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.