We arrive at Edenworks in Bushwick, Brooklyn, on a particularly overcast and freezing day. Hannah, from our photo team, is already awaiting my arrival in the parking lot that leads to the rooftop. Aside from the stenciled sign on the wall, there is no clear indication that you are in the right place when arriving at Edenworks. It’s an industrial neighborhood, and the greenhouse we are about to visit sits perched above the rooftop of a garage, up three flights of metal stairs.
We’ve made one visit before to Edenworks, so we know the drill. There’s this tiny little clip-on doorbell hanging off of the metal gate-like door. You ring it, and then you ring it again, and eventually someone comes to retrieve you. A couple of minutes pass, and Jason Green appears; bearded, bespectacled, and holding a cup of coffee. His last name is Green, and he is the C.E.O. of Edenworks.
Green takes us up the winding stairs and across a walkway and back down some more stairs before we reach the greenhouse. So, it’s sort of hidden. Upon entering the rainforest-like atmosphere, there is a wave of warmth and relief. As we hang our coats and begin to look around, Green points out a huge tank of goldfish in the entryway.
“Anyone want a goldfish?” he says, laughing.
But in actuality, he’s not really kidding. The goldfish were Edenworks’ starter fish—the fish that initially got this aquaponic farming operation up and moving. Now, the goldfish are kind of like young adults that the parents can’t get to move out for college. Edenworks is feeding them, and they keep growing, but they have no real role in the company. Edenworks—perhaps Green— doesn’t have the heart to throw them out either. It’s clear the team cares about sustaining life in all forms. I mean, how long did your goldfish live?
As we start to walk around, Green describes what they have growing. Basil, arugula, chard, and this incredibly potent sorrel.* The beds are these long rows that stretch across the entire greenhouse, and stack about five levels high. In the two years that Edenworks has inhabited the space, they’ve created a healthy amount of crop, almost literally painting the greenhouse with microgreens from floor to ceiling.
They’ve spent a lot of their time at Edenworks trying to figure out the dance of a balanced ecosystem.
“By harnessing nature’s complexity we share in its abundance.”
It’s a motto the team has created over the course of their research and development and it reverberates through everything they do. In aquaponics, you rely on fish to supply the nutrients to your plantlife.* Green and his team are playing with different combinations of fish, fish food, lights, and diatomaceous earth,* to name a few of the factors that make up this process. They are on a delicate and constant quest to find how to use the least amount of resources to attain the best yield of crop.
Green takes me around the corner of this large row of plants to check out the fish. There are three large tanks of tilapia—the larger, more productive cousins to the goldfish— and three smaller tanks of prawns. The prawns are still in a bit of an experimental phase, according to Green, but the tilapia are flourishing. And they look like it. These fish are a rowdy crowd splashing about and weaving in and out of each other’s paths, unknowingly supplying nutrients to grow our food.
Edenworks is not only making incredibly flavorful greens but, because of their system of growing, their operation takes up less space, produces less waste, and—as a bonus—creates some very happy sealife. Given the pros, it’s surprising more “Edenworks” don’t exist, especially at scale, but the answer to that is something Green has pondered for some time. Ultimately, it’s a matter of supply chain—the “where” of where our food comes from. “Things go bad on the shelf,” Green says, referring to large-scale grocery stores. “But if you operate your own supply chain, you don’t have to worry about waste.”
Once Green starts talking about supply chain, he can’t stop. “People aren’t talking about this yet, and it’s wild. There are companies doing aquaponics, yes, and successful at that. But there is no international crossover, no real competition, no Coke and Pepsi.” The idea of a greenhouse version of Coke and Pepsi might seem peculiar, but it’s exactly what Green means, he thinks. What controlled environmental agriculture is in need of is the push of competitor companies and the trust that the big guys will jump on board and invest.
As we emerge from the supply chain haze, Hannah has finished shooting, and Green has much to attend to, and probably more coffee to fill his mug. We leave the garden oasis grateful to Green’s generosity, but more so, his enthusiasm. His excitement is not only infectious, it is a fuel that keeps him moving. As we walk down the stairs and out the front gate, we are back in the parking lot re-emerging from the Narnia that is Edenworks. This giant conversation now sits on a corner lot in Bushwick, Brooklyn. But with the drive behind Edenworks, it is only a matter of time before it continues to grow.
Some things we mentioned
Basil: An annual, anise flavored herbal plant, most commonly featured in Italian and Southeast Asian cuisine.
Arugula: An annual, pungent, bitter, and spicy green.
Chard: A biennial, bitter leafy-green vegetable.
Sorrel: A perennial herbal plant, herbaceous and slightly sour.
Aquaponics: A practice which combines traditional aquaculture(raising aquatic animals in tanks) with hydroponics(cultivating plants in water). Water from fish tanks is pumped into the plant beds, where naturally occurring bacteria supplies the plants with nutrients to grow.
Diatomaceous Earth: A soft, siliceous sedimentary rock used to coat plants as a natural substitute to chemical insecticides.