Conducted in partnership with Added Value, Five Borough Farm set out to understand urban agriculture across the city; establish metrics to evaluate its social, health, economic and ecological benefits; and develop policy recommendations to make urban agriculture a more robust, efficient, and permanent part of New York City. Last week, after three years of research and evaluation (which you can read more about in our interview with the project’s Policy Fellow, Nevin Cohen, or hear more about at this panel discussion at the Center for Architecture on Wednesday, August 1), the Design Trust and Added Value launched their findings and recommendations in a publication and companion website, both illustrated with Stephenson’s photographic portrait of the farms and gardens of New York. Here, Stephenson shares a selection of his photographs and talks about his participation in the initiative. Click on any of the images below to launch a slideshow of 13 of the photographs from Five Borough Farm.
In 1917, the Mayor’s Committee on Food Gardens issued a report documenting the creation of nearly 12,000 gardens and 1,120 acres of large plots dedicated to growing vegetables in New York City. Nearly 100 years later, many New Yorkers have no access to fresh produce and those that do often eat food that has traveled hundreds if not thousands of miles. Economic, social and environmental concerns have fueled a revival of urban agricultural in the city and created a new urban landscape in the process.
This work is an effort to create a comprehensive visual document of the different approaches to implementing a sustainable food system in New York City. The images looks at how traditional methods of agriculture have been adapted to succeed in an urban environment, examining the evolving relationship between a city and its food source.
This project was the result of a fellowship I received from the Design Trust for Public Space in 2011. The images were meant to support their Five Borough Farm initiative, which looks at the effects and benefits of urban farming in New York City.
I’ve documented urban wildernesses and transitioning spaces, so urban agriculture was a natural extension of my interests. Much of my work looks at the ecology of cities, in particular examining the incongruous juxtapositions that exist in urban areas. For the landscapes in this project, I tried to make images that contextualized the farms and gardens as unmistakably urban spaces.
Since starting the project, the pace and scale at which urban agriculture has grown has been remarkable. This past spring, plans for the largest rooftop farm in the world were announced in Brooklyn. The roof will be 100,000 square feet, producing nearly 1,000,000 pounds of food per year. Just a few months later, a farm double that size was proposed for the roof of the Hunts Point Food Distribution Center in the Bronx. Combined with the continuing spread of community farms and backyard gardens, cornstalks could someday supplant skyscrapers as the emblematic image of New York.
The Five Borough Farm book and website recently launched and I’m currently working on a final edit for a book of photographs from the project.
All photos by and courtesy of Rob Stephenson.
Rob Stephenson’s work has been exhibited at various venues including The Brooklyn Museum of Art, the Jen Bekman Gallery, The Lehman College Art Gallery, The Museum of the City of New York and the Coconino Center for the Arts. He is the recipient of the 2011 Photo Urbanism Fellowship from the Design Trust for Public Space and is a 2012 Camera Club of New York Darkroom resident. He lives in Brooklyn, NY.
The views expressed here are those of the author only and do not reflect the position of Urban Omnibus editorial staff or the Architectural League of New York.