Tinyfield atop the former Pfizer factory is an innovative and bold venture, the only rooftop farm currently specializing in hops
On the northern border of Bedford Stuyvesant, food start-ups are giving new life to the formerly shuttered Pfizer pharmaceutical factory. Micro greens, crops and other edible goods seem to be sprouting all around – also thanks to Tinyfield Roofhop Farm.
Acumen Capital Partners, a small firm that acquired the old Pfizer building in 2011 and took charge of its redevelopment, has a history of welcoming agricultural ventures. The urban farm Brooklyn Grange is the case in point. After being turned down and considered “crazy” by several building owners in the city, the folks behind the farm approached Jeff Rosenblum, one of Acumen’s two principals. The two parties clicked instantly. Soon after, Brooklyn Grange opened up its first commercial-scale farm on the one-acre rooftop of Acumen’s earlier development in Queens. Given the company’s history and the number of food-related businesses in the Pfizer building, one may wonder: Have food enterprises and urban farms always been part of Acumen’s plans for the redevelopment of the space?
“I’m lying to you if I say we have,” answered Ashish Dua, the other principal at Acumen. “During the process of meeting with about seventy groups from the community to discuss the possible effects of the redevelopment, four or five food manufactures came to us. So we took them in [as tenants]. Then word-of-mouth among young entrepreneurs created a snowball effect. We have just always kept an open mind.”
Since then, Acumen has welcomed Tinyfield Roofhop Farm, another bold agricultural effort, into the fold. Keely Gerhold, who grew up on a farm and once worked at Brooklyn Grange as an apprentice, started the venture in 2015 with a micro loan and funds raised via Indiegogo. What makes the farm a bold endeavor? It is the first and only rooftop farm that grows hops, an experiment born out of curiosity. Thanks to Acumen’s working relationship with Brooklyn Grange, “they are more understanding and supportive of our vision,” said Gerhold.
It is enough of a challenge to be the first and only one in any area; Tinyfield’s choice of crop ups the odds. Hop is a perennial crop that can be harvested only once a year – which means the yield is low.
“A hop-growing operation on such a small a scale is not profitable,” said Gerhold. “At least not at this moment.”
Last year, she harvested two pounds of the crop and sent them to Strong Rope, a craft brewery in Greenpoint. They turned the first batch of Tinyfield’s hops into five gallons of beer. This year’s yield was half as much as last year’s. Due to the small quantity, it will be used for the fermentation process of beer. Fortunately, the hop plant is versatile and can be used in many ways; some restaurants bought hop shoots for baking from Tinyfield.
To sustain the hop farm, Gerhold set up a C.S.A., a community-supported agriculture operation, for additional revenue. She built a small greenhouse which grows micro greens for the C.S.A.’s six members, three of which are Pfizer tenants. Members pay Tinyfield to grow certain micro greens and have them delivered upon harvest.
Gerhold works to create a self-sustained ecosystem on the roof of the former factory – and is willing to branch out. This year, she imported a beehive, for pollination and to produce honey. Another challenge.
“We failed this year. But we will try again next year,” Gerhold said calmly.
Despite some of the set-backs Gerhold has encountered, she strives to grow the business steadily – and, according to Dua, the Pfizer building will remain a suitable home for her ambitions as Acumen plans to continue to grow with its tenants.