Recommended Readings: “The Farm on the Roof” by Anastasia Cole Plakias

April 27, 2016 at 6:09 pm

The Farm on the Roof

I just finished The Farm on the Roof: What Brooklyn Grange Taught Us About Entrepreneurship, Community, and Growing a Sustainable Business, Avery, April 5, 2016, by Anastasia Cole Plakias, vice president and founding partner of Brooklyn Grange.  Driven by their visionary and tenacious spirit, we’ve followed the young company from the start because of Ben Flanner, president and head farmer, whom we had followed from his prior work at Eagle Street Farm – and, in fact, supported their Brooklyn Grange Kickstarter campaign in a very small way back in 2010.  So we are always happy to hear about their happenings and I eagerly read about how Brooklyn Grange got its start and has evolved into a shining beacon for sustainable urban rooftop farming.

The Farm on the Roof

The Brooklyn Grange Flagship Farm in Long Island City, Queens, NY.

Currently spanning two rooftops, Brooklyn Grange grows an abundance of crops atop a total of 2.5 acres, producing over 50,000 lbs of organically-grown vegetables each year.  They also operate an apiary, keeping bees in over 30 naturally-managed honey bee hives, on roofs dispersed throughout New York City.  As a result of their tenacity, Brooklyn Grange is the U.S.’s leading soil-based rooftop farming and intensive greenroofing business, and the farms bear the fruits of their labor – in this case with their wholesale, retail, and CSA members literally eating the fruits of their labor!

The Farm on the Roof

Celebrating with neighbors and colleagues at a Flagship Farm event.

Pleasantly surprised by the structure of the book, I am also very impressed not only by the team’s successes, but with their whole-hearted respect and commitment to each other and the communities in which they grow at their Flagship Farm in Queens, New York and the Brooklyn Navy Yard rooftop farm.

“In 2009, a hopeful group of individuals found each other and their purpose. From backgrounds as varied as finance, hospitality, and writing, the founders of Brooklyn Grange set out to grow food on the rooftops and unused spaces of NYC. What they found was a world rich in opportunity, challenges and hard-won lessons. The Farm on the Roof tells the story of how their unique approach to entrepreneurship allowed them to turn a previously untested concept—an ecologically and financially sustainable rooftop farm—into an operating, money-making enterprise.” ~ from their publisher, Avery

Presented in an a non-lineal format, the gritty narrative draws in readers immediately with stories of the nascent ideals, inspirations and aspirations, cautions, and many struggles of the start-up from the kindred spirits of the founding members, Anastasia Cole Plakias, Gwen Schantz, and Ben Flanner, who started the business in 2009 with help from two of the owners of Roberta’s, and now operate the farms with partner Chase Emmons, who joined the team in 2011.

The Farm on the Roof

The Brooklyn Navy Yard Farm

Starting with “The Crossroads of Complicity and Conviction: Why We Left Steady Jobs to Take a Chance on a Dream” and ending with “It Takes a Village: The Partnerships That Make Us Whole,” The Farm on the Roof flows beautifully and organically – almost like a well-written novel.  Readers glean insight into each founding partner’s background, their desire to be able to work at a job they loved where they felt they could achieve measurable progress; at the end, you get a sense of knowing a good bit about their personas and commitment to each other.  In this way The Farm on the Roof offers an intimate, behind-the scenes look at the principals and the farms on a daily basis as well as the greater perspective of where they came from individually and how they would like to continue to grow as a well-knit team.

Although Anastasia does go in depth regarding vegetable crops, soil issues, farming conditions of a roof in the sky, etc., this is not so much a How-To on rooftop agriculture as it is on creating a small, sustainably-principled and run business.  This is truly a book for anyone considering starting a small business, offering insight into making sure the partners have similar ideals and goals; sharing numerous lessons learned from strategic dealings with public and private stakeholders; giving advice on the importance of record keeping and number-crunching as well as selling techniques to wary roof landlords; fostering community-focused products and programs; creating multiple revenue streams such as their events, lectures, and educational programs; and when time and money are of the essence, simply pushing through the hard times, or “just monster it” as they say.

The Farm on the Roof

Yoga atop the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

Anastasia says her name may be on the book, but all of her family of Brooklyn Grange crew members contributed greatly to their story, and examples and specifics abound.  I certainly recommend The Farm on the Roof to anyone considering entering the hard-working field of urban rooftop agriculture and really to everyone considering getting into our greenroofing market with any type of a small brick and mortar business – tons of great insights, and lots of do’s and don’ts here in this inspirational book!

Here are some early words of praise:

“Brooklyn Grange represents the best of passion and purity. Every page of this book oozes the sweet nectar of creativity, community, and commercial wisdom. That the story reads like a fast-paced novel simply confirms the power of visionary sustainable businesses.” ~ Joel Salatin, Author, Farmer, and Owner of Polyface Farm

“This book answers the big, tormenting question: how can a small, organic, local farm become financially independent? It’s a blue print for the term “Sustainable Agriculture,” which requires not only that we don’t pollute Mother Earth, but that we find ways to make farming work financially in order to perpetuate and sustain it.” ~ Isabella Rossellini, Actress, Filmmaker, Author, and Conservationist

Aramis and I had the great pleasure to attend a private dinner function at the awesome Brooklyn Navy Yard rooftop farm last October at the 2015 Cities Alive Green Roof & Wall Conference, sponsored by rooflite®, whose intensive ag growing media they use at both farms.  We enjoyed a lovely dinner among colleagues and the stars and the folks at Brooklyn Grange.  If you have the opportunity to visit either of the farms, you should! Just check on availability first at their website.

The Farm on the Roof

A view of the Flagship Farm; photo courtesy of rooflite®.

And I have featured Brooklyn Grange a couple of times over the years in Haven Kiers’ and my annual Top 10 List of Hot Trends in Greenroof & Greenwall Design, most recently last year in the #9 category “Beekeeping on the Roof: Biodiversity with Pollinators.”  In 2013 Ben Flanner participated in our second biennial Greenroofs & Walls of the World™ Virtual Summit in the collaborative video “Skyrise Ag: 5 Ways to Local Food Production” with Helen Cameron, Mohamed Hage, George Irwin, Ben Flanner and Alan Joaquin.  You can watch the video here.

More info:


Read The Farm on the Roof Penguin Random House Press Release.

Buy The Farm on the Roof on or visit Brooklyn Grange for a list of other sellers here.  And if you’re in the neighborhood on May 15th, you can attend a book reading at KGB Bar as part of a guest-curated series on food-related readings!  For more info, contact Brooklyn Grange at or leave them a message at 347.670.3660.

The Farm on the Roof

An evening at the Brooklyn Navy Yard rooftop farm.

Kudos, Anastasia, on a great job telling the Brooklyn Grange story!

By Linda S. Velazquez Publisher Announces the “2015 Top 10 List of Hot Trends in Greenroof & Greenwall Design”

October 28, 2015 at 12:26 pm

Our Design Editor Haven Kiers and I recently inaugurated our yearly “Top 10 List of Hot Trends in Greenroof & Greenwall Design” at CitiesAlive 2015 in Brooklyn, and it was awesome!  We had a wonderful turn out, and as usual, we had a great time sharing our vision of trending projects and designers.

Now Aramis and I are off to Singapore next week where I’ll present it solo at the International Skyrise Greenery Conference (ISGC) 2015 on November 5-7.  The ISGC also promises to be a fantastic event if it was anything like our first trip there when I spoke in 2010 at their inaugural conference.


If you have not seen our actual 2015 Top List, here’s our Press Release:

The World Wide Web. – October 4, 2015 – Now in our ninth year,’s dynamic Top 10 List of Hot Trends in Greenroof & Greenwalls Design holds the promise of exciting and important new projects from local and international designers to thrill, invigorate, and inspire you.  Compiled yearly since 2007 by Publisher Linda S. Velazquez and Design Editor Haven Kiers, they spotlight newsworthy, spectacular, sometimes fantastical, forward-thinking designs and designers. is proud to inaugurate the 2015 Top 10 Hot List this week at the 13th Annual 2015 CitiesAlive Green Roof & Wall Conference in Brooklyn, New York on October 5 – 8 where both Haven and Linda will be presenting.  Also, Linda will share this year’s Top 10 in Singapore at the International Skyrise Greenery Conference (ISGC) on November 5-7, 2015.

“While promoting the global living architecture industry and community here on a daily basis, it’s extremely important to highlight yearly market trends and feature some of the best and brightest designs as inspiration to us all. ” ~ Linda S. Velazquez, ASLA, LEED AP, GRP

In addition to unique examples of client specific boutique greenroofs and walls that always defy categorization, the buzz in 2015 encompasses trends from across the planet that have been building momentum since the end of 2014.  We’re seeing increased growth in specific market sectors, such as the sports industry, as well as particular areas of the world such as Washington, D.C. and the Mediterranean region.  With the decline of bees and other pollinators posing a direct threat to the world’s food supply, ecologists are stepping up – to the roof – to help the plight of the bee through design.  And the trend of the mega greenroof is once again on the rise, as in the case of massive rooftop parks.  Another category with intensive greenroofs, Urban Rooftop Forests, is also popular because of the deeper growing medium’s ability to sustain and nurture trees, who in turn nurture us all.

“As usual, we comb the globe high and low in search of built and proposed projects that catch our design eye and progressive spirit with an attractive combination of ecosensitivity and chic sustainability.” ~ Haven Kiers, MLA, LEED AP, GRP

The Top 10 List of Hot Trends in Greenroof & Greenwall Design for 2015:

10) “Client Specific ‘Boutique’ Greenroofs & Greenwalls”

9) “Beekeeping on the Roof: Biodiversity with Pollinators”

8) Living Architecture in Mediterranean Climates”

7) “Green Transportation Corridors”

6) “Greening Our Capital: Washington DC’s Stately Greenroofs”

5) “Fields of Green: Big League Sports Venues”

4) “Trees, Trees, Trees: Urban Rooftop Forests”

3) “Rooftop Parks: Green Playgrounds of the Rich, Private, & Public”

2) “The Influence of Architects & Designers – Taking a Leadership Role in Design:
William McDonough+Partners and BIG (Bjarke Ingels Group) Architects”

1) “Visionary Wonders of the Green World”

As usual, for 2015 we have reserved the #1 spot for insightful and avant-garde eco-masterpieces with a sky high wow factor.

~ Linda V.

Don’t Miss the Last Early Bird Discount for 2015 CitiesAlive Ending This Friday, September 18!

September 16, 2015 at 4:19 pm

Last Chance for the CitiesAlive 2015 in NYC Early Bird Discount Plus the Exclusive Hotel Rate!

Hosted by Green Roofs for Healthy Cities (GRHC) for the 13th time, the 2015 CitiesAlive Green Roof and Wall Conference in Brooklyn is just around the corner!  Have you finalized all of your plans yet?  Most importantly, have you registered?


Don’t forget to:

Register before September 18th for the Last Early Bird Discount  + Special Hotel Rate!

That’s this Friday!

As usual, CitiesAlive is going to be a great event with tons of activities, learning, networking, and just plain fun.  And you can’t get a better city than New York to accommodate it all!

GRHC has done a great job in putting all of this together.  Join over 60 expert speakers in the field of sustainability examining themes of resilience including:


Terrapin partner and co-founder Bill Browning has received this year’s Design for Humanity Award, presented by the American Society for Interior Designers.
Bill Browning will be featured at CitiesAlive as a keynote speaker. His address will inform you about the science of biophilic design and how living architecture contributes to productivity, health, and happiness.
Birgit Siber is a principal at Diamond Schmitt Architects where sustainable design is central to her work. She incorporated the first large scale living wall biofilter at the University of Guelph-Humber.
Along with Alan Darlington, Founder and Vice President of Nedlaw Living Walls, Birgit will explore the design, functionality, and return on investment of living wall biofilters.
Bruce Fowle co-founded FXFOWLE in 1978 and has guided the firm to international recognition for excellence in design, pioneering socially and  environmentally responsible architecture and planning.
Using the renovation and expansion of the Javits Center as a case study, Bruce will discuss the complexity of choreographing the updating of the building systems.

I would be pretty amiss if I also didn’t say to please come and see our Design Editor Haven Kiers and my presentation at CitiesAlive – our annual Top 10 List of Hot Trends in Greenroof & Greenwall Design for 2015 .  We’ll be releasing the 2015 Top 10 List Press Release soon, so stay tuned for that, too:


Linda Velazquez, ASLA, GRP, LEED AP, is the founder and publisher of (1999) and the principal of Sky Gardens Design. publishes The Greenroof & Greenwall Projects Database, The Greenroof & Greenwall Directory, and the GreenroofsTV channel on YouTube. produces the biennial Greenroofs & Walls of the World™ Virtual Summits (2015, 2013, 2011).
Haven Kiers, MLA, LEED AP, GRP, designs and presents nationally about greenroofs and is a founding partner of GreenSwell Design and Planning. She is a trainer with Green Roofs for Healthy Cities where she facilitates the Green Roof 101, 201, & 401 Courses. Haven also teaches courses at the University of California, Davis. Haven is the Design Editor on (2005).

Other activities at CitiesAlive include:

A la carte Registration to fit your schedule
Attend exclusive networking Events like a rooftop dinner and a networking cruise
Receive a special discounted rate for On-Site Accommodations
Discover products and people at the Trade Show
Cutting-edge Training opportunities
Full show Program available for details.

And, check out just some of these awesome CitiesAlive tours on Wednesday, October 7:


L – R Photos: Mark Morrison; Art Elmers; David Sundberg.

Visionaire Rooftop
Wednesday October 7th
3pm – 5pm: $29
1 Hotel Central Park
Wednesday October 7th
3pm – 5pm: $29

Jacob K. Javits Convention Center Roof
Wednesday October 7th
3pm – 5pm: $29
Attend this unique tour of a roof terrace designed by Mark K. Morrison Landscape Architecture, located on the 35th floor of a LEED Platinum-certified condominium in lower Manhattan. This project features a large potager vegetable garden with vertical screens for climbing vegetables and a fruit orchard with dwarf trees as well as a cold frame for year round harvest, an herb garden in a knot design, and a patch for berries. Visit this new green hotel on Sixth Avenue just one block from Central Park in the heart of Manhattan and explore the inner workings of the efficiency irrigation and fertilization system installed by Netafim that supports a three-story exterior living wall.  Other eco-friendly design features, including the use of reclaimed and natural materials throughout the hotel, reflect 1 Hotel’s commitment to sustainability.
Visit the Javits Convention Center, home to the second largest green roof on a single, free-standing building in the USA installed by Xeroflor. This 292,000 square foot rooftop has been transformed into an energy-saving green haven using sedum grown on a farm in Upstate New York. A recent study found that the roof has attracted nearly a dozen different species of birds who are using the green roof for nesting and breeding.

And these tours on Thursday, October 8:


L – R Photos: Greensulate; Sun Works Center for Environmental Studies; Barbara Norman.

Regis High School
Thursday October 8th
3pm – 5pm: $29
Sun Works Center for Environmental Studies
Thursday October 8th
3pm – 5pm: $29
PS41 – The Greenwich Village School Green Roof, Thursday October 8th, 3pm – 5pm: $29
Explore one of New York City’s largest green roofs with this exclusive tour of Regis High School’s rooftop gardens. Tucked away above Regis’ stately, landmark designated facade, this mini-ecosystem includes native grasses, solar panels, an observatory, apiaries, and herb gardens that supply the school’s cafeteria. Joining us to discuss the design and the environmental benefits of the green roof will be Alexander Roth, Greensulate’s lead landscape designer. The Tour will conclude with a small wine reception. The Sun Works Center for Environmental Studies at P.S. 333, The Manhattan School for Children, is a rooftop environmental education greenhouse, producing hydroponically grown vegetables on the Upper West Side. The project was designed by NY Sun Works, a non-profit organization that builds hydroponic science labs in urban schools. It provides science and sustainability education for approximately 150 K-8th grade students every day. The GELL Project Greenroof Environmental Literacy Laboratory is the first green roof installed by the New York City Department of School Construction Authority (SCA). A 15,000 sq. ft. LiveRoof system covers the building with a wide variety of sedums and New York native plants. The tour will be led by science teacher and project founder Vicki Sando, who will discuss navigating the design process, funding, and construction of this $2 million-dollar project along with how the green roof is integrated into the curriculum.

See all of the tour descriptions at CitiesAlive here.


And, don’t miss the Closing Dinner on Wednesday October 5th which is sure to be an outstanding event, courtesy of Rooflite, on the Brooklyn Grange Roof Farm #1.


We here at hope to see you next month at CitiesAlive 2015!

~ Linda V.

GRHC Announces 2015 Green Roof & Wall Design Awards of Excellence Winners

September 11, 2015 at 11:55 am

Green Roofs for Healthy Cities (GRHC) announced yesterday its second group of winners of its 2015 Design Awards of Excellence.

Jeffrey Bruce, Chair of Green Roofs for Healthy Cities (GRHC), announced the winners in the lead-up to CitiesAlive®: 13th Annual Green Roof and Wall Conference coming up just around the corner in October in Brooklyn, NY.


“Awards in eight categories recognizing outstanding design projects were awarded. Green Roofs for Healthy Cities is proud to have the opportunity to recognize and celebrate these examples of excellence, and share them with attendees at CitiesAlive. The Awards will be formally presented at a luncheon at CitiesAlive (October 5-8, 2015) at the Brooklyn Marriott on Wednesday, October 7th. This year’s conference theme is Resilient People, Communities and Places, featuring cutting-edge designs, new technical performance research, innovative policy work, a trade show with industry leaders, and informative professional training and tours.” ~ Green Roofs for Healthy Cities

Read on from the GRHC September 10, 2015 Press Release:

2015 Design Awards of Excellence Winners

GRHCWinner2015-TriBeCaIntensive Residential
Project: TriBeCa Loft – New York, NY
Award Recipient: New York Green Roofs LLC
Floating amidst lower Manhattan’s skyline, architecture meets nature to transform a penthouse residence into the ultimate garden apartment. This project retrofits a nineteenth century loft building’s rooftops into a series of dynamic and diverse gardens.

Special Recognition
Project: LeFrak Lakeside Center Prospect Park – New York, NY
Award Recipient: Roofmeadow
This recreation facility inserted into the historic landscape, includes two skating rinks, one that is topped with an extensive green roof and intensive green roof areas which are seamlessly integrated into the surrounding landscape, preserving historic design while meeting the needs of a diverse contemporary urban community.


Intensive Industrial/Commercial
Project: Aventura Optima Plaza – Aventura, FL
Award Recipient: Savino & Miller Design Studio
Conceived as a balance of the loss of green space caused by the building’s construction by raising the landscape up and inviting office employees to use the space, activating it with a glass enclosed gymnasium and a tranquil space for relaxation.

Extensive Institutional
Project: Krishna P. Singh Center for Nanotechnology – Philadelphia, PA
Award Recipient: Roofmeadow
The Meadow Roof is a prominent feature of the building attracting individuals and groups eager to enjoy time in the rooftop amenity space. Surrounded by floor to ceiling etched glass walls on three sides and a clear glass railing open to the city on the fourth side, the Meadow Roof is accessible to all who have access to the building.


Extensive Industrial/Commercial
Project: Fidek Office Building – Red Deer, AB
Award Recipient: Berry Architecture + Associates
Part of a major renovation of a run down 1950’s bowling alley, the building is located in the downtown core of the city. The green roof helps to refresh the neighborhood both aesthetically and environmentally.

Small Scale Residential
Project: 58A Melville Ave – Toronto, ON
Award Recipient: Johanne Daoust
This single family rooftop garden implementation was inspired by issues of food security and changing sustainability demands in North America.


Intensive Institutional
Project: Helen Schuler Nature Centre (HSNC) – Lethbridge, AB
Award Recipient: O2 Planning + Design
HSNC is an urban nature centre with the goal of delivering diverse and dynamic nature interpretive programs through a team of volunteers, staff and partners. As part of HSNC’s LEED-Gold certified expansion and renovation, interpretive roof gardens were constructed with the goal of creating a demonstration area for delivering interpretive programs and providing a living classroom for visitors.

External Green Wall
Project: Breathe Wall – Grand Rapids, MI
Award Recipient: LiveWall, LLC
Installed in an urban center, Breathe Wall was intentionally redesigned multiple times over a two year period. With multiple rotating palettes of over 70 different species annuals, edibles and perennials, the wall was used as an abstract art piece designed to convey the message that plants give us more than beauty; they supply us with the very oxygen we breathe.”

The Awards of Excellence luncheon will be held on Wednesday, October 7, 2015 at the Brooklyn Marriott in New York City during CitiesAlive. Visit for more information about the Awards (including photos and background materials). Visit for conference, event, and media registration. For conference media passes contact Tracy Jackson at

MEDIA CONTACT: Steven Peck, founder & president, Green Roofs for Healthy Cities, or 416-971-4494 ext. 223.”


What a wonderful selection of outstanding projects!  Congratulations to everyone involved, in particular to our own Sponsors, Roofmeadow and LiveWall (LiveRoof)!

We’ve recently featured both of Roofmeadow’s awesome honorees, the LeFrak Lakeside Center Prospect Park and the Krishna P. Singh Center for Nanotechnology as our Project of the Week here on and look forward to learning more about the others – and then sharing more with you, too.

We hope to see many of you at CitiesAlive 2015 in Brooklyn!

~ Linda V.