When Betty Smith wrote A Tree Grows in Brooklyn in 1943, she probably had no idea how prescient her title would be. Brooklyn is no longer the agricultural hub it once was (until the late 1800s, it was the second largest agricultural producer in the country!). Still, the borough shines with opportunities to get outside, live, work and play sustainably, and even stick your hands in the dirt.
Here are a few keys into the heart of New York's greenest borough:
Brooklyn's eco-savvy streets abound with sustainable eateries. Vegetarians and their friends can dine at meat-free cafes such as the beloved sandwich shop 'sNice, the pan-Asian inspired Wild Ginger and even a semi-underground dinner-club/restaurant hybrid, 4 Course Vegan, which is owned by entrepreneurial vegan chef Matteo Silverman. Other restaurants such as Applewood, Ici, Second Helpings and The Farm on Adderly bring the country to the city, by sourcing menu ingredients from nearby farms. And The Habana Outpost — a popular summertime hangout — takes green dining to the next level by featuring solar panels on the roof, in-house composting, and a bike-powered blender where customers get a dollar off if they blend their own drink.
Brooklynites who want to stay in can eat green at home by shopping at one of the 10 greenmarkets (aka farmers markets) in Brooklyn, or by joining the Park Slope Food Co-op. Established in 1973, this Brooklyn icon is one of the oldest member-run co-ops in the country. Members work one shift a month and, in return, have access to a dizzying array of local fruits, vegetables and sustainable groceries for a small fraction of the price they would pay at Whole Foods or Trader Joe's.
Brooklyn residents can now stretch out in new green-friendly living quarters through Eco-Brooklyn Inc. The green real estate, renovation and development company focuses on building energy-efficient homes made from sustainable and recycled products.
Homeowners and renovators can also turn to Green Depot — a company that helps make green building products and services accessible and affordable to anyone interested in greening their home. Green Depot has locations in New York, Philly, New Jersey and Boston as well as Brooklyn.
Green homes can now be adorned with green things from 3R Living a Brooklyn-based store that sells chic, recycled home wares, cleaning supplies and other future-friendly products. Nearby, Cog & Pearl sells beautiful handmade gifts and clothes, often made from recycled products.
Flea Market fanatics will never tire of the numerous thrift stores, flea markets and craft fairs — like Brooklyn Flea and the Renegade Craft Fair — where they can buy used or handmade goods galore. And if they need a little extra closet space after acquiring all that new stuff, Brooklynites can take their unwanted clothes, towels or other textiles to the Second Chance Textile Recycling drop off center.
Ever dreamed of having an environmentally friendly office to bring your ethics to work? Brooklyn can answer your prayers. A company called Green Desk offers a carbon-neutral working space, which eco-industrious Brooklynites can rent from month to month. Each working space comes equipped with Internet access and a phone (natch) as well as unlimited fresh organic coffee and gorgeous, light-filled rooms. Who would ever get anything done?
The Wild West it's not, but there are still plenty of places to pull up a patch of green in Brooklyn. During summer months, Brooklynites flock to Prospect Park — a sprawling park designed by landscape architects Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux (who also dreamed up Central Park), and located in the heart of the borough.
The 585-acre park houses an Audubon Center and the Prospect Park Zoo, and is conveniently located next to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, which hosts a popular cherry blossom festival every spring. Hungry visitors can even sign up for an "urban foraging tour" of the park led by edible plants expert "Wild Man" Steve Brill.
After a long day at the park, Brooklyn Green Drinks offers a chance to unwind. The monthly networking event attracts environmental professionals looking to network while tossing back a couple of organic beers.
Brooklynites know how lucky they are to have a system of underground tubes that takes them where they need to go, rendering cars virtually useless. But there are other ways than the subway to travel green in Brooklyn. Each morning, hearty commuters can strap on their helmets and cycle across the Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Williamsburg bridges en route to work in the city. New York Magazine put out a guide a couple years ago that offers a pedal-worthy bike tour of the Brooklyn shore, and each year, bike fanatics can explore Brooklyn's diverse neighborhoods on the Tour de Brooklyn. The best way to see the borough, after all, is on two wheels.
Meanwhile, a borough-based company, Brooklyn Biodiesel, is one of the pioneers of biodiesel manufacturing in the country.
It's easy to simply sit back and enjoy the green life in Brooklyn. But for folks who want to get their hands dirty and make a difference, there are several learning and volunteering opportunities as well. People who are interested in checking out the growing agricultural scene can visit or volunteer at Added Value or East New York Farms! — both programs that engage neighborhood kids in sustainable agriculture and community building. They can also attempt to grab a plot in one of Brooklyn's many community gardens.
Meanwhile, the Brooklyn Center for the Urban Environment is an environmental education center in the nabe. The organization is known for its annual Green Brooklyn event, where residents are given the tools, services and know-how needed to keep on living the green life in Brooklyn.