Gotham Greens took the greenhouse industry by storm when it built the first rooftop greenhouse in the U.S. in the Greenpoint neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY, back in 2011. The 15,000-square-foot facility was designed to serve local grocery stores with 100,000 pounds annually of locally grown, sustainably produced leafy greens and herbs, including butterhead lettuce, basil, and arugula. Since then, the operation has expanded to three more locations.
The second location, a custom-built, 20,000-square-foot greenhouse constructed on the roof of a Whole Foods store, provides fresh produce to retail customers downstairs, taking locally grown to a new level. The greenhouse opened in January 2014, and produces more than 200 tons of fresh leafy greens and tomatoes annually.
In November 2015, Gotham Greens expanded beyond New York to open its first greenhouse in Chicago, on top of a new Method Products soap factory in the historic Pullman neighborhood. The 75,000-square-foot structure is currently the largest rooftop greenhouse in the world, and employs 40 people. The facility is expected to produce more than 10 million heads of leafy greens, which will be sold to local food retailers, restaurants and caterers. A small portion will be donated to the Greater Chicago Food Depository.
Most recently, the fourth location of Gotham Greens opened in the Hollis neighborhood of Queens, NY. The 60,000-square-foot location, built on the roof of the historic Ideal Toy Company factory, was completed late in 2015 and opened in February 2016. The operation will grow more than 5 million heads of fresh leafy greens annually for the New York City market, and employs 50 people.
Combined, the two new facilities opened in the past year, including the 2-acre facility in Chicago and the Queens location, represent an almost 400% expansion of Gotham Greens’ business overall. The four locations total 170,000 square feet, and CEO Viraj Puri says Gotham Greens isn’t going to stop there — the business has plans to expand in New York, Chicago, and other cities.
Why Build On A Rooftop?
Constructing greenhouse structures on top of other buildings is about as challenging as you can imagine, Puri says. In addition to the regular struggles associated with building greenhouses, there are additional regulatory and permit challenges, design and architectural considerations to be made, and operational logistics that come into play.
Gotham Greens has used similar gutter-connected, A-frame, atrium-style structures and polycarbonate glazing with energy and shade curtains for all four locations.
“The greenhouses have some additional design considerations like custom sizing, increased wind load accommodation, and modified footers/column bases,” Puri says.
While the greenhouses were similar, building in Chicago was a bit different from building in New York, due to differing codes and regulatory environments. Plus, the winter there is long and windy with a lot of snow, he says.
Inside Gotham Greens’ fully environmentally controlled greenhouses, the operation employs supplemental lighting with partial LED technology, as well as energy curtains, fans, and heaters. The business was originally started by Puri, an environmental engineer by trade, “to address some of the growing ecological problems with conventional agriculture, like heavy water use, pollution, carbon emissions, energy use, and a general lack of sustainability,” he says.
To that end, Gotham Greens emphasizes sustainable growing with its recirculating nutrient-film technique (NFT) hydroponics systems to conserve water use, minimize runoff, and protect soil resources. It’s powered entirely by renewable energy, including a wind turbine and solar panels on site at the Method factory in Chicago and solar panels at the Gowanus Whole Foods and Greenpoint locations in Brooklyn. In addition, Gotham Greens purchases renewable energy to meet the majority of the year-round demand, and because its crops are distributed ultra-locally, the carbon footprint from gas emissions is lessened significantly, Puri says.
“[Growing on rooftops] allows us to be in the heart of a city to be closer to consumers; it is an innovative and adaptive re-use of unused space; and it protects soil and water resources.”