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  • Writer's pictureTamanna Mohapatra

Urban rooftop farming or International Food system festival??

Which would you prefer to attend? Thankfully, I didn’t have to choose between the two and got to attend both. Lucky me and 100 more global participants who met at the end of September because of their love for food, love to change our global and common food system, and love for TFF; the organization that brought us all together and made both above events possible. Lucky us. Honestly. Read more to learn why.

Let’s start with the learnings from the Javits center-

I was excited to visit NYC’s major exhibition center called Jacob Javits center, situated along the Hudson River on the west side of Manhattan. I had lived in that area for 5 years on the 23rd floor of a building close by and had always seen the green roof of this large exhibition center but somehow had never made it to their occasional public tours. I was therefore excited to finally do it this September and even more so because in addition to a green roof I would get to visit the rooftop farm they had just started in 2021. The Javits center is considered the busiest exhibit center in the world with the number of pre-covid visitors numbering close to 2 billion per year. Woah! They pride themselves to be very sustainable-minded and socially conscious too. For example, they recycle pretty much any and all things from carpets to cardboard. During covid, they sheltered 60,000 patients and every year award close to 60,000 USD to local schools. The building is one of the few LEED Gold buildings in Manhattan. The green roof came into existence in 2014 and essentially has two purposes- absorbing water and supporting wildlife. It currently absorbs 7 million gallons of water a year by planting succulents all over the roof. The Audubon Society has scientists stationed on the roof and has to date observed 37 varieties of birds; nesting and migrating. How cool. In addition, the green roof houses 3000 solar panels that account for 10% of the building’s electricity. It may not seem much, but remember this is one of the busiest and largest convention centers in one of the busiest cities in the world. Lastly, by nature of being a green roof; it helps keep the building 10 degrees warmer in winter and 10 degrees cooler in summer.

Coming to the newly opened rooftop farm- it has been built on top of the Lincoln tunnel and started functioning in 2021, currently managed by our very own NYC rooftop heroes; Brooklyn Grange. They are the country’s leading rooftop farming experts. Being an organic farm, they don’t use any chemical fertilizers and depend primarily on fish emulsions. The farm is one acre with 18 inches of dirt/soil. They have succeeded in creating a food forest which in theory means that the soil can have up to seven layers: canopy layer (large fruit trees), understorey (smaller nut and fruit trees), shrubs (berries and large perennials), herbaceous (herbs and plants), rhizosphere (root crops), ground-cover (clover and strawberries) and vines (climbing beans, peas, etc.). Isn’t that just extraordinary to create on top of a roof? A few other equally crazy but great things they do that are inspiring are

1. Harvesting rainwater for 50% of their farm needs

2. Composting absolutely everything possible

3. Maintaining a 3500 sq. Foot orchard of apples and pears; both of which I saw with my eyes while touring.

4. And lastly, they have five hydroponic gardens growing crops throughout the year using 10 inches of water. So head to Javits center to have some of the freshest lettuce you probably will ever test. Bon appetit!

And now coming to the highlight of the week, and maybe even the month-

GenerationFest, 2022- the annual conference created and sponsored by TFF (Thought for Food) brought together CEOs, pioneering scientists, innovators, startups, TFF ambassadors, and food disruptors for 3 days in Brooklyn, NYC to discuss, inspire, judge, and, present on all food topics under the sun. You name it, we discussed it. CRISPR, mycelium, food waste, promoting farming, carbon credits. See the below agenda for a flavor of our day.

I am very lucky and proud to have been a part of this magic called TFF which is made up of a community of friends from around the world dedicating their free but limited time to one common mission- improving our current food system. We see it broken and therefore instead of lamenting over the 1001 cuts that are making it unsustainable, we come up with 2002 small/medium/large yet critical solutions to improve it; both now and for the long term. There is a lot I can say about the day, about the attendees, about the founder (the one and only amazing Christine Gould) but if I did so, this blog would never end. I am thus going to share a few highlights I remember from that day.

My favorite speech of the day was the first one. Eban Bayer, found of Ecovative gave a wonderful and heartfelt speech about his journey getting his startup to where it is now- a started and accelerating company (pardon my self-made pun). His quote that I will remember forever is, “Changing the world is hard so don’t forget to be kind while doing so.”

I met a chef who cooks using Ayurvedic principles. We learned about Indigo-ag, a Boston-based agricultural technology company that helps improve yields using regenerative agriculture while supporting farmers with innovative and technology-driven solutions that help farmers immediately see returns.

Another great topic discussed was carbon credits. Just a one-sentence primer on the difference between carbon credits and carbon offsets - The former is a reduction in GHGs released into the atmosphere while the latter refers to the removal of GHGs from the atmosphere. Watch the embedded videos to learn more. (source:

Inari was also there. It's an amazing company with their quote for the day being, " We have big problems to solve but need to have fun as well." How true. Inari is a plant breeding technology company that uses biological and data sciences to create seeds that need less land, water, and other inputs required to produce food and feed.

The last company we got introduced to that day was the groundbreaking KlimaDAO. I really have to research more before I can write intelligently about what they do but basically, it uses available technologies to r accelerate the delivery of climate finance to sustainability projects globally

That's it for now folks. Keep reading, keep learning, and keep changing the world for the better. Peace.

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