Austin-based Whole Foods Market, the GMO-labeling sustainable seafood specialist and purveyor of woefully overpriced baked goods, began its aggressive invasion of New York City years ago. I remember, not too long ago, when there was only one Whole Foods store in the entire city. Now, I can think of at least six off the top of my head that have sprouted up over the past few years and I’m probably forgetting a couple.
That being said, it’s been an eternity since plans were announced to erect a Whole Foods in the most Whole Foods-y borough of them all, Brooklyn. After a 2006 groundbreaking, the years-long delay has to do with the rather contentious locale of the 52,000-square-foot supermarket: a massive vacant located along the banks of the Gowanus Canal, the infamously foul and fume-heavy Superfund site, dolphin death-trap, and hipster houseboat enclave that will soon host its very own pseudo-regatta. Because nothing says free-range chicken breasts and organic coconut milk like sewage overflow, industrial pollutants, and an (alleged) history of Mafia body-dumping.
Large-scale contamination cleanup efforts and historic preservation battles involving a creepy abandoned 19th century building have been the big hold-ups associated with the long-awaited store. Now, with construction of the Brooklyn's first Whole Foods finally underway and a late-2013 open date in sight, the company is revealing a game-changing feature of the store that will allow Brooklyn locavores to mutter a phrase that would have once been deemed preposterous (and outright disgusting): I just bought Gowanus-grown produce.
That’s right, a Whole Foods store located adjacent to one of America’s most polluted waterways that will grow its very own organic produce. But not to fear — said produce will be grown in a 20,000-square-foot hydroponic greenhouse located atop the store. Operated in cooperation with Gotham Greens, the rooftop farm will supply both the Gowanus Whole Foods — described by Co.Exist as the “ultimate locavore grocery store” — and other Whole Foods locations throughout the city with hyper-local herbs and veggies in an effort to “eliminate long distance food transport and its associated emissions."
As detailed in a press statement released earlier this week, the “specifically designed” rooftop greenhouse will feature innovative irrigation systems that use 20 percent less water than conventional farming and also reduce energy demand through “enhanced glazing materials and electrical equipment.”
For the past couple of years, Whole Foods has been working alongside Gotham Greens to supply the company’s Manhattan stores with produce grown and harvested from the lauded urban farming firm’s rooftop facility in the Greenpoint section of Brooklyn. However, this will be the first time that Whole Foods, or any supermarket chain for that matter, will be topping a retail location with a commercial-scale greenhouse. And as pointed out by Co.Exist, unlike Gotham Greens' Greenpoint farm, the Whole Foods greenhouse will produce pesticide-free vine crops such as tomatoes in addition to leafy greens and basil. Any excess crops not used by Whole Foods will be sold to Gotham Greens' restaurant-heavy network of clients.
Says Viraj Puri, co-founder of Gotham Greens:
Talk about local! This project takes the discussion from food miles to food footsteps. Our greenhouse will provide Whole Foods Market shoppers with access to the freshest, most delicious leafy greens, herbs and tomatoes, year-round that will be grown right above the store’s produce department. We’re thrilled with this partnership and to be part of the growing national movement of farmers and food producers committed to providing consumers with high quality, responsibly produced food.
While I’ve long had reservations about Whole Foods and the company’s controversial Brooklyn outpost, there’s no doubt that the Gowanus location will feature the freshest supermarket produce imaginable. Some crops, for example, can be plucked from the rooftop farm and make their way downstairs to the sales floor within 20 minutes.
While the produce at Gowanus Whole Foods will obviously be grown and harvested at a safe, climate-controlled remove from the once highly toxic ground that the store is being built on (and thank goodness for that) and the canal will not come into play when it comes to irrigation, I'm guessing that many folks will opt to do their produce shopping outside of a frequently stinky Superfund zone that's located roughly equidistance between the (in)famous grand dame of do-goody Brooklyn grocery stores, the Park Slope Food Coop, and the Red Hook Fairway, a much-beloved waterfront supermarket with a sizable organic section.
Any fellow Brooklynites care to chime in? Think you'll be purchasing fresh, grown-in-Gowanus lettuce and cucumbers once the store opens later this year? Or does the store's unsavory location trump your desire to buy hyper-local salad greens?