Zach’s Lil-Acre

By Diane Crary

I don’t know what’s more unexpected:
A farm at 29st. and 1st. Avenue
Vegetables growing in recycled milk crates
A farm on the top of a parking garage
A farm that provides vegetables for the chefs at Riverpark Restaurant ( Sisha Ortuzar and Tom Colicchio)


We were lucky enough to visit Zach Pickens, Head Farmer at Riverpark Farm last week.  Zach gardens in a temporary space.  The 15,000 sq. ft. rooftop farm may have to moved next year, when the second tower of the Alexandria Center for Life Sciences is built.

What kind of a farm do you make when you have to move it?

MILK CRATES?  The “beds” are  1 cubic ft. recycled plastic milk crates lined with landscape fabric,  filled with soil and compost.  The milk crates are ergonomic, have enough depth to grow shallow vegetables like lettuces and taller ones like tomatoes, which require a greater depth.

Sixteen milk crates will fit on a pallet creating the “lil-acres”.  The cost per milk crate, including soil is $5.00.  By putting one crate on top of another empty crate; the stacking creates ventilation and enables  gardening without bending.   The design has created a mobile, modular, urban farm.

Finding the right tools for a small space can be a challenge.  Zach is an inventive guy.  He makes his own 2 inch soil blocks; a size he has found works best for the crates.   A mini hand seed spreader allows him to sow 400 sq. ft. within 15 minutes.

This is a farm and farmer you admire for their tremendous resourcefulness.  Oyster shells,  greens from the restaurant and cocoa from Mast Brothers in Brooklyn provide nutrients for compost tea.

The photo above (Zach) with a converted rain barrel; rigged so it can be turned 360 degrees; mixes soil and compost; allowing four boxes to be rejuvenated at a time.

Last year Riverpark farm produced 3,500 pounds of food.  This year Riverpark farm will provide the restaurant with  165 different varieties of vegetables.

Thanks Zach.  You’ve laid down the gauntlet.  After this visit, we will be looking at our “lil-acre'” differently.”
Riverpark Farm is open to the pubic for tours on Tuesday at 12:30 pm.
There are workshops on Saturday for volunteers.
There is a lovely dining deck that can be rented for weddings, farm dinners or other events.


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