Urban farming project launched in Harlem

Food container harvest makes vegetables available year-round to local community members.

November 21, 2022

New York Governor Kathy Hochul announced an indoor farming pilot project in Harlem that will increase the year-round availability of fresh fruits and vegetables for local underserved families and further national research about optimal indoor growing conditions and crop production. Part of a multi-state demonstration funded by the New York Power Authority and led by energy R&D institute EPRI, the large shipping container outside a New York City Housing Authority building will help communities grow produce throughout the year, develop healthy habits and learn about sustainability and environmental issues.

Harlem Grown, a local nonprofit, will manage the food production and support distribution to the community. The project will also investigate how to increase yields and manage resources, while reducing associated greenhouse gas emissions and water consumption. The project helps advance the goals of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act.

"With year-round indoor farming, our communities will have the opportunity to grow fresh, healthy produce locally to help build a more sustainable New York," Governor Hochul said in a released statement. "I'm proud to announce this hydroponic garden in Harlem, which will provide healthy food to local families and help educate the next generation of urban farmers. As we learn more about the environmental and energy impacts of urban crop production, New York is taking another nation-leading step in advancing our clean energy and greenhouse gas reduction goals."

The New York Power Authority and project organizers celebrated the project's launch today and viewed the new system in Harlem - a hydroponic greenhouse that grows produce in a soil-less environment. As part of a national collaborative research effort headed by the non-profit EPRI, the Harlem farming project will help increase learnings about the environmental, energy, and community impacts of indoor agriculture. These learnings will help inform a broader understanding of the sustainability of local, indoor crop production, including energy and water consumption. Findings will also help increase community engagement, provide educational opportunities on technology and agriculture, stimulate local job creation and expand local crop availability.

New York Power Authority's Environmental Justice team, which is funding the $250,000 program with New York Power Authority's Research, Technology Development and Innovation program, managed placement of the 40-foot shipping container branded "Planting fruits and vegetables. Growing healthy communities." The outdoor weatherproof container is in an open lot off 140th Street next to the P.S. 139 Senior Center, which is currently being converted to an outdoor garden and meeting place.

The Harlem project will operate a modified and heavily insulated shipping container as a controlled environment space that uses electric technologies to grow fresh, local vegetables year-round. In addition to improving local access to fresh produce, indoor agriculture has shown to reduce shipping costs and reduce or eliminate the use of fossil fuels within crop production. Indoor agriculture may also reduce or eliminate the need for pesticides, and greatly reduce water consumption for certain crops.

Produce will be grown and distributed by Harlem Grown, a natural partner in this project, as it operates four central farms, two hydroponic greenhouses and six partner gardens that provide more than 5,000 pounds of food distributed free to the Harlem community each year. In addition, the organization seeks to impact the entire community through mentorship and partnerships. It offers free nutrition education programming on its farms for children and adults, where community members learn to plant, nurture, and harvest all of the fruits and vegetables. It also runs a mobile teaching kitchen to bring food education and cooking classes to nearby Harlem schools, housing developments, and community organizations.

"We are honored and excited to be part of this revolutionary project in urban farming alongside New York Power Authority, EPRI and New York City Housing Authority. Harlem Grown exists for the community, and this indoor food production system gives us more opportunity to work with all age groups — from our young people to our seniors in the neighborhood," founder and CEO of Harlem Grown Tony Hillery said in a statement. "Our space for farming is limited in the city so we need to be innovative and forward thinking about ways to provide fresh, locally-grown food year round. This project is about more than farming; this is about food and environmental sustainability and food justice."

Beyond examining farming practices, this project will also evaluate how indoor food production could impact the state's electrical and utility grid. Monitoring the use of electricity and water, technology innovations, and sustainability considerations will help determine how indoor food production facilities and energy providers can best work together.

Director of Sustainability and Ecosystem Stewardship at EPRI Morgan Scott said, "Controlled environment agriculture is a promising area of research where communities and energy partners may help build more sustainable agriculture methods that locally benefit the communities they serve. We look forward to expanding our collaboration with New York Power Authority in Harlem and for the greater New York community."

Harlem joins the more than a dozen controlled environment farms that EPRI is studying nationwide, including a similar pilot project launched in 2020 to serve the metro Buffalo area. To date, the Buffalo farm has provided more than 1,200 pounds of kale which has been distributed to local families as part of FeedMore WNY's nutrition programming.

The New York Power Authority's Environmental Justice team offers educational programs about clean, renewable energy and sustainability, and provides resources to meet the needs of underserved and under-resourced communities located near NYPA's power assets. NYPA operates small clean power plants at six sites in New York City. The team will conduct science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, programming and organize community events with Harlem Grown youth.

Photo courtesy of New York Governor's office