from the New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania area, and are better suited selling wholesale because they’re a little too large to sell exclusively at market, yet still too small to sell by the “tractor-trailer” load. We have the opportunity to receive our produce from them by the case, year-round, and we both benefit from the liaison and delivery infrastructures set in place by Greenmarket Co.



Greenmarket Co., photos courtesy of GrowNYC


Even now in the dim days before Winter Solstice we’re still able to source some great product from Greenmarket Co., be it sweet parsnips from Orange County to greenhouse tomatoes from Shushan Valley Farm to pristine hydroponic greens from the Finger Lakes. And the offerings list will just keep getting better and better as the days get longer.


Of course, we’re still picking out some great product by hand at Union Square.  Wholesale is a terrific way to save money on bulk purchases, save me of a few trips on the trike, but we sacrifice the ability to select the exact items we want.  If we want only the smallest Hakurei Turnips or the straightest Tropejo Shallots, we would either have to pay a farmer a premium to dig through his crate, or just go to the market to do it ourselves. Also, sometimes we just don’t know what will inspire us until we see it in person.  Union Square is constantly changing, and with so many great farmers present, we’re always seeing something new.  But now it’s great to know that we can take our standards for specialty produce to all corners of our menu.


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Tuber Talk with Rick Bishop


Post by Chrissa


There’s an old expression, saying “a farmer’s only as rich as his soil.” That’s the first thing Rick Bishop told me when we started talking about his potatoes.


 
Rick Bishop of Mountain Sweet Berry Farm / La Ratte potatoes
 

We caught up with Rick last week at the Union Square greenmarket because Riverpark favors the La Ratte fingerling potatoes from his Mountain Sweet Berry Farm in Roscoe, NY.  We often feature them at the restaurant alone as a side with just olive oil, salt, pepper and thyme. The flavor in his potatoes allow for such simple preparation, and we’re not the only restaurant that knows this. Edible magazine named him the “Chef Charmer” in 2011, and you’ll see why if you visit his stand on any Wednesday, Friday or Saturday morning as chefs stop by on their way to work.
 


 

But from a farming standpoint, before we can even bring produce into the kitchen to taste, it all begins with soil. Since we started with clean soil and do our farming in containers, we focus quite a lot on adding nutrients and compost and learning how we can enrich our soil more with each season.  We know Rick studied at Cornell and has vast agronomic knowledge (plus, he has his own soil lab upstate), so we wanted to learn more about how Rick builds up his own soil—the soil that makes his potatoes taste the way they do. He began to rattle off his list: compost and fresh manure (duck and chicken) in the fall, mineral powders, rock phosphate, green sand, granite dust, eggshells, seaweed, fish emulsion—the list goes on, but the point here is the content of the soil. “[These] help build up mineral content in your crops,” Bishop said, “so that your flavor and your textures are better than a crop that’s just kind of grown full of water and not full of mineral. And because of that we found that crops have a higher sugar content, higher soluble solids, higher protein, higher nutritional value…[the] higher the mineral content, the better the flavor.”
 
That makes perfect sense, and his philosophy aligns with our own. With Rick’s list duly noted and plans of meeting up again to talk more about soil and seeds, we'll continue to tweak our soil conditioning plans through winter and put it to use when we unpack in the spring.

 

 
But before we left Rick's stand, we had one more question: Like garlic and onions, we know to store potatoes in a cool, dark place—because if you don’t, they will turn green. What causes this?
 
Photosynthesis, of course! Rick explained how when potatoes are exposed to any light—sun or kitchen fluorescents—they will photosynthesize and begin to sprout. Paler potatoes such as the Russian Banana and Ozette Indian varieties will photosynthesize more easily, but all potatoes will turn green eventually if exposed to light.
 
Note:  Potatoes turn green with increasing levels of chlorophyll and solanine, which is a toxin. Good to know, right? So take good care in storing and covering your spuds!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Still Hand-picked, Just a Little Further From our Farm


Post by Zach





New York City received its first freeze of the year in the beginning of the month, so most farmers and gardeners are nearly finished transitioning into Winter hibernation. Riverpark Farm got a bit of a head start by packing up for our transition (see a couple posts, below, and thank goodness we did it before Sandy). Since then, my role has changed in order to take advantage of all the good food available that we're not currently growing ourselves. So if we can't grow it, I'm going to go find it. I’ve been foraging at greenmarkets, calling farmers personally to learn more about their product and managing orders to ensure the quality of our produce is the best we can find and always in line with our standards. 


Most people understand the many great benefits of buying at farmers' markets; between supporting local economies and feeding yourself, it’s the freshest produce available. To be sure, we buy directly from farmers for these reasons, but also because chefs are thinking of plating aesthetics when selecting their produce. When I shop, I know exactly what size Tropejo shallot the chefs want for our Lamb T-Bone dish, or which Delicata squash will be perfect to eat whole and unpeeled. By buying direct and hand-picking items, Riverpark's chefs can be more creative and have more control over presentation and dish construction. Every element of a dish matters, so shopping to spec (when we’re not growing to spec) is a crucial part of my job.



Fortunately, I've had plenty of experience working with local farmers—at the markets, or in the dirt—so I'm happy to have the opportunity to support and work with the local guys.



Also keep in mind that with Union Square Greenmarket displaced for a few weeks, our farmers are also feeling the effects of the storm—even if their farms weren't hit directly by Sandy. So find your favorites at any greenmarket and make sure to support them. They need us as much as we need them!

Thursday, November 08, 2012

A Post-Storm(s) Update: Rebuilding and Rethinking


Post by Zach


After 11 long days of being closed due to lack of electricity and heat, Riverpark is back in action! To celebrate our reopening, the restaurant will be whipping up Dark 'n Stormies and giving 100% of proceeds to The Mayor's Fund for NYC Hurricane Relief. 


As for the farm, fortunately everything was packed up, so we didn't experience any damage and didn't have to make any special preparations. 


With weather experts telling us storms like Hurricanes Irene and Sandy are going to occur even more frequently in the future, many people have asked us about the potential risks and challenges for urban farms like ours. Damage from heavy winds and rain are clear problems for all farmers, but we also have to be aware of the negative impact of salt water on our crops. Salt water cannot be taken up by plant roots, meaning plants will eventually appear malnourished, then die when over-exposed. Ocean waters regularly travel into New York Harbor and always flow through the East River, meaning that if we get a heavy rain and tidal surge, we're going to have a lot of salt water deposited on our shores. If this happens frequently enough, our soil will have higher and higher salt content, making it harder to support plant growth.


But what makes urban farming atypical should also be its strength when confronted with issues of weather and damage. Urban agriculture requires a great deal of creative thinking about land use, alternative growing methods, the impact of our methods on our neighbors and neighborhoods, and now we may want to throw extreme weather in the mix. For us at Riverpark Farm and folks farming on rooftops, flooding and salt water contamination are not real threats to our crops. Being up high or mobile in containers keeps us out of harms way. Just look back to our blog post about Hurricane Irene (scroll down to September 16th, 2011) to see the true advantage of growing in mobile containers. In this case, then, alternative method farmers have a unique advantage in storm preparation. 


At the end of the day, though, some of our farmer friends were not as fortunate. Our thoughts go out to the folks at Added Value in Red Hook and Battery Urban Farm, and the beekeepers at Brooklyn Grange's Navy Yard apiary, who all suffered losses due to storms surges from super-storm Sandy.


If you're in a position to help, we highly recommend adding Battery Urban Farm's volunteer day to your recovery plans and/or lending a hand to Added Value this Friday and Saturday from 10am to 3pm.

Friday, October 19, 2012

We've Moved!


Post by Chrissa






If you’ve walked east on 29th street recently, you may have noticed people in hard hats and clip boards in place of our farm team with clippers and harvest baskets. If you noticed that much, then you most certainly would have picked up on the news that Riverpark Farm has moved! We packed up our crates over the weekend and moved to the south terrace behind Riverpark where our crates are stacked up, labeled and organized into soil rotations—plus, a couple of low tunnels are in the process of being set up over our lemon verbena and strawberry plants for the winter.




True to the core of Riverpark Farm’s concept, we always knew the farm would need to be packed up and moved quickly once development of the Alexandria Center for Life Science’s West Tower resumed. (For the background story on Riverpark Farm, click here.) With that in mind, we met the challenges of portability, sustainability, economy and flexibility by re-purposing more than 7,000 milk crates into cubic-foot, raised planters.


Seeing the farm move brings bittersweet feelings—bitter only because we never got those cold-weather crops in-crate, but sweet because we’re truly grateful and proud of the success Riverpark Farm 1.0 achieved. We welcomed more than 1,000 visitors between April and September of 2012, grew thousands of pounds of produce from our 15-month original location, collected an award from the Municipal Arts Society and a nomination for an ingenuity award from the Financial Times. We’re grateful for our community support and the media, both for spreading the good word about our farm, urban farming in the city and the innovation that can occur when you consider space temporarily, and not only permanently. 


The best part? We’re working together with the team at Alexandria Real Estate Equities, Inc. to find the next location for Riverpark Farm at the Alexandria Center. Be sure to check back often (here, or @riverparkfarm) for news and updates on where we’ll stack up again next spring.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Digging a Little Deeper


Post by Zach


I’ve had the pleasure of taking it back to school and digging a little deeper into the world of soils at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden this Fall.  Their Soil Science class should be required study for anyone hoping to maximize their growing capacity in an ecologically-minded manner here in the city.  Soil is arguably the most important part of organic agriculture, and all responsible agriculture, organic or not.  So it’s been fun learning how to fit our unique conditions into the world of the Soil Food Web.


The soil we're growing with at Riverpark Farm.



What most people don’t realize is that soil is a living thing, requiring as much attention as most gardeners pay to watering and pruning.  The basic story of the Soil Food Web starts with bacteria and fungi.  All healthy organic soils are loaded with it, and that’s nothing to be afraid of. The bacteria and fungi actually bind to soil nutrients and help plant roots take them up.  Then, as in all ecosystems, these bacteria and fungi become food for larger organisms, such as nematodes.  Then the nematodes are eaten by worms, and so on, with each new member contributing their own part to healthy plant growth, while also dying and creating more food for even more new bacteria.


When growing in containers, we won’t see quite as diverse a food web, as no insects will be emerging from the subsoils in search of new food.  We will also be occasionally disrupting this food chain when we turn our soil for new plantings.  But this is the reality of growing in containers. We have to keep our soil well aerated.  So we have to be extra attentive to adding more and healthier compost to our containers to get our starting point—bacteria and fungi—up in big numbers.  We have to constantly be supplying fresh organic matter and new stocks of bacteria fungi that have been feeding on our farm and kitchen scraps.  Hence our giant compost piles this Summer and Fall.





House-made compost.



To conclude, a quick note on worms.  Not only does worm compost contain plenty of nutrients, these nutrients, by going through the worm’s digestive track, have also been processed to be more available to plant roots when they exit the worm’s body.  What’s more, the size and shape of worm castings are perfect for soil aeration and water retention, making worm compost the best possible ingredient to a healthy soil.  So you can expect to hear a lot more about worms at the farm in the future.


Thursday, October 04, 2012

Yields of Greens


Post by Chrissa


We love summer crops, but as we bid them farewell and the weather cools, greens take the stage for a little bit here at the farm. Greens grow relatively quickly, so while in between seasons it's not a bad idea to work a burst of extra harvests into your farm plan. Here are some of the different varieties we've pulled into the kitchen these last couple of weeks. 

(Note: click the image to enlarge it.)


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Preventing Cross-Pollination to Ensure You're Saving Seeds That Are True to Type


Video by Chrissa & Zach


This video came about after my finding tea bags, secured with blue masking tape on some of our pepper plants. After asking Zach "Why are there tea bags on our pepper plants?" I thought the reason was so simple, yet something our visitors may not immediately put together, either. The reason for covering the flowers is to prevent cross-pollination of two different plant varieties--and not just neighboring plants. A bee could easily fly from one end of the farm to another, carrying the pollen of a different pepper variety. Earlier this year we discovered a cross of Shishito with one of our hot peppers, so we want to be sure to keep some of our harder-to-find varieties, such as Aji verde, true to type before letting them mature and save their seeds. Here's Zach, with further explanation:


Thursday, September 06, 2012

Tomorrow, on "All Things Considered": Us!



Post by Chrissa





Tune in to WNYC tomorrow at 5:44pm to hear Chef Sisha and Zach talk about hot chile peppers with Amy Eddings on "All Things Considered" for their "Last Chance Foods" segment! 

And if you're not sure what to do with your bumper crop of peppers, we shared our Chilled Spicy Pepper Farm soup recipe, which will probably be posted on their site a little later. Or, see below...

Friday, August 31, 2012

When Chef Gives You Peppers, Make Hot Sauce!


Post by Chrissa



If you've seen our farm lately (or follow us on Twitter), you're well aware that we've been bringing in some bountiful harvests of hot chile peppers. This is because they grow very well in our farm's environment, but also because Chef Sisha really likes them. We  had more than what we knew what to do with last year, too, so herein begins our second year of pickling peppers and making hot sauce. 


Over the next month or so, we’ll be pickling all of these extra peppers, and then, we’ll make
HOT SAUCE!


If you want to pickle along with us, here’s our recipe:



For every 2 pounds of peppers…


1 cup white wine vinegar
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon mustard seed
1 teaspoon coriander seed
1 teaspoon fennel seed
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon kosher salt


Combine the vinegar and sugar with 1 cup of water, then bring the liquid to a boil. Add all of the spices, bay leaf and salt. Place the peppers in a jar or air-tight container and pour over the hot liquid. Let the contents cool, then cover and refrigerate. Pickle the peppers for about a month.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

To Weed, or Not to Weed?


Post by Chrissa




You might want to take a closer look at those weeds you're pulling. You could be removing something tasty that has the tendency of planting itself. Magenta Spring is a variety of lambs quarters, which is a relative of spinach and beets and is totally edible. It is also said to be high in beta-carotene, potassium, iron and calcium. Wildman Steve Brill has a great archive of forage-able plants that we've been referencing from time to time, (which reminds us to go on one of his foraging expeditions soon).



Also edible, and with a delightfully sour flavor (and an adorable shape) is wood sorrel. It's often mistaken for clover, but unlike clover's oval leaves, these are heart-shaped.



Purslane also has the tendency of growing wild, and borage likes to spread its seed, too, so watch out for volunteer plantings of those, too!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Our Summer Intern’s Extra-Curricular Insights


Post by Chrissa

Quite often, internships are what you make of them. As part of her summer internship with us we asked Karina to find something about the farm that interests her and to study it. Since she considers it her “duty” to “care for the farm” it didn’t surprise us to learn that she was curious about what makes a plant grow—or, which factors should be considered when they do not. So, meet Karina, our summer intern, who’s harvesting, composting, turning containers, watering and looking very closely at our soil.

Tell us a bit about yourself—where are you coming from, and where do you want to go?

I'm an aspiring environmental engineer graduating this semester with a degree in Mathematics and Natural Sciences from LaGuardia College. My studies in biology instilled my desire to intern at Riverpark Farm for a better understanding of soil quality and plant growth. I'm interested in participating in the projects of the organization, Engineers without Borders who seek to create a safe and humane environment for those who have been abandoned by society by providing access to potable water, modern waste systems, implementing sustainable agriculture, installing sources of renewable energy and a shelter they can really call "home."

What led you to pursue an urban farming internship?

Urban farms and sustainable agriculture is where I chose to do my research because I want to prove to the world that this is a practical solution to world hunger  and global warming. My duty at Riverpark is to care for the farm. My research topic that I’ve chosen involves checking the pH (potential of Hydrogen) levels, chlorine levels and organism diversity of the soil as well as chlorine levels in the irrigation water and rain water.

Testing pH levels in soil is important because it measures the degree of acidity or alkalinity which influences the availability of essential nutrients in the soil. 

If the pH levels are not neutral, what happens to the plant?

If soil is too alkaline or too acidic then the nutrients will desolve therefore not be absorbed by the plant. 

And how do Chlorine levels affect the plant?

High levels of Chlorine will affect plant growth by limiting the amount of water absorbed as well as the plant's nutritional development. I’m also checking for organism diversity. I’m checking for biomass, activity and community structure of the organisms which comprise the soil foodweb and can be used as indicators of soil ecosystem health because these organisms perform critical processes and functions. Soil decomposers (bacteria, fungi and possibly certain arthropods) are responsible for nutrient retention in soil.

What are you able to conclude from your lab results?

What my studies have shown so far is that the soil is very rich in essential elements and nutrients. The nutrients added from the our own compost and the organisms that produce nitrogen and carbon as well as the decomposers have been responsible the development of our crops. 

What about the pH and chlorine levels?

I've been collecting samples from the same plants to monitor their progress and because of this, I was able to record the effects of rainwater and hose water on the plants. Rainwater causes the soil to be more acidic than neutral whereas hose water raises its chlorine level. However, I did notice that after receiving a good amount of sunlight, the chlorine levels in the soil decrease. These levels are common in the urban agriculture environment and affect the plant's ability to absorb nutrients from the soil, consequently producing less fruit, but do not make them any less safe to consume.

Organisms are important for a healthy soil ecosystem. Without nitrogen fixing bacteria, nematodes that recycle microbes or earthworms that increase surface area of organic matter, the soil will lead to subsequent loss of soil fertility. These organisms are most abundant in neutral pH soil levels so that’s the environment we’re trying to create.

Do your findings lead to any further studies?

I’d like to work on a classification of bacteria and arthropods to measure their carbon and nitrogen production as well as an individualized nutrition plan for various plant species (especially the tomatoes) at the farm.

Great, we'll stay tuned for another post with you!

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

It's True, We're Growing Artichokes!



Post by Chrissa




If you'll recall Zach's trip to Eliot Coleman's Four Season Farm in Maine (or, scroll down to our entry on March 6th), it was a snowy adventure that led to a memorable afternoon and the opportunity to meet some incredibly inspiring new friends. It was there where Zach met not only Eliot himself, but also his daughter Clara and wife Barbara Damrosch, who writes The Washington Post's "A Cook's Garden" column (a witty guide for everything from starting fall crops and what to do when vegans arrive for dinner). He also met Adam Lemieux, the product manager in the tools department at Johnny's Select Seeds that day.

I regret to have missed this trip, but Zach did bring back an special new crop for us to try and grow in the farm and in a crate. We were lucky enough to get some Imperial Star variety artichokes already started from Eliot who was thinning his plants (started from Johnny's seeds earlier) when Zach went to visit. We've had many farm tour visitors try and guess what these plants were, and most of them were shocked to learn we are trying to grow artichokes on the East Coast. 

Eliot's growing them in Maine, so we figured we'd give it a shot. And now, we have one!

We'll leave you with this: here's an interesting article of proof and East-Coast method via The New York Times in 1995. By the writer's notes, our first artichoke's a little late. But somehow it managed to NOT go dormant during the heat spells of this summer. Interesting...


Thursday, August 02, 2012

QUIZ: Identify These Peppers!


Post by Chrissa





So, you think you know your peppers. Can you identify these? We'll give you some hints:

One of the above peppers turns from green to red when ripe, but is most commonly harvested for cooking while still green. This pepper's heat is mild, but it's believed that one out of every 10 will be surprisingly hotter.

Another pepper is often mistaken for a banana chile, has medium heat and was developed in the same country as Paprika.

The last shares its name with the chili sauce popularly served with Peruvian chicken.

Good luck! We'll tweet the answers via @riverparkfarm.

Friday, July 27, 2012

A Plant with a Survival Tactic


Post by Chrissa


Do you recognize the plant on the leftt? Perhaps you’ve seen it pop up in your lawns, in parks or meadows. It’s purslane; and we have both intentionally planted and wild varieties of this succulent edible growing vigorously in the farm.


This mid-summer-to-fall sprawling plant has a mild, sweet and tangy flavor and is slightly chewy in texture. The thumb-sized leaves grow on thick, red stems—and these stems arm the plant with an impressive survival tactic. If, say, mistaken for a weed and uprooted, the stem stores enough water to stay alive and produce seeds before it dies.


We certainly won’t be mistaking our purslane for a weed and our Riverpark chefs are enjoying its tangy (almost like an unripe fruit) accent to dishes, especially when played against the acidity of ripe summer tomatoes. Raw purslane is great in salads (such as our Mixed Farm Greens) or cooked. Right now, you can find it atop our Diver Scallops, with corn, tarragon, chanterelle mushrooms, tomatoes, and bacon.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Summer Squash is in the Farm and on the Menu!


Post by Chrissa


A little clip of the summer squash growing now at that farm, and what a morning's harvest turns into by lunchtime. Enjoy!


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Sweet Summer, Thanks for Basil!


Post by Chrissa 




A little tour of our basil patch, but sadly without the sweet summertime aroma. 


Pistou Basil
aka fine leaf, Greek, dwarf or bush basil, pistou basil is perfect for growing in small containers and grows in ornamental globe-shaped bushes. With small leaves and soft stems, the flavor is still quite strong. 

Sweet Basil
The classic Italian Genovese variety with tall plants and big, green leaves.

Lime Basil
With a very similar appearance to lemon basil, but zestier and with a true lime aroma.

Purple Ruffle Basil
What you see is the appeal to this variety. The flavor is still distinctly basil, though.

Sweet Thai Basil
Thai basil has the strongest aroma of these varieties and is also commonly used in Vietnamese cooking, little purple flowers and all.

Mrs. Burns’ Lemon Basil
Lemon basil has a sweet and tangy aroma, and sometimes blooms little white flowers.


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

An Evening to Benefit The Sylvia Center and Just Food


Post by Chrissa



A City Farm, A Chef and A Host is a New York City dine-around event to benefit Just Food and The Sylvia Center. On Tuesday, July 24th, Riverpark will co-host one of the 14 dinners at the Riverpark Farm Table, with our very own Zach Pickens as the farmer, Sisha Ortùzar as the chef and singer/songwriter Dar Williams as the special host.



If you'd like to join us, tickets may be purchased here, and remember to select Dinner 8 when prompted.


Thursday, June 28, 2012

Spring into Summer


Post by Chrissa


With our hands foot-deep in soil and our summer tans coming along nicely, the Riverpark Farm team has been busy gearing up for a big season of summer crops! To ensure we bring full harvest baskets into the Riverpark kitchen each morning, we've put a lot of hard work and long hours into the transition between spring and summer. 



Chrissa: This is a big month for the farm. Why is the transition from spring to summer such a demanding time of year? 



Zach: As we move into summer, this is the time we need to be focusing on getting our summer season crops into the "ground." They need nice, consistently warm temperatures so as soon as the weather started heating up, we’ve been putting them into crates to get them in place for a nice long harvest. Also, we started our summer crops in smaller containers (since the crates were occupied with spring crops), so we needed to give them room to grow and keep up with their soil needs. That means moving spring crops out and turning the soil quickly to prepare for the transplants. This month we put more than 900 summer crops into crates! 



What are some of those 900 crops?


12 varieties of heirloom tomatoes—from your beefsteak to black cherry to yellow pears, to striped varieties; 5 varieties of eggplant—from little Hansel & Gretels to Japanese and Rosa Biancas (big multi-colored, Italian heirlooms); at least 15 varieties of peppers—You know Chef Sisha loves peppers!; 4 varieties of Okra—red, green, tall and dwarf; Squash, from Korean to Italian varieties and some that look like avocados; Cucumbers, including a lemon variety; and 8 varieties of beans—you know the colors.



Spring was good to us, too. What plants are on their way out and did really well for us?


We had sugar snap peas for almost five weeks. They were super sweet—Chef Bryan said they were much sweeter than he's used to seeing. The strawberries did really well for their first season out! For long term strawberry plants, farmers advise to cut off all the flowers for the first season. We cut off half  and produced more than 30 pints. That’s big for a first year! Lettuces and mustard greens were awesome and produced very well, as well as the pea shoots. 



The latter part of spring was about the flowers for us. Both intentionally planted ones like borage and nasturtiums, but as early spring crops bolted, we let them blossom so we had flowers from the cilantro, broccoli raab, kale and thyme plants, too (all edible, of course).



Do summer crops require more maintenance?


Actually, yes. They’re heavy eaters so they needs more water and more compost. For their compost needs, we’ve started a weekly regiment of compost tea. So we’re also brewing a lot more. The healthier they are the more they’ll focus on bearing fruit, so we’re trying to give them everything they need to do so. 



Cool, well cheers to summer farming in the city!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Happy Summer Solstice!


                  

Wishing you all a bountiful summer season, from your farmer friends at Riverpark Farm!

Friday, June 01, 2012

What We’re Doing With Peppers In June


Post by Chrissa


Earlier this year, our friends over at the Brooklyn Grange told us about a unique strain of shishito pepper they grow that happens to blossom really early—in late May, opposed to July! Of course we were very interested in this prospect, as Chef Sisha loves chile peppers, and Zach is skilled in seed-saving. We seeded the spring shishitos indoors in March, transplanted them into milk crates in mid-May, and they’ll be ready to harvest over the next couple of weeks.



We don’t expect to see the majority of our peppers until late July, and the reason being is because pepper plants need consistently warm days and nights to blossom. From each of those little flowers, a pepper is born. 


A thing about seed saving…

Peppers are a great first plant to save seeds from. Once they’re red and mature, harvest the peppers, cut them open and collect their seeds. Lay the seeds out in a cool place to dry that has good air circulation. Seeds are best saved in something breathable (paper envelopes are perfect).


We have only a handful of these spring shishito plants this year, but Zach plans to grow them to full maturity so we can save their seeds and plant a full harvest next year. We also have summer shishitos started, so Chef Sisha will see his full harvest in a of couple months.

Friday, May 18, 2012

May Flowers Bring...


Post by Chrissa


Walking through the farm this week, we noticed that some of the most exciting new crops were blossoming out of little white flowers. Some of the flowers' fruits will work their way onto the menu in just a matter of days (sugar snap peas) and others will need a couple more months to grow into their full delicious form (strawberries and shishito peppers). It's a beautiful time of year for sure!


Shishito Peppers


Sugar Snap Peas


Tri-Star Strawberries

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Lady Behind the Lens


Post by Chrissa 



Recognize that farm? Earlier this week, we discovered we made the cover of Edible Manhattan—and what a cool surprise!

Even cooler, the cover and the first interior feature photos were taken by the very talented Ari Nuzzo. Ari is a former member of our Riverpark family, and has so beautifully captured Riverpark Farm for us. You'll notice many of our website photos were also taken by Ari, and we're grateful to have them. Congrats, Ari, and thanks for pointing your lens our way!

Thursday, May 03, 2012

The Brief Wondrous Life of Cilantro


Post by Chrissa


A recent Riverpark chefs’ obsession has developed from curious requests to let our plants bolt, flower and overgrow past their normal life to see what happens—to see if there’s some unique stage of the plant’s life that can be used on a plate. Encouraging “happy accidents,” if you will, simply because we can.


The result? This spring we saw flowers from arugula, purple mizuna, tatsoi, red giant mustard greens, red rain mustard greens and radishes that made their way into dishes, such as, Grilled Calamari Salad with grapefruit and nicoise olive vinaigrette; Duck Confit Ravioli with red endive, sugar snap peas and red shiso; and Black Sea Bass with artichokes, nicoise olives, white anchovies and spring onions.



Now, we’re looking at cilantro. Cilantro is an interesting ingredient due to its many usable parts. Most obviously, the leaves (known as coriander leaves, fresh coriander and Chinese parsley) are widely used in Mexican, Indian and Central Asian cuisines. We already harvested cilantro from the seeds planted last summer, but we let the plants be for months and kept them alive through winter and now they've begun to bolt. With bolting comes delicious little white flowers that are floral versions of the leafy cilantro (and ours is a bit spicy, too), and their green seeds. This is what we’ve been waiting for! Last year the green coriander was used in a Hamachi dish, and this year we’ve overheard plans for incorporating it into a vinaigrette. We’ll send a tweet when it’s on the menu.


Image source: "Koehler's Medicinal-Plants," 1887


You may also know that the roots can be used in cooking, and most commonly found in Thai dishes. So there you have it, an herb with a short life (usually just 2-3 weeks) usable in all its stages—from root, to leaves and seed!


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Outgrowing Containers: Time to Pot Up!


 Post by Chrissa


We planted our lemon verbena plants two-to-a-crate last year, but now that they're coming back, we're looking to space them out and let them grow even bigger this year. Lemon verbena is a lucky find at the farmer's market and the kitchen loves working with it, so we're going to grow all we need right here at the farm.



Outgrowing its container is bad news for a plant. Becoming root-bound with crowded and twisted roots will most likely end up suffocating the plantso, obviously best to avoid this. The good news is you can easily transfer the root ball into a larger container where it can continue growing and happily produce.


Chances are you measured your containers before you planted and have a good sense of the space it needs. But for perennials that will grow into as much space as you give them, you'll want to either keep them trimmed to a fitting size, or transfer them as they grow. It's difficult to see root-bounding occur without gently pulling up the roots, but if your plant begins to look sick or the leaves or pines start falling off, you may want to take a look at the roots.



Notes about roots: they are sensitive! Try to be gentle with them and avoid transferring them when the sun is out. The white tips are especially sensitive, as they represent new growth. (They sort of look like cat hairs.) If you pull up the root ball and find it all bunched together, it's a good idea to comb through the roots to untangle them, so they're mostly directed down- and outward. Zach gave the example of running your fingers through your hair...


A general sequence for potting up:
  1. Prepare the bigger container with new potting mix and a healthy dose of compost. Add the compost to the hole where the plant will go, mixing the compost in a bit, but leaving a good amount near where the roots will be. This will help the plant get a strong start in its new home. The soil should be well aerated.
  2. Gently unearth the root ball using a hand shovel or cultivator.
  3. Move the entire root system, with surrounding soil to its future container. Here, you can comb out the knots if necessary.
  4. Gently pack soil around the base of the plant.
  5. Water. (This will help pack in the soil around the roots and push out any air pockets so the roots and soil are in direct contact.


Thursday, April 19, 2012

Happy Earth Day from Riverpark Farm!


Thursday, April 12, 2012

Recipe: Compost Tea


 Post by Chrissa, recipe adapted from Zach


Unlike regular tea, where steeping for flavor is the main objective, compost tea is slightly different in that we're also encouraging good bacteria growth. To accomplish this, we use non-chlorinated water and feed the organisms sugar and oxygen. The result? A faster method for deposition of nutrients into your plants!


Active time: 15 minutes
Inactive time: 2 days

Equipment
5 gallon bucket
Mesh paint strainer or cheese cloth
Spray bottle or garden canister sprayer
String
T-shirt or pillowcase

Ingredients
5 gallons of non-chlorinated water
1 lb compost (preferably homemade or from LES Ecology Center)
1 Tbsp molasses


A note about non-chlorinated water: Unless you want to kill the good bacteria we're looking to produce, the water must be free of chlorine. Simply leave your water out in open air for at least 24 hours to allow for the chlorine to fully dissipate. 


1. Lay out your mesh or cheesecloth, put the compost in the center, then gather the mesh around the compost and tie securely with string. The "tea bag" should resemble a sachet.

2. Stir the molasses into the water, then drop the compost tea bag into the bucket.

3. Secure the bubbler so that one of the air tubes sits on the bottom of the bucket, and the other towards the top of the water surface level. This will allow for good air and water circulation.

4. Let the tea bubble for two days straight.

5. Remove the compost tea bag, then strain the tea through a t-shirt into a spray bottle or garden sprayer. The finer woven material will keep any stray particular matter from later clogging your spray bottle.

6. Spray leaves and the top level of soil about once a month.


Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Spring News: Farm Tours, Workshops and our 2012 Crop List!


 Post by Chrissa


See this planter? It's actually the shipping crate our Farm Table umbrellas were delivered in. 
We recycled them into planters--two of them!

If you've followed us through winter, you know we've kept quite busy with low tunnels, creatively tweaking regular farm tools to fit the scale of Riverpark Farm, soil conditioning and planning for spring. Planning for spring was a big project, but now that it's finally here, we have exciting news to share:


Farm Tours and Workshops!
We've received a lot of interest from friends, neighbors and out-of-town urban agriculture enthusiasts to come visit the farm. Starting April 3rd, we're opening the farm gates for free public tours, every Tuesday at 12:30pm.


If you're interested in getting more involved than that, we're offering workshops (also free) on Saturdays beginning March 31st, where you'll learn skills such as plant maintenance, soil amending and seed starting, as well as composting. Zach's a certified Master Composter, so if ever you had an interest, now's your chance!


For more information about Farm Tours and Workshops, wander over to the Farm tab, or click here.


Finally, let me introduce you to the 2012 Riverpark Farm roster of crops. Now that we have a couple of growing seasons under our belt we have a better idea of which crops we want to plant so we make the best use of our space and time. For instance, one cabbage plant took up one milk crate from the start of summer through fall. (We won't be planting cabbages again this year.) Whereas a tomato plant will yield more than 10 pounds of tomatoes through summer and fall, and we bet we'll get even more than that this year since our tomato plants won't need to endure a big move from upstate or tropical storms (fingers crossed on the storm part).


Happy Spring, and we'll see you out at the farm, soon!

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

A Visit to Eliot Coleman's Four Season Farm


Post by Zach 

Eliot Coleman using a propane torch to "weed" a planting bed. It's not likely we'll be adopting this practice for our plastic container farm.


Spring is on the mind in New York. Annual flowers are slowly starting to emerge. At
the farm, we're getting ready for Spring by planting seeds and prepping our soil.
Our focus is on the season soon to come. But we received a gracious invitation from
Clara Coleman to visit her father Eliot and tour his Four Season Farm. Eliot Coleman
was a big inspiration of mine when planning for our winter plantings this year, so it
was an easy choice to embrace Winter for just a couple more days. So, with fellow urban
farmer friends from Brooklyn Grange, I escaped to Maine to get a taste of the Winter we
missed this year. And a taste we did get—getting hit with over eight inches of snow on our way. 

An old grange house nearby the farm.


Four Season Farm and the Colemans are well known for their off-season growing techniques,
using unheated greenhouses and selecting only the hardiest winter crops to ensure happy
customers all year round. This kind of growing takes a lot of hard work, some creative
thinking about how to best keep plants productive and how to structure your plantings.
Fresh produce in Coastal Maine in the middle of the winter? They make it happen and do an
amazing job. 

We arrived at the farm to a huge lunch cooked by Coleman's wife, Washington Post author
Barbara Damrosch, using mainly ingredients from the farm and including part of one of their
pigs from the past year. We even had a little wine from their own grapes. There were ten of
us in attendance, making for a nice family-style meal on a cold snowy day. 

After lunch, we bundled up and headed outside to see winter production in action. Greenhouses, low tunnels, tools, chickens—we truly got the grand tour. 

Also in attendance was Adam Lemieux, the Product Manager in the tools department at Johnny's Selected Seeds, a supplier of most of our farm seed at Riverpark. Coleman is constantly trying to improve efficiencies through better tools, so Four Season Farm becomes a great playground for Adam to test out new projects. We got to see some test runs of bed-prepping tools and other existing tools in action. We also showed Coleman and Lemieux pictures of our own tools and talked about the unique needs of urban ag folks. Maybe we'll see some specialized tools for container gardening in the future? I personally hope so. 

All in all, retreating to Winter was a great way to get the Spring started. We left energized
and full of ideas on how to improve our operations for this upcoming growing season. So
thanks again to Clara Colman, Barbara Damrosch , and Eliot Coleman for a memorable day. 

Four Season Farm, Harborside, ME.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Making Large-Scale Tools Work for Small-Scale Farming


Post by Zach 


Spring is fast approaching (he said wishfully), but we still have a little time to prepare for our busy season. And within that little bit of time, we have a lot to do to make sure we make the most of our time, so we're not quite as busy in the spring (again, said wishfully). When it comes to small-scale farming, being quick, good with your hands and knowing how to economize your movements can make all the difference in making the farm pay off. 

This handle was the length of a rake, but we replaced it with the handle 
of a broken hand rake, instead.


The book hasn't been written (yet) on how to farm thousands of milk crates, so we've 
had to get creative this off-season, building new tools to help us increase efficiencies.
We're doing so with two main tools: a soil tumbler to help speed up the process of 
preparing our soil for new plantings, and a hand seeder to make seeding more consistent
and a whole lot faster. 

Soil tumbler: made from a recyled pickle barrel.


While traditional farmers might run a Rototiller or tractor through their fields to break
up the soil and prepare it for new plantings, we are limited by our containers. We'd have
to stop that (very small) rototiller every foot and start over in a new box. Not going to happen! Last season, we were dumping our soil into a laundry cart and mixing it all with a shovel and some elbow grease. This year, we're going to make our lives a little easier by using a  soil tumbler.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

From NOFA-NY with Snow!


Post by Zach 

Today is my second day back from my snowy escape to Saratoga Springs for the 2012 NORTHEAST ORGANIC FARMING ASSOCIATION OF NEW YORK (NOFA-NY) WINTER FARM CONFERENCE. Urban and rural, young and old, beginner and pro, gardener and large-scale farmer—all were in attendance and all were welcomed. 


My big take-homes were this: 1.) Young people are getting into organic agriculture in a big way and 2.) organic agriculture is becoming big business in this state, but it's keeping a small focus. 

NOFA-NY has been around for 30 years, with many farmers in attendance having been there since the beginning, so I was expecting to see a lot of well-seasoned, experienced upstate folks. I did see and meet these folks, and learned a lot from their stories and presentations, but I was also excited to see a very large NYC farmer contingent and a large number of young folks working on farms all over the state. There were so many young folks eager to take new skills back home and get busy this season. NOFA-NY's base is truly growing, a fact that the seasoned members are welcoming. 

I learned a lot in various workshops on farm planning, soil maintenance, budgeting, and plant nutrition. And I should have! New York state is home to some of the country's largest and oldest organic farms, with farmers preaching the benefits of local and sustainable well before the era of the locavore. The conference attendees were fortunate to be in the hands of such great teachers. I was struck by the size of their operations. Some of the farms represented were upwards of 500 acres. That's a lot of land for organic production. So when I heard these large-scale producers talk about their customer base, I was surprised to hear so little about Whole Foods, and so much about supportive neighbors. For example, Essex Farm is a 500 acre organic farm in Essex, NY. They run on a CSA model, where people subscribe to shares of the farm's yearly production, taking a bag of produce home with them every week. Here's the best part—Essex Farm does not deliver any bags. The bags are picked up by the members every week, meaning their customer base is in their direct community. Their community supports the farm, and the farm feeds them some of the most nutritious food available. It was so great to see such connected exchanges at such a large scale. 

At the end of the conference I found myself really energized to get down to the business of farm planning and super excited to start planting seeds. We have about two months before our growing will really start, but we'll be ready.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Making Farmer Friends


Post by Chrissa

Since the word got out about Riverpark Farm last fall, we've had the pleasure of meeting so many supportive—and curious—fellow farmers. We've also met people who came to us looking to study our approach, such as a group working in Germany's agriculture industry that traveled and studied ours through a fellowship program; a Design Trust photographer documenting different approaches to urban agriculture in NYC; students who visited the farm as part of their research; and a development coordinator working on community urban farm initiatives in Vancouver, BC—just to give you an idea. Perhaps we should have started a guest book, but instead, we'll start introducing you to all our new friends here. 

Just this month, we sat down with Chase Emmons over at BROOKLYN GRANGE to talk bee-keeping (stay tuned). If you haven't checked out their rooftop farm (in person or online) we definitely recommend it. We also met Amy Pennington from Seattle, who just started the "CITY DIRT" COLUMN ON FOOD52. She'll be guiding urban gardeners through seasons and steps for growing, so if you're interested in starting a garden this year, this will be another great source to keep bookmarked. And just today, we met with a Culinary Arts professor at CUNY Kingsborough who went to culinary school with Chef Ortúzar and is also getting into urban farming. You can check out their successful late-fall harvest on THEIR FACEBOOK PAGE

Lastly, we recently decided to team up with BREAKER, a program that drives social innovation and alternate learning by putting together teams of young, creative people who are interested in solving a vast array of world problems. For their first project, the team was asked to consider digital media and technology and the future of books. The next project looks at the positive notions of local urban farming and challenges the group to expand the benefits globally. We think this is awesome and you can learn more about the BREAKER projects HERE.


Thursday, January 05, 2012

A little DIY and back-story about the milk crate...


Post by Chrissa


Earlier this year, Riverpark Farm founders Sisha Ortúzar, Jeffrey Zurofsky and Scarlet Shore approached Brooklyn-based ORE Design + Technology with the challenge of creating a farm to provide Riverpark Restaurant with fresh produce grown just 100 feet from the restaurant's kitchen, but also designed to be mobile, sustainable, and productive.

Mobility would allow for the crates to be moved for harvesting, re-planting and increased sun exposure. Sustainability because everyone felt very strongly about using recycled materials and methods with minimal impact on the environment. The raised planters also had to be efficient growing environments in order to meet the needs of a busy restaurant, and space-efficient to best utilize 15,000 square feet.

ORE's solution utilizes cubic-foot milk crates as individual plant beds, keeping weight low and planting density high so the entire 7,400 boxes containing live crops can be moved in as little as one day&emdash;which was done when Hurricane/Tropical Storm Irene threatened the farm last summer. The milk crates are lined with landscape fabric and filled with top soil and compost, allowing for air and water transfer with limited soil erosion.

We've had many requests for instructions on how to build your own milk-crate planters, so without further ado, here's a video!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Good Readings We Bring!


Post by Chrissa

December was a busy month! What with bundling up the farm for winter, building an indoor growing setup and putting some worms to work on making compost for spring, we were thrilled to receive some really encouraging press to wrap up the year. Thanks so much to our friends, followers and fellow farmers for a great first season! We're busy planning for spring (as you should soon be, too), but we'll leave you with some articles we hope will inspire you to grow along with us in 2012.

Associated Press
Farms, stores brighten stalled NYC building lots

SEE ARTICLE

The New York Times
Temporary Tenants Bring Life to Stalled Construction Sites

SEE ARTICLE

Rick Pomerantz Photography
Young Farmer Series: Farming in Midtown Manhattan

SEE ARTICLE

(You may be wondering, 'Who's Chrissa?' I'm the project manager here at Riverpark and work alongside Sisha and Zach. You can think of me as the back-seat driver to all sorts of fun projects happening at our restaurant and farm.)

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Trimming Back (Perennials)


Post by Zach

Gardeners should take one final step before heading inside for the winter. I'm talking about
taking care of those perennial herbs. We're growing perennial herbs that fit into two broad
categories: hardy and tender. Both need their own special care to be prepared for winter.

Our hardy herb varieties include mint, thyme, lemon balm, and oregano, but may also include
lavender, tarragon, and bee balm. These varieties will die back in the winter but come back
strong in the spring with no protection. For these herbs, we simply cut back the plants before
cold weather really hits and leave the plants in place—simple as that. And now Riverpark's
kitchen has a bumper crop of mint for herbal teas.



Trimmed back mint plants. Photo credit Ari Nuzzo


Our tender perennials require a little more attention and care. Many of our bushier herbs happen to originate in warmer climates and can't handle long exposure to cold and snow. Tender varieties include lemon verbena, rosemary, Anise Hyssop, and sage, but may also include marjoram. These crops will be sitting under one of our low tunnels, but with a bit of added protection. We start by trimming these herbs back rather aggressively about a month before our first expected frost date. By mid-October, we were left with little stumpy lemon verbena plants—this leaves less plant to be stressed out by cold temperature. We do this a month before the frost to give the plant time to heal from the heavy cutting before being exposed to the cold.



A "stubby" lemon verbena plant in the winter will thrive come spring.
Photo credit Ari Nuzzo.


Now that it is getting really cold (we almost had a frost last week), we're going to reinforce our plants. We start by adding a layer of mulch to the top of the soil. We're using coco husk, but you can use hay, straw, newspaper, woodchips, or burlap. Just make sure it's a thick layer —about 2-3 inches deep. Then, for our specific planting method, we're adding another layer of protection to the bottom of our boxes. Since we have an empty milk crate under all of our planters, we have a nice receptacle for some more insulation. We're taking chopped up green waste from our farm, including root balls and chopped up pepper and eggplant plants, and filling the bottom boxes. We use this to keep cold air from collecting in our bottom boxes and keep the heat in the soil.

So that's it. We're all geared up and ready winter! Now that your garden is all wrapped up, you can head inside and stay warm. Remember to check up on your plants and add more water or insulation as needed—and check on us, too. We're still harvesting and spring is just around the corner, so there's much more to come from your friends at Riverpark Farm.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Putting up Low Tunnels is Easy!


Post by Zach

 

So, you have successively planted winter-hardy crops in the ground. Nice work. Now we have to protect them and get them to grow a little...

Zach and Hannah constructing low tunnels to protect our crops from winter conditions.


With winter gardening, you're fighting two major factors: temperature and sunlight—or lack thereof. As we approach winter solstice, we're dipping down to about 10 hours of total sunlight a day. Of course, as the earth tilts up and sunbeams are less direct, urban gardeners might notice buildings blocking light in different ways than they had before during the normal growing season. At Riverpark Farm we are definitely getting new shady spots, but we've positioned our most sun-needy crops in the sunniest locations(the advantage of having a mobile farm) and are getting enough direct sunlight to ensure growth. If you have containers in your own garden, you should position them in the sunniest spot, too, to ensure as much full-day exposure as possible.

The second, more important challenge is temperature. Sunlight is sunlight. You can always move your planters to receive more sunlight, but you can't move your boxes into higher temperatures without bringing them inside or building a big heated greenhouse. And even while we are planting crops that can stand up to the cold, these plants are still running on biological clocks that tell them to go to sleep when the temperature really starts dropping. So we need to keep temperatures up to avoid total dormancy.

Instead of building a big expensive greenhouse, we're building lower-impact, unheated low tunnels to trap the day's heat and use it to raise our soil temperatures. Low tunnels are constructed simply of row covers, greenhouse plastic, electrical conduit and zip ties. The zip ties hold the conduit to our milk crates and the conduit forms a structure to lay the row covers and greenhouse plastic over. They look like mini greenhouses and you can set up as many as you need. They're easily assembled and disassembled, making them the perfect temporary setup for our container farm.

The construction is easy and we will start with our hoop material. We are using 10-foot x .5-inch electrical conduit that is easily sourced. We used an inexpensive conduit bender to shape our hoops,which you should be able to find for about $20 at your local hardware store. We made three bends to form our hoop, threw them over our planting beds (spaced out every five feet), and zip-tied them to secure. That's the hardest part, which was not hard!

Next we have to add our insulating layers, our winter blankets if you will. We use two layers of insulation and start by adding a layer of floating row cover fabric, or Agribon. Agribon is a porous cloth that helps trap heat and keep pests off our plants&mdash'but allows sunlight, air and water to pass through. Next, we cover the rows with a UV-protected greenhouse plastic to trap the day's heat from the sun. We're using a 12-foot-wide piece because of our double- stacked milk crate setup. Most gardeners can get away with using a 10-foot-wide piece for a standard planting bed.

Make sure to secure the plastic in multiple locations, to spread out the
pressure of wind and snow.


After we have covered our rows, we need to secure the plastic. This deserves a little extra attention because you don't want your tunnel to collapse during a snow storm. Work with another person to pull the plastic taut, then secure it in place with bricks, sandbags, rocks, or any heavy objects you have in abundance. Make sure to secure the plastic in multiple locations, to spread out the pressure of wind and snow.

And that's it! Low tunnels are much cheaper and easier to build than a greenhouse, and are easily moved and adjusted. And while we won't be heating our low tunnels, we will still see temperatures between 15 to 25 degrees warmer on bright sunny days. Water your crops as needed, and if temperatures rise above 60 degrees, feel free to remove the plastic to let them breath and absorb the sun.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Choosing the Right Crops to Grow During the Winter Months


Post by Zach

Winter is truly the forgotten season in gardening. Gardeners will clean up their plots in November claiming it is too dark and cold to grow anything. And they would be right for most plants. But, believe it or not, every season has its harvest. Just as we pick sun-loving plants that can stand the heat of summer, we also select cold-hardy crops that enjoy being covered in a thick January snow. Gardeners can grow straight through winter and into spring, as long as they start with the right crop selection.

And which crops are these? At Riverpark Farm, we will be harvesting spinach, carrots, radishes, beets, kale, collard greens, arugula, mizuna, scallions, bronze fennel and mâché. Home gardeners could also grow Brussels sprouts, cabbage and parsnips. All of these crops will stay alive in lower temperatures, and some of them (like the Brussels sprouts) even enjoy a little snow cover.

Before you get pumped up and decide to plant through the winter, it's important to keep one thing in mind: without artificial light and heat, your plants will grow very slowly. Just because certain crops are winter hardy does not mean you will see rapid growth. The waning daylight of fall triggers your plants to slow down and prepare for dormancy throughout the winter. They will absorb less water and nutrients, and grow at a much slower pace.

So how do we intend to produce a sizeable harvest if we're growing so slowly? The first step is to plant winter crops in succession through the late summer and early fall. If you space out your plantings of carrots every two weeks between late August and early November, your plants will come into maturity at different times. This ensures harvestable mature crops through the winter, into the early spring.

Another method for ensuring a good winter harvest is proper insulation. We will be covering all of our beds with greenhouse plastic to raise the soil temperature throughout the coldest months—thus speeding up our plants' rate of growth. These mini greenhouses, called low tunnels, are the subject of the second post in our series on "winterization" at Riverpark Farm, so check back in soon.

Monday, November 14, 2011

What Will Happen to the Farm During the Winter?


Post by Zach



"Winterizing" Riverpark Farm with easy-to-build low tunnels.
Photo credit: Ari Nuzzo


We've heard these questions a lot lately: "What are you going to do in the winter? What will happen to the farm?" The short answer is we're going for it. We have plans to keep the farm growing and producing through the coldest, darkest months. Are we crazy? It will be cold, but no, not at all. What many people don't realize is that with a little planning, continuing to grow outdoors is possible.

First, we've chosen the crops that can take all that winter has to dish out and still produce. Crops such as spinach, carrots, mustard greens (like arugula and purple mizuna), mâché, fennel, beets and radishes will all do well in the Northeast, and so will hardier greens like collards and kale. The next step is preparing perennials for enduring the cold weather so they can pick up right where they left off come springtime. This involves trimming and adding mulch for insulation. And lastly, we're covering these crops in two layers of protective coating, using simple electrical conduit to form a frame of support. Somewhere between hoop houses and simple row coverings, low tunnels can be built around any type of soil bed and won't burden your wallet.



Putting row cover material in place.
Photo credit: Ari Nuzzo




Riverpark Farmer Zach Pickens gathering bricks to weigh down the
low tunnel layers. Photo credit: Ari Nuzzo


I will be writing about all three steps right here throughout the week, strarting with choosing the right crops for winter. But you can get a head start by finding sources for the following supplies. Most are readily available at your local hardware or garden supply store.
  • 1/2-inch EMT electrical conduit
  • Floating row cover material (I suggest Agribon or Remay)
  • 10-foot-wide greenhouse plastic
  • Sandbags, bricks, or anything that can weigh down and secure the plastic through heavy winds
  • Hay, newspaper, wood chips, trimmings (as long as they're clean and natural), or mulch

As always, feel free to reach out to us via info@riverparkfarm.com with any questions or to share with us how you've prepared for winter.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Are You Thinking About Soil for the Spring?


Post by Zach

It's October, so it's time for gardeners to start thinking soil. This might seem a little counter-intuitive. You may ask, "Shouldn't we think about this in the Spring, when we're about to start our gardens for the season?" But now is actually a good time to amend your soil after beating it up with super-consumers like tomatoes and sunflowers. It's good to rebuild healthy bacteria and nutrient levels now to ensure a good starting point in the Spring and to ensure that the nutrients in your amendments gets spread to every inch of your planters or beds.

To do this, we'll be planting cover crops and top dressing our containers with bought-out finished compost. But we're most excited about finishing our compost system and keeping our soil health in house.

                                

We built a classic three-bin composting system that allows us to process two huge piles of organic matter (measuring 2 cubic yards each), while leaving one bin open to allow for pile aeration. We built the system out of repurposed shipping palettes and hardware cloth, to make it cheap, durable, and big. And we'll need big piles of finished compost to feed our 3,500 planters.

So far, we've been processing fruit and vegetable waste from the farm and kitchen, while throwing in egg and oyster shells for minerals, and coffee grounds for nitrogen. We've also thrown in a bunch of cocoa husk from our buds at Mast Brothers' Chocolate to add a carbon-heavy ingredient to the mix. We have one pile curing already and will be ready to use it in about a month. And we'll be adding some worms to our compost operation in the winter to ensure good soil production all year round. We're going to need as much as we can get for a busy, productive 2012.

Of course, we're not done with 2011 quite yet... We're still planting seeds for a winterlong harvest of spinach, carrots, and mustard greens.

                                

OCTOBER 6, 2011

Our Farm Wins the Municipal Art Society of New York's "Livable City Award"


This week, the Municipal Art Society of New York announced that Riverpark Farm is one of five organizations to win their "Livable City Awarad." In addition to making NYC a better place to live, MAS President Vin Cipolla said "These extraordinary organizations and people make New York the vibrant, creative place it is. Without their commitment to addressing urban challenges and enriching the city's cultural environment, New York would be a much less interesting and productive place to live."

                                                              

We are thrilled to be amongst and congratulate this year's winners, including Gospel for Teens, ioby, Storm King Art Center, Urban Samaritan and Angela Elie, center manager of the Detective Keith Williams Recreation Center in Queens.

For more information about the "Livable City Awards," our fellow winners and the MAS Summit taking place in New York next week, visit www.mas.org.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Ways to Help Local Farms Recover from the Damage Irene Left Behind


Post by Chrissa


1. Dine Out with us here at Riverpark on Sunday, September 25th!
2.  Dine Out Irene
3.  Donate
4.  Volunteer(Scroll down for a list of farmers who have asked or help.)
5.  Attend
6.  Speak Up
7.  Eat Local Now


Last month, Hurricane Irene threatened our Zone-1-located restaurant that sits just over the East River and Riverpark Farm (which was just weeks away from its official opening). Luckily, we had enough notice, available space and able hands to move each milk crate indoors. The storm passed, and like most city-dwellers, we emerged just fine.

The reality of the threats were unfortunately felt by acres and acres of area farmland in upstate New York, New Jersey and Vermont. Farms that were in the peak of their tomato seasons, with much left to harvest this summer and fall, found their crops completely submerged—and flood waters have yet to fully recede. GrowNYC estimates "that 80% of Greenmarket farmers have been impacted, with about 10% reporting severe loss—80-100% of their products."

There are many ways to help our fellow farmers get back on their feet and we encourage helping in any ways possible. One very easy way to contribute is by reserving a table with us on Sunday.

                                    

This Sunday, September 25th, we will be participating in Dine Out Irene, a fundraiser that benefits area farms recovering from the damages left by Hurricane Irene. A percentage of our brunch and dinner sales will benefit Just Food and GrowNYC, nonprofit organizations that will distribute those funds directly to the farmers.

For more information on ways to help, visit www.grownyc.com and www.justfood.com.

Friday, September 16, 2011

To all of Riverpark Farm's family and friends: thank you. And, we did it!


Post by Chrissa

If you're new to Riverpark, right next door to our restaurant and the 'wichcraft cube location, we've built a farm.

Our team was fortunate to have incredible support along the way from GrowNYC and ORE Design and Technology, whose teams helped turn one of New York City's 600 stalled construction sites into a green example of how with just a few supplies and a little space, anyone can grow their own produce. Many have offered support by visiting and spreading the good word about our project, and others have given support by loading milk crates of young crops into the site earlier this summer. And many, many helping hands jumped at a moment's notice to bring the entire farm indoors when Hurricane Irene threatened our crops. And there wouldn't be a place for each crate or a Farm Table to dine amongst them if it weren't for the incredible Tom Yearick.

If you've been following the progress of the farm (in person here at the Riverpark restaurant or @RiverparkFarm), you probably noticed this Farm Table. So, in addition to the walls coming down to reveal what we've been growing behind them, we're excited to announce our 12-seat Farm Table, nestled within Riverpark Farm on the ground floor. Our unique dining experience offers our guests a chance to sit amongst the more than 100 different types of crops growing feet away from the Riverpark kitchen, and each day's menu will be created by our chefs based on the farm's daily harvest. We are now taking reservations for lunch and dinner!

Check back soon for sneak peeks at what's being served at the Farm Table—but for now, here are some photos to show you what we've been up to this summer!



The Alexandria Center's West Tower Construction Site, Fall 2007


The Alexandria Center's West Tower Construction Site, Fall 2010


Moving the plants indoors to prepare for Hurricane Irene, August 2011


Turning the 'wichcraft cube next door into a temporary greenhouse
to protect the crops from Irene.


Celebrating the opening of Riverpark Farm with our friends and partners
that helped make it happen! photo credit: Eric Ribeiro

Friday, September 02, 2011

Sharing Riverpark Farm with ABC News NOW


Post by Chrissa




What with the flash flooding, earthquakes and Irene threats that August brought to New York City, we're thrilled that the launch of our farm is still on track. This week, the construction walls came down and we finished buidling the deck, gates and Farm Table.

We've had a lot of interested media stop by the farm, and today we taped a segment with ABC News NOW. We'll share the link when it airs, so you can see what Sisha made with this produce from the farm!



Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Tips After a Rainy Weekend


Post by Zach



Our informal rain gauge (pictured above) told us we got hit with at least 4 inches of rain on Sunday. Some parts of NYC received up to 8 inches of rain. 8 inches!

With flood warnings all over the region, gardeners and farmers are right to be concerned about their crops, especially in this time of bounty. After all, plants need air supplied to the roots just as much as they need water. Too much water cut off air supply and suffocate plants. After months of tending to tomato plants, the last thing you need is a late summer suffocation. So here are some tips for making sure your home garden doesn't drown—especially as forecasters call for more rain on the way...

1. Start with good soil!

This can't be overstated for a number of reasons—plant health being paramount. But when it comes to heavy rain, well draining soil will save your plants. After all, plants need air as much as they need water, and excess water will suffocate them. Compost is a good base for any healthy soil and happens to be naturally good at retaining water at a healthy level, while letting excess beyond that run off. Well-draining potting mix may also contain plenty of peat moss, coconut coir, and/or perlite—all are light, fluffy and allow water to pass through freely.

2. If you're gardening in containers:
Be sure containers have good drainage and fill the container with at least an inch of rock, broken terra cotta, or styrofoam peanuts. This will ensure that excess water is not just sitting in the bottom of your containers.

3. If you're planting in the ground:
Consider digging down two feet in your planting beds to lay clay drainage tile at the beginning of the season before planting your crops. This serves the same function as pebbles in the bottom of a container, essentially eliminating the storage of excess water.

4. And finally:
If you've done all this, let it rain! At this time of year we typically need a boost in water levels. Most crops are in peek production at this time and are absorbing more water than Mother Nature can provide. So it never hurts to have a long-sustained soaking for your plants. If we continuously had rain like we did over the weekend, you might experience some nutrient loss from the soil, as excess water takes the good stuff with it on the way out of your containers or well-drained bed. But this would happen only in extreme cases.

So for now, like we're doing here at Riverpark Farm, enjoy the break from handling the hose.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Meet Farmer Zach Pickens




Greetings all! I'm Zach Pickens, Farm Manager at the brand new Riverpark Farm. We have plenty to keep us busy on the farm--keeping up with both the watering and the endless crop harvests is enough. But from time to time I'll be sharing goings-on around the farm to give you all a glimpse into what will be showing up on your plate at dinner, and maybe even teaching you a thing or two about gardening and the food system. But first, context...
I've always been inspired by the writings of Louis Bromfield (author, screenwriter, and farmer from my hometown of Mansfield, Ohio). In his 1948 book Out of the Earth, he writes about the need to farm 'from three to twenty feet down', criticizing farmers at the time for depleting their topsoil while ignoring the nutrient rich subsoils that lay below. He called for crop rotations that would bring the nutrients up to ground level so the crops could be plowed under and replenish the topsoil, thus creating a more dynamic farm plan. But most importantly, he was calling for a change in farmers' view of their land. He called for a move from two dimensional farming concerned with plots and profits, farming that ignored natural order, to three dimensional farming concerned with the whole land.

Today, myself and many like me are working to change what has come to be recognized as our unsustainable food system. Conventional (as in non-organic, factory) farming is 'topsoil'-level farming, farming that is depleting our land, hurting our environment, and disempowering our communities. Now in urban settings, people all over the country are finding new ways to change their food system, moving their plots above the ground, cultivating food on fire escapes and roofs, in window farms and hydroponic systems, in window boxes and vertical farms. They are addressing the problem of how to get fresh, healthy food in an urban environment with creative problem solving and community sharing and support. They are learning how to farm from three to twenty feet UP. Riverpark Farm is a big, new contribution to this effort, and is a natural extension to all that I have worked on in urban agriculture and food service. Having grown up in a food family--my father owns a restaurant and catering company and my mother teaches Culinary Arts--, at a young age I learned every restaurant job there was, from stocking soda coolers, to cooking on a line, to balancing the books and counting the money. To boot, I grew up in rural Ohio where my parents and grandparents kept gardens. My first job outside of my father's business was at the local orchard, picking blueberries for $.50 per pound. This all came in handy when I moved to New York seeking work that connected me to both people and soil. Since 2007, I've been farming rooftops, composting, saving seeds, building school garden programs, teaching workshops, and generally having a good time in the dirt. But I've also worked with GrowNYC building industry skills in wholesale produce buying and handling, and seasonal food sales. And now I'm tying all of this up into one BIG project, with one BIG customer.

So enjoy the food and enjoy the blog. We're dead in the middle of the season of plenty, so there will be much to share and much to eat.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Something's Growing at Riverpark


Post by Sisha

Thanks for visiting the Riverparkfarm.com, the official website of the Riverpark Farm at Alexandria Center. I'm the chef and a partner at Riverpark restaurant and one of the founders of the Riverpark farm.

On these pages you can learn about the 15,000 square foot urban farm we built in a stalled construction site on East 29th Street in New York City. We sometimes refer to our farm as the “most urban farm” because it's right in the heart of the largest city in the United States. We're not located in a park or preserve either, we're at street level at 430 East 29th Street.

I invite you to visit this website often to get to know some of the people working at our farm, pick up some urban farming tips, recipes and cooking tips for fresh produce. We also hope to inspire people to try their hand at growing some of their own food. We're doing it now in the most improbable of places – an urban construction site – using thousands of soil-filled milk crates as our farmer's field. There's nothing quite like eating just-picked, “hyper-fresh” produce, both in terms of flavor and nutrition. If we can do it, so can you.

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