A new farm on the Lower East Side is proving that rooftops are for more than sunset cocktails and illegal barbecues. Essex Crossing Farm, which opened today at 125 Delancey Street, will grow fresh, affordable produce for local vendors and residents. It’s part of Essex Crossing, a mixed use series of buildings hosting market-rate and affordable housing as well as the sprawling Essex Street Market. At 10,000 sq. ft., Essex Crossing Farm will be the largest urban farm on the island of Manhattan.
“Food that’s grown right here and harvested is more nutritious and more tasty than any food you’re going to get anywhere else,” said Linda Bryant, founder of Project EATS, a main partner of the farm and the host of the opening. Bryant started Project EATS during the 2008 global food crisis, when food prices around the world hit a dramatic high.
Essex Crossing Farm is located atop the Essex, an apartment building with 50 percent affordable apartments and market-rate studio apartments starting at a totally reasonable $3,492. The farm features rows of individual lots growing produce such as turnips, beets, radishes and spinach, and looks out over sweeping views south to the Lower East Side and north to Midtown. Project EATS plans to grow at least 10,000 pounds of produce at the farm each season, a quota set by another one of their farms, across from Marcus Garvey Apartments in Brownsville. The public can get Essex Crossing Farm’s produce at their “Farmacy,” currently located in Essex Crossing Park, at Broome Street between Clinton and Suffolk.
Despite the farm’s posh location, Project EATS says the goal is to get affordable-housing residents both fresh produce and leisurely activities a few steps from their home. Essex Crossing will have 561 affordable units total at its buildings. Affordable units open now include 11 condominiums at 242 Broome Street, 98 rentals at the Essex, 104 rentals at the Rollins, and 99 senior rentals at the Frances Goldin Senior Apartments. Under construction are 84 affordable studio rentals strictly for elderly residents in a new development at 140 Essex Street, and 121 affordable rentals at 180 Broome Street. In addition to giving affordable-housing residents cheap produce options, Project EATS plans on hosting rooftop events specifically for these residents, including free yoga, group farming sessions, and free Saturday breakfasts inspired by the Black Panthers’ “Free Breakfast Program,” which provided free breakfast to children before school.
“The ultimate goal of ours is to really help to support and strengthen the ties between residents,” said Bryant. “We see each other as a unit of people working to make the best possible place for us to live.”
Bryant says events open to affordable-housing residents will begin towards the end of August, and others will be open to the general public. A collaboration with Seward Park Educational Campus will allow students to plant produce at the farm.
Nonetheless, for all the bridges it is building with local schools and residents, Essex Crossing Farm still has work to do in bridging the divide between Essex Crossing and the public housing residents across the street. “When I first came down here, it seemed like the NYCHA residents were concerned about this as a development and how that was going to impact them,” said Bryant.
The development at Essex Crossing did not come without skepticism from residents of the housing authority’s Seward Park Extension complex or from other Lower East Side activist groups. According to Bowery Boogie, new development at Essex Crossing sites cost the neighborhood 500 parking spaces. Essex Crossing has also been cited in broader arguments against high-rise developments that activist organizations such as the Lower East Side Organized Neighbors Coalition say are changing the architectural and neighborhood character of the Lower East Side. The Essex is 26 stories tall.
Still, Project EATS is confident this gap between NYCHA and Essex Crossing can be alleviated through complementary events and free vegetables. “That’s going to be a wonderful challenge,” said Linda. “We’re going to go across the street and say, ‘We want you to come over here and join us and we’re going to come over and join you.’ It’s about building bridges and community.”
Essex Crossing Farm was created in collaboration with partners including developers Delancey Street Associates and the nonprofit Project EATS, which already owns ten urban farms across the boroughs. The project’s primary goal is to provide produce that fits each community’s desires and price point. Farms in neighborhoods like Brownsville and East New York, for example, have offered produce like callaloo and okra to please their largely Caribbean populations.
Essex Crossing Farm’s “Farmacy” is currently open Wednesdays and Saturdays from 11am-4pm. It will move to a permanent location at Market Line, Essex Crossing’s bazaar-like food hall on Broome Street between Clinton and Essex, this fall.
Correction, Aug. 1: This post was revised because it was imprecise about the number of affordable units at Essex Crossing.