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Urban farming grows in Brooklyn

Urban farming grows in Brooklyn
Urban farming grows in Brooklyn 02:50

NEW YORK -  It started as a single rooftop greenhouse in Brooklyn. Now, Gotham Greens is one of the largest greenhouse lettuce producers in North America, with soon-to-be 13 locations across nine states. 

"Ninety-nine percent of the food that we eat in New York City has to be imported into the city and has to travel really long distances. For example, lettuce like this typically comes from places like California that are 3,000 miles away," explains Chief Executive Officer Viraj Puri. 

The company plans to grow 100 million heads of lettuce this year.

Puri founded Gotham Greens because of his desire to bring farms close to the communities they feed. For example, the lettuce grown on the roof on Third Street in Gowanus only has to travel down in the elevator to make it to the shelves at Whole Foods. 

You don't necessarily think of New York City as a place to grow produce, but rooftop farms can be hidden in plain sight. 

"In here, it's about 70 degrees and the plants are thriving because we are creating the perfect growing conditions for the plants," Puri explains. 

Grown completely hydroponically in renewably-powered greenhouses, the farms use significantly less water and land. 

"There's no soil in this facility. We use a technique that relies on water, so we dissolve nutrients into the irrigation water and that fertilizes the crops. So it's very fast growing, we can avoid the use of chemicals," Puri tells CBS2's Hannah Kliger.

The company also donates tens of thousands of seedlings a year to nonprofits that work to feed people and provide educational programming around urban farming. 

Across the city in a unique classroom in the Claremont Village section of the Bronx, towers of herbs and veggies are lovingly tended by local students like 16-year-old Jill Bonilla.

"Plants don't take that long to grow, you just got to take care of them properly," she says. "It helps me stay healthy and stay away from the junk food."

Bonilla and hundreds of other kids are part of educational nonprofit, Green Bronx Machine, which partners with Gotham Greens to educate students, and sometimes even hires talent straight out of the classroom. 

"Food justice is racial justice," explains Stephen Ritz, Founder of Green Bronx Machine. "Who has access to what, where, when and how determines everything. And why shouldn't our children here get access to fresh healthy food?"

The organization's programs are in 675 schools across the country. Last year, it grew more than 8,000 pounds of food in the Bronx, and donated 150,000 pounds of healthy produce.

"I believe that the most important school supply in the world is food, and that children will never be well read if they're not well fed," Ritz says. 

In this science oasis, filled with pedal-powered blenders, plants, and a test kitchen, seedlings donated by Gotham Greens are hard at work feeding both minds and bellies, showing that even a small space can be used to make a big difference.

Have a story idea or tip in Brooklyn? Email Hannah by CLICKING HERE.

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