The Loft Tomatoes

Fresh produce is the fife and muster of the heightened enlightened middle class.  In halcyon days or yore or before ye yore dress and accent would identify and signify the compartments of social standing.  Now that we all dress in ripped jeans and Life is Good tees, it is gastronomic prowess that sets apart the middling normals from the progressive Manifest Destiny crowd.  Those blessed to know how to properly eat kale and who travel far to ensure a diet of multicultural awareness, so their stomach juices and digestive system don’t become complacent with a particular PH or Scoville level.
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It is pleasing how small local farmers are doing these days as more places have farmer markets or stands by the road.  (“Local” meaning stands that sell in-season produce grown within +/- 300 miles of a metropolitan area) After decades of being told:

  • We are a post-agrarian economy and society
  • We are a post-manufacturing society
  • We are transitioning to a knowledge society
  • We are a post-fact environment

It seems that again the farm-to-table movement is taking shape in This Great Nation… at least among the aspirational youth and digital OLED bicoastal technocrati.
In Gotham, The Heavy D, Lala Land, Expensive Bay, the farmers are setting up shop and providing healthy options, even if they are not making as much of an impact as they should in the areas of the girth of a nation nor land use policy (horrors,” land use?”  How communist!).  Nevertheless, even while I watch more and more barns vanish into the dirt (those in disrepair in my childhood gone, those ok when I was young are now crumbling as if on cue from some director to break all at once), perhaps new smaller farms will take their place and new structures will create a contemporary bucolic, pastoral landscape calming to the painterly eye.  Sadly, every season it seems more land falls to gravel driveways, fields to development, and a vanishing of resources we may not be able to reclaim now, or with the spread of vinyl siding and other toxic complex carbon chains, ever.
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Farmer markets may need a revamp to bring them into this century and shed the hippie/yuppie continuum and break into a neo-folksy or hipsterkultura.  Perhaps even produce from private gardens, small plots in back yards can come online, encouraging people to garden, produce crops, share them socially, and create micro farms that don’t require carbon inputs nor scores of illegals/undocumented who form the backbone of this nation’s industrialized-petro-nitrates-food-complex.  Those mealy strawberries and the cardboard tomatoes, they don’t pick themselves and are grown in vats next to the ten wing “chickens.”

On the topic of Tomatoes, this blogger has gone midway though the cycle of growth and harvest in a victory garden to terraform the roof of a formerly industrial building in Bushwick, Brooklyn.  However, the victory garden has not gone as well as expected, and I am forever glad that I didn’t humble-brag too much on social media.  The harvest, if there is one, will be scare, and many of us fear a lean winter.  Thank G/g/_/o/d/s/dess/es for the “C-Town” food store across the street.  I think we will survive.

For the newly minted urban homesteader, rooftop farming is a complicated process that may be out of reach for the weekend warriors out there.  I have lessons learned from my experiment that I hope others may benefit from.
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So far, this is the diary of the first (maybe only) Schwerpunkt Victory Garden:

Month One: Tomato plants bought from Lowes.  Beautiful toxically grown but for $4.99 each, the Cost Benefits Analysis (CBA) demonstrated that these could yield enough tomatoes to allow for a cost of $4 lbs. which was a little less than at the farmer’s market on Onderdonk Avenue between the Wholesale Sludge Factory and the Asian Imports that seemed a front for something.  Mid-month two organically grown tomatoes were bought from Sunfrost in Woodstock, NY and then transported back to Gotham via a car driven which added 0.05 tons of CO2 to the atmosphere.  These may or may not have been blessed by the local shaman. They were lanky and taller than needed, so were buried a little higher in the soil and pot I bought from Lowes down by the Gowanus Canal.  The large oversized flower pots were set up, the plants in the ground, now to wait for the tomatoes.
When Stalin said, "black earth" did he mean tar beach?
Month Two: The plants were placed by the windows of the loft.  Because it was not an apartment building, there were plenty of windows.  This seemed a good idea, but the plants reached high, suggesting a need for increased light.  The large windows in the space were then washed from years of grime, yet this didn’t have the greenhouse effect that was intended.  The plant food was a mixture from the store that has an image of huge tomatoes on it.  So, this must be the right stuff.  The plant steroids were bought from the hardware store on Irving Avenue.  Toxic to eat raw, somehow this material becomes tomatoes when it is dissolved in water, poured into the dirt in pots, and then sent up plants.  The cost so far, about $15 more per plant considering soil, pots, food, and those wire tresses that are somewhat cone in shape (bought two years ago but factored in with depreciation schedule).
Tomato
Month Three: The tomato plants were transferred to the roof in order to get maximum light since the window thingy just wasn’t working.  Another urban farmer already took the small corner by the stairs – withered herbs, a very small tomato plant or two, but enough to take the space.  These now expensive plants were brought to the south side of the building to be away from loft parties since beer cans and cigarette butts were all about that area of the roof.  This placed them right up to the cell phone tower that is now mounted on the roof.  The hum of the electric is rather loud, but not unpleasant.  The tomatoes enjoyed greater light, but now a watering can had to be bought since water had to be hauled up two flights of stairs.  This time, the Home Depot was used rather than the local hardware store.  The one on 23rd Street in Manhattan – which is about as close to shopping local as one can get these days.  This brought up the cost (we don’t pay for water here) to about $20 per plant.  After about a week, the first tomato was harvested.  Small, but tasty.  It was used the same day it was picked to garnish a dinner made from food bought at C-Town.

Urban Farmland
Month Four: Two of the tomato plants have turned yellow for the most part.  The organic tomato plants have not done anything but get lanky and look sick.  There is evidence that someone poured beer into one or several plants – with the suggestion that they may also have been urinated upon – since there was a beer bottle tossed into the container.  Friggen Bushwick animals.  One skipped a weekend of water because I was in Maine also hurt the prospects of harvest and weakened the plants since while the roommates agreed to water the plants they didn’t actually water the plants.  Also, on the roof of an urban landscape, there is a constant wind that blows moisture away and generally does not seem to be helping in forming buds, flowers, or setting tomatoes.  The bush tomato is setting fruit, but it has yet to be determined as to what size or taste quality, or if they will actually turn red, indicating vine ripeness.  The experiment so far has produced two eaten tomatoes estimated as to maybe two ounces.  More are expected, but right now, that means the cost of a tomato grown on a rooftop seems to be about fifty dollars an ounce or $800.00 a pound.  Perhaps more expensive than most recreational drugs and considering the chemicals in them from the polluted air and all else, maybe as healthy.

UPDATE: Both plants stopped producing and then proceeded to die.  Tomatoes were bought from a farmers market.

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