Tuesday, May 12, 2009


BK Farmyards is an urban farming network in Brooklyn whose mission is to promote sustainable living through the introduction of farmyards into the existing urban fabric. BK Farmyards strategy is to stay nimble, to react to what is available between the cracks of development. A decentralized network provides local produce to each neighborhood without the transportation costs. While there are other ways to farm urban environments other than the horizontal plane, we are currently focusing our efforts there because the investment costs are much lower. Gleaming towers of produce excite us, but we don’t have that kind of capital.

One of our goals is to encourage partnerships between local farmers and developers with idle land. There are three issues that we are addressing: incentives, soil, and liability + zoning. We will save soil and liability + zoning for the next post.

Developers who choose to transform their idle land to farmyard can better their reputation in future community matters. As most developers need community support to build their projects, it is in their best interest to be known for increasing the quality of life in a neighborhood. The common goal of the developer and community is a vibrant, sustainable district: for the developer, it keeps property values from dropping before they sell their investment, and the benefits to the community are readily apparent. It is easy to forget that developers are our neighbors, although temporarily, and have a vested interest in the future of the area: they have social, economic, and environmental responsibilities to the neighborhoods they create.

Developers (along with an army of architects and planners) determine what kinds of spaces we inhabit, how many square feet in an average apartment, how much light and air we receive, etc. Whether or not developers provide communities that we enjoy is a hard-to-measure social bottom line. While values vary from neighborhood to neighborhood, Brooklynites continue to forward the local food agenda as evidenced by the growing farms in East New York, Red Hook, and the 3,000 attendees of the Brooklyn Food Conference last weekend. Temporarily converting idle land to farmyard would significantly increase the quality of life in an area that values fresh, delicious produce from farmers they know, and fosters a homegrown pride.

Of course, developers also have an economic bottom line that prevents certain models from happening in a booming market. In our bust(ed) market, however, developers are sitting on fallow land, paying property taxes, and waiting for the economy to turn around. So why not farming? While it’s never been known to be a money-maker, it uses available resources with low overhead costs. A farming service borrowing the land, at no cost to the developer, seems like a win-win situation for the community. Local food provides green jobs to boost the local economy, and access to fresh produce reduces obesity in neighborhoods as well as increases the quality of life. Because these things make an area more desirable, they will help maintain the property values in the community.

The government says stress factors for banks seem to be improving, but the building industry always lags behind an economic resurgence. When we do start building again, do we want to place ourselves back inside a bubble? Why not become agents of local change now?

The surge in ‘green’ and ‘sustainable’ buildings shows that developers are embracing their environmental bottom line to ensure that the human race can continue on this planet. While the health benefits of green space and the air and light it provides is well documented (the whole reason for our zoning laws), a new idea of green space is emerging that includes a productive foodscape. These farmyards teach us that we are only as healthy as our food, and our food is only as healthy as our environment. The publicity of farming land in the densest city in the United States is priceless. For marketing purposes, farmed sites would be green development projects. All this, still, at no cost.

If these reputational incentives are not enough, the city could waive property taxes while the land is being farmed. This money could aid the farming service in the initial set-up costs thereby ensuring the economic viability of the project. There are precedents for solar power, wind power, and green roof tax incentives. While waiving property taxes temporarily reduces the city’s coffers, the additional jobs provide income tax to the city, and dollars are kept in the city to be spent at another local business rather than exported to supermarket conglomerates.

What do developers really have to lose by temporarily transforming their sites to farmyards? Do developers need an extra incentive or should the boost in community relations, the green marketing campaign, and possibility of higher property values at no additional cost be enough?

We would like to hear your thoughts. All arguments for and against are welcome as well as additional benefits you see for the developers.

For more information on our project, go to www.bkfarmyards.com
We are looking for developers or city officials to partner in the development of farmyards around the city.