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Sneak Peek: Roberta’s Urban Restaurant Garden

The Heritage Radio Network (HRN) broadcasts live from a shipping container that is set in the midst of a thriving urban garden that grows behind Roberta’s–a pizzeria in Bushwick, Brooklyn. In June, I was lucky enough to visit the radio station, teach a class about herbs in the garden, eat a delicious pizza on the patio and down a cold beer. Yesterday HRN invited me to be a guest on The Farm Report, one of the station’s many food-related radio programs, to discuss harvesting (you can stream the show here or download the podcast on iTunes). As I sat at my kitchen table in Portland during the interview, it was fun to think about Erin Fairbanks, The Farm Report’s host, and Melissa Metrick, Roberta’s gardener, sitting in the shipping container with a rooftop garden full of tomatoes above their heads.

Hemmed in on all sides by streets and buildings, Roberta’s decidedly urban garden is located on a large cement slab and on the roof of the shipping containers that house the HRN office and studio. If you exit the radio station and turn right, a narrow wooden staircase leads you up to the top of the shipping container and into a garden that packs a ton of produce into precious little space. Melissa utilizes every trick in the book to get the most out of  the garden. Tomatoes twine up trellises, baby greens are planted in narrow rows amongst the tomatoes, and quick, successive crops go in and out of the garden all season.

The two roof top garden areas have hoop house frames over the garden beds. When I was visiting in June, one of the hoop houses was covered in plastic and tomatoes, basil and other warm season crops were growing happily in the nearly tropical conditions inside.

Melissa and her team of urban gardening interns grow food for the restaurant and bar, and I spotted lots of baby greens, herbs, and edible flowers tucked in amongst the vegetables.

The Roberta’s orchard is planted in huge plastic containers reclaimed from a brewery. The planters are mobile and the staff often moves them around when the restaurant hosts events. To fully utilize the growing area under the trees, Melissa plants camomile and annuals flowers for the restaurant’s pastry chef to use and to lure in beneficial insects. Raspberries also grow happily in the big containers.

Honeybees from nearby hives visit brassica flowers that were left to bloom for their pollen and nectar. In one of the big beds I saw carrots and leeks interplanted together, and I spotted tons of both purple and green basil growing in spots all over the garden.

There is definitely a waste not, want not ethic on display in the garden. Everything from restaurant-size tomato cans holding plants to the intensive interplanting on display in the beds. The garden really shows that if you want to grow food, you can do so anywhere as long as you have a little bit of pluck and imagination. If you find yourself in New York, go visit Roberta’s. The garden (and the restaurant!) are worth the trek to Bushwick. And even if you don’t have Big Apple plans in your near future, you can tune in to the HRN podcasts to hear about what is going on in the farms and kitchens of people who love local food.

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24 Responses to “Sneak Peek: Roberta’s Urban Restaurant Garden”

  1. 1
    Jan Says:

    I loved this post. I am so thrilled that someone planted all the green lush food and flowering plants in the middle of all the concrete and humanity of the city. It looks awesome and I know that many people are benefiting from it. I applaud the creation and the creator.:-)

  2. 2
    Lynnie M Ford Says:

    This is so inspiring! I would travel to NYC just to hang out at Roberta’s :) (: What is on the menu?? Bet it is delish :P

  3. 3
    Caitlin Says:

    Sure wish this was around when I lived in Bushwick many years ago. I love that they think about the insects!! Can’t wait to go when I visit family in Brooklyn next year.
    Caitlin´s last [type] ..Easy Tips to Prepare For Planting Perennials During Winter

  4. 4
    Charlie Bale Says:

    I really enjoyed your blog. The pictures really drew me into the story and I did stop to listen to the link with the broadcast. This was great. Thank you so much for taking the time to research this.
    Charlie Bale´s last [type] ..Search and Rescue

  5. 5
    Louise Christianson Says:

    Those are fabulous garden pictures, and I love see those pics every now and then. Keep it up! :)
    Louise Christianson´s last [type] ..Egg shape :)

  6. 6
    Karen Says:

    Very inspiring :D

  7. 7
    katie Says:

    Your posts are missed. I hope in this new year you find the time to return to your wonderful blog.

  8. 8
    robyn Says: happy new year !

  9. 9
    Dan "Dirty Hands" Jensen Says:

    Wow what an amazing garden.

    I love the way she has recycled palletainers for grow beds Look forward to some more posts.
    Dan “Dirty Hands” Jensen´s last [type] ..Sweet Sungold Tomato Chutney Recipe

  10. 10
    Planet Organics Says:

    I think it is so amazing that we can grow our own food in our own backyards. Organic food is so much healthier for our bodies.

  11. 11
    pfletch Says:

    You are SO MISSED — online and on air!!! Can we find you in person near Tacoma anytime soon?

  12. 12
    Den Says:

    It is really goo that we grow our own food, especially vegetables, herbs and many more to be safe

  13. 13
    Heather G Says:

    I just discovered your book and simply love it! Where are you now? Please come back!

  14. 14
    KO Says:

    I check your blog occasionally to see if you have begun to write again. I hope you and your family are well.

  15. 15
    PatF in Tacoma Says:

    Willi — On Tuesday, i heard you say on KUOW that, as of June 20th, you have a baby, Grady, and are gardening with him in a baby carrier. Congratulations! I hope you post some photos of you and your new companion.

  16. 16
    Tanya Jackson Says:

    What an inspiring story,I loved the pictures, growing our own veggies is what me and my family do. Thanks for more inspiration.

  17. 17
    John Pettifer Says:

    Wow i have never seen an restaurant garden this spectacular- thanks for sharing! :)

  18. 18
    Sadie Says:

    Love the idea to use a shipping container. NYC and it’s small spaces dictate innovative ideas for gardening. Sounds like you’ve got it figured out! Thank you for posting, keep us updated.

  19. 19
    Piotr Chrzaniecki Says:

    First time I’ve seen something like this aha (:

  20. 20
    Lucy Says:

    Thanks for sharing your photos – it is very inspiring and makes me disappointed I missed spring gardening this year. I’ll have to plant some fall vegetables.

  21. 21
    Nida Simons Says:

    For many this will be a minor point, however. As we’ve already mentioned on a day to day basis the Apple just keeps doing what you need it to with aplomb. It’s solid, dependable and powerful – it just won’t make you feel sexy.

  22. 22
    Tamilnadu Gazette Name Change Says:

    Thanks for sharing wonderful information.

  23. 23
    albert wilson Says:

    I like that peach or plum? I am a master carver for 2 decades now and I love to carve especially vegetable carving . Thank you for sharing this.

  24. 24
    Karen @ Welcome Wine Guests Says:

    Wow! Is that your garden?

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