A Pop-Up Greenhouse Could Bring Farm-Fresh Food To Food Deserts

The Greenhouse Project could generate as much as 8,000 pounds of produce every 12 weeks.

Farmers’ markets, organic groceries, CSAs: They’re a great way for conscientious urbanites to snap up fresh produce. But the fact is, farm-to-table foods aren’t cheap, preventing many low-income families from eating healthy.

That could change with the Greenhouse Project in Brooklyn. This conceptual "pop-up farm" would be built in Cypress Hills, a low-income neighborhood with extremely high obesity rates and a dearth of access to nutritious food. A forward-thinking group of architects, engineers, and designers hopes to offer a corrective by providing hydroponic food to local residents through an off-grid mobile unit. The group estimates that it could farm 8,000 pounds of produce every 12 weeks.

But the Greenhouse Project isn’t just about growing fresh produce. The plan is to turn the place into an educational hub. Local schools could visit on field trips to learn about the connection between science, nutrition, and climate change. Residents could take classes on urban agriculture and greenhouse construction.

So why is the Greenhouse Project a pop-up? The unit’s proposed location is on an empty brownfield in Cypress Hills, one of many in the area. The site, though owned by the city, is too expensive to be cleaned up and used for new housing developments—at least for now. "This is why our project sits above the ground—so that we can use any available site ASAP," explains Emily Abruzzo, the project architect. "If HPD [NYC’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development] does decide that they want to use the site, the greenhouse will be disassembled and moved to another site. Ideally, there could… be a network of greenhouses, but the idea is to start with one as a prototype." Plus, as long as the structure is temporary, project coordinators don’t have to secure building permits.

The Greenhouse Project is just one of several collaborations under the direction of desigNYC. With the intent to foster social change through design, desigNYC connects designers with nonprofits, community groups, and city agencies. The roster of projects for 2011 includes: branding for a new urban ecology initiative; a pop-up plaza in Brooklyn; and a new community center for an existing waterfront park. The Greenhouse Project is a collaboration between the Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation, Abruzzo-Bodziak Architects, NY Sunworks, and graphic designer Claire Taylor Hansen.

DesigNYC is gearing up for its 2012 campaign, "Recharging Communities." If you have bright ideas, and you’re looking to do good at an urban scale, check out the group’s call for submissions.

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  • Urban Sustainable Farmer

    I'd really like to see them produce 8,000 lbs every 4 months in 800 square feet.  It is obvious that these people have never picked up a spade before.  True, you might pull off this if you stacked the beds with grow lights, fans and possibly CO2, but it would mean monstrous electrical bills and with a production level that high you would have to truck in large amounts of inputs (compost, manure, etc) very often which in NYC are very expensive.  In the winter months you will have to shift to cold weather crops which have a much longer maturation period or pay to heat a greenhouse which is really really expensive particularly in NY's winters.  There are operations in similar cities/climates attempting to do the same thing right now and they are floundering under their need for electricity.

    With all that money you could just buy the produce from a vendor and sell it cheap.  That or lease an acre outside the city and truck it in. 

  • philmang

    Several studies have shown that in many areas this statement: "But the fact is, farm-to-table foods aren't cheap, preventing many low-income families from eating healthy." is false.
    While it is true that many farmers that sell farm to table foods work to produce higher value boutique foods, farmers' markets all over the US regularly price compare their produce with comparable produce at local stores and find their produce to be cheaper. 
    Access to farm-to-table foods for low-income communities is rarely based upon cost but perceptions, accessibility of markets and organizational recruitment of farmers to serve those markets. 

  • BetTheFarm

    Although it's a completely different market, in Omaha, NE an entrepreneur has created a rather successful CSA program where a portion is directed at food deserts (along with a regular CSA program).  She runs an indoor farmers market there and grew a CSA program from the 40+ vendors in the store.  This last year she was able to secure a contribution from two large local companies to help around 25 low-income families pay for half of their CSA bag for the year (they could also use SNAP cards to pay for a portion of the remaining balance).  During the weekly delivery they would then bring in a local chef to do a cooking demo for the CSA members to show them easy ways to prepare meals with the weekly bag.  She told me the CSA membership for this last season was around 250 and they are hoping to grow it to almost 400 by next year, working with local companies to integrate the CSA program with their health benefit programs. 

  • E Francis024

    This is an awesome idea and should add value to the community.  Instead of having it be hydroponics maybe it could be aquaponics.  Aquaponics is the raising of fish and utilizing the fish waste as nutrients for the grow beds for the vegatables.  You have to discard the hydroponic water after it being used so this would be a way to minimize the waste from the system.

    The idea is great and we need more of these ideas to help the food deserts in America