Born and raised in NYC, Anastasia Cole Plakias is a food enthusiast and veteran of the city’s ever-growing restaurant industry. She is the Director of the Brooklyn Grange rooftop farm, a 1-acre commercial farm located in the Brooklyn Navy Yards.
Having started out as Sales, Events and Communications Department, she now also focuses on bridging the gap between the farm lifestyle and the communities it depends on and provides for.
In this installment of her 20to30 interview, we introduce her insight on the important impact of bees on the ecosystem.
Can you tell me a little bit about the history of the Grange?
Yeah. Some partners and I back in the fall of 2009, …We had all sort of been thinking about…how can we farm in the city and actually do so in a fiscally sustainable way? How can we create a model that’s scalable and replicable? … what we very quickly realized is that we needed a certain scale in order to make this project stand on its own two feet financially.
Did you have a background in farming?
I had no background in farming. I have a background in eating. …But, it wasn’t until I went to college in the Hudson Valley and the full weight of our industrial food system hit me, the fact that we were surrounded by farmland and bringing produce in from other continents, it was my light bulb moment and that’s when I realized just how necessary it was that we change the way we produce, distribute and consume food in this world. So, really, I approached the farm from a much more sort of political and culinary standpoint than an agricultural one.
What has been the ripple effect that the Grange has had on the surrounding community?
We always knew there would be a community aspect to the farm… I first started offering educational visits to schools and it seemed maybe like an alternative revenue stream but very quickly you get the request from Title I Schools, schools that have no field trip budgets, for whose parents putting $5.00 into an envelope and sending their kids to a field trip that’s a hardship for them and those are the kids who you really want to be reaching so in 2011 we founded an educational nonprofit called City Growers. City Growers to date has hosted over 12,000 New York City youth for educational visits and workshops at the farm. …we’re living in a predominantly urban species for the first time in human history and kids are just…especially New York City kids, so disconnected from the larger global ecosystem. … but we’ve realized that it’s not just kids who want to learn it’s adults too because as we become increasingly alienated from our food production system, people’s desire to feel connected and to feel like they have some agency to feel like there’s an understanding of how food is produced before it hits your plate, … and we really feel that it’s a positive give back if we can help other folks be more self-reliant in their food production.
What is the farm’s business model?
So, the bulk of what we grow, about 56% of the produce that we grow is sold via wholesale channels to chefs, small retailers, small mom-and-pop grocery stores…We also have 75 CSA members and we love our CSA Program. …we also find that our Events Program is an incredibly important part of what we do in terms of revenue but also in terms of fully utilizing the space. I mean, look, cities are densely packed, if an office building can have a farm on top, that farm should also be a classroom but it should also be a dining room, it should be a wedding venue, it should be all of these things. A yoga studio.
A wine tasting bar.
A wine tasting bar. A yoga studio. …
Have your eating habits changed since working here?
…we eat like kings. … Once in a while, after a big harvest, we’re all really hungry and we have a great local pizzeria so, we have pizza day where we order pizzas and then we just throw vegetables on them. It’s always great to see the farm pizza because you come up and you see a pizza box and then you see a pile of vegetables and you say, “What are those vegetables doing in the pizza box?” And, then, you realize, oh, there’s pizza under there. So, most of what we eat around here is really incredibly nutrient dense, super fresh raw produce and sometimes that’s because it’s the most delicious thing ever and sometimes it’s because you just don’t have time to cook that much during the high season. But, regardless of why, we all feel incredibly fortunate that we have this much amazing produce in our diets.
…I think we have provided a proof of concept that the city has been able to point to make a case for why this infrastructure is important…as an ecological asset to our city. But, this is a movement that goes far beyond just us.
Cinematography: Danielle Calodney & Dyani Douze
Edited by: Danielle Calodney
Interviewed by: Laura Lehmann