There are many great ways to farm sustainably, responsibly and locally, and Gotham Greens’ rooftop greenhouse is a great example. The same may be said for hydroponics—the method of growing plants in water, sans soil. Greenpoint-based Gotham Greens, open since June and with 12,000 square feet of “growable” space, uses nutrient film technique (NFT), which lends itself well to greens and herbs. For the volume they want to produce of each product (hint: large), it is best for them to limit production to five plants at a time. And that’s exactly what they’re doing.
On their first season roster: Butterhead lettuce, Red Sails red leaf lettuce, Tropicana green leaf lettuce, Gourmet Lettuce Medley (a mix of all the aforementioned lettuces) and basil. To decide which greens to grow, they surveyed their customers and relied on their experience of what would grow well. They then conducted variety trials with the five veggies they decided on. Greenhouse Director Jennifer Nelkin used basil as an example. “The product is basil, but there are sooo many different kinds of basil,” said Nelkin. So, we picked that product but then we tried five or six different varieties, and finally settled on one we liked, and that would do really well in our system.
Nelkin walked the Gazette through each of this season’s five products. This is what we learned.
The chosen basil is Italian with hints of cinnamon and licorice. A fragrant addition to pastas, pesto, salads and lemonade, basil is a great product for Gotham Greens for two reasons. Because basil grows well and loves the heat, but doesn’t travel well, local producers hold an edge over their more distant competitors. Even though many can grow the popular herb, its high sensitivity to “chilling injury,” causes the leaves to bruise easily, after it has been cut, making it difficult to keep the quality during shipping.
Basil leaves start to turn black below 50 degrees. Because basil usually gets shipped from on trucks that are 35 degrees due to the needs of the other crops, the plant often ends up traveling in unsuitable temperatures. This is why supermarkets often have black, bruised and soaking basil. Gotham Greens cuts it and gets it to the store on the same day.
Baby Butterhead Lettuce
Butterhead lettuce is the staff favorite. It’s a variety of lettuce you don’t see in the supermarket as often as green and red leaf. Butterhead leaves are sweet and succulent, and have a soft, buttery texture. This delicacy, also known as Boston or Bibb, is tender, an excellent source of potassium and “simply delicious.”
Red Sails Red Leaf Lettuce & Tropicana Green Leaf Lettuce
Green leaf and red leaf are fairly common types of lettuce. Gotham Greens’ area bit different. The red leaf, a basic lettuce that’s a beautiful red color, generally has very thick, coarse leaves. Being in the Greenhouse environment though, leaves the leaves thinner and more delicate.
Fresh and moist, the Tropicana green leaf is a crunchy, large leaf. The Greenhouse staff uses it for salads and for wraps – the say it tastes great wrapped around turkey and cheese.
Gourmet Lettuce Medley
A mix of the different varieties of lettuce plus Oak Leaf and Lola Rosa varieties (the staff loves to try out new varieties of greens.) The medley is a great salad mix, mildly flavored and very tender and delicate.
As for what to expect in the future, the Red Butterhead is most likely next on the list. After that, there has been talk of bok choy, swiss chard, arugula, parsley and cilantro. On a non-leafy front, there is talk of a second site. “Things are going well and our system is working great, so we would also like to grow,” Nelkin said. They are, in fact, scouting a second site now, so look out for it soon. For more information, check out their site: www.gothamgreens.com.