Bushwick

Fish on the roof — and micro basil, too — in Bushwick

Eye On Real Estate: Piscine production and salad greens galore at Edenworks, an aquaponic farm

August 5, 2015 By Lore Croghan Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Garden Of Eden — actually it's Edenworks, an aquaponic farm in Bushwick. Eagle photos by Lore Croghan
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Up in the air, tilapia swim.

In Bushwick, you can say such a thing and nobody can call you crazy.

Fine fish are frolicking by the tubful on the roof of an industrial building at the corner of Bushwick and Johnson avenues.

There’s piscine production going on at Edenworks, an aquaponic farm in a greenhouse on the roof of 236 Johnson Ave., upstairs from ornamental iron works and gates maker Kendi Iron Works.

“They are happy and lively,” Jason Green, Edenworks CEO and co-founder, said as he peered into a tank of tilapia the other day, during a tour he graciously gave us.

“With the exception of one that jumped out of the tank, we haven’t lost a fish in eight to 10 months,” said Green.

After the inadvertently flying fish was found out of water, Edenworks staffers covered the tanks with netting so there will be no more mishaps of this sort.

Gorgeous vegetables grown at Edenworks Farm Lab — including micro basil and other flavor-packed micro greens and salad staples like escarole and celery — are sold to restaurants in Manhattan and Brooklyn. The tilapia that are harvested (that’s the correct verb to use when describing fish farming) are served at the “family meal” Edenworks employees eat together on Fridays.       

“The tilapia are awesome,” Green said.

The innovative greenhouse in the sky is a block away from the Montrose Avenue L train. Customers of foodie fave Dun-Well Doughnuts, a vegan bakery at 222 Montrose Ave., may not realize there’s a foodie hotspot of a different sort on nearby Johnson Avenue.

At the Farm Lab, micro greens growing in coco coir (which is fiber from coconut husks) are so tiny, they look like toy food. But their taste is astonishingly similar to that of full-sized vegetables.

Green gave us carefully washed samples of the micro greens. One tiny sprig tasted like a mouthful of peas. Another slim blade of greenery tasted like a big radish. A third sprig, almost as thin as a thread, had the full-bodied flavor of a Bianca di Maggio onion.

Ghostly-pale prawns

So you needn’t look it up in the dictionary, aquaponics is the fusion of aquaculture, aka fish farming, and hydroponics, which is plant cultivation in a nutrient-rich solution instead of soil.

“We are an agricultural technology company,” said Green. That really is his last name, not a farm-friendly pseudonym.

“The basic thesis is as the world grows denser, food production needs to double worldwide by 2050,” he said. “Eighty percent of the arable land is already in use. We’re trying to develop infrastructure that doesn’t require arable land.”

The Farm Lab has been up and running for a year.

Vegetables grow on shelves that rise to the 12-foot ceiling. Tomatoes and eggplant, which need the warmest temps, are on the high shelves. Salad greens, which do better with a bit less heat, are closest  to the floor.

The tanks of tilapia — and ghostly-pale freshwater prawns, too — are tucked beneath some produce shelves.

Waste water from the fish tanks supplies fertilizer for the plants. Mushrooms that are growing give off carbon dioxide the plants need to survive and take in oxygen the plants emit.

The temperature in the glass building is maintained at around 85 degrees Fahrenheit. In the summer, air conditioning and fans keep it from getting hotter. In cold-weather months, sunshine does much of the work of warming the place.

“People loved being here in the winter — it was like the tropics,” Green said.

We hope to be invited for a follow-up visit when January snows blow into B’KLYN.

‘A place to prototype and test technology’

What’s all this got to do with real estate? For starters, the vertical stacking of plant containers and fish tanks that Edenworks’ designers have devised is an impressively efficient use of floor space.

The Farm Lab greenhouse has an 800-square-foot footprint — but 1,200 square feet of food-production space.

Also, an industrial building’s bare rooftop is being put to good use.

Moreover, the Farm Lab is a 50% scale model of an even more efficient aquaponic farm Edenworks will start constructing in Long Island City this fall. The Queens facility is expected to open in first-quarter 2016.

The Farm Lab in Bushwick is not meant to be a profitable commercial venture in and of itself.

“It’s a place to prototype and test technology,” Green explained.

After the full-scale Long Island City farm opens, possibly Edenworks employees might use the Bushwick greenhouse to grow their own seed stock.  

While we’re on the subject of real estate, Green chose the roof of 236 Johnson Ave. as the location for the Farm Lab because his father-in-law, Zadok Zvi, owns the building through a family company. Zvi is an industrial engineer; he runs Kendi Iron Works.

“He’s an inventor,” Green explained. “He loves a crazy idea.”

Edenworks pays part of the building’s real estate taxes and water, sewer and electricity costs.

Green’s wife, Debi Zvi, is Edenworks’ head of nutrition and culture.

 

From cognitive neurophysiology to urban farming

Before launching Edenworks with co-founders Matt La Rosa and Ben Silverman, Green got a bachelor of science degree with a concentration in physiology and neurobiology from the University of Maryland.

He was a research assistant at the university’s Cognitive Motor Neuroscience Laboratory. And later he worked as an assistant research scientist at the Sheryl & Daniel R. Tishman Cognitive Neurophysiology Laboratory at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx.

Green changed his career path because “medicine is a slow process you have very little control over,” he said. “I wanted agency — to take innovation to market.”

As a preparation for running a high-tech farming business, he studied civil engineering at Polytechnic Institute of New York University. He was the vice president of NYU-Poly’s Entrepreneurship and Innovation Association.


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