First stop on the tour was Square Roots - an urban greenhouse company that grows produce in shipping containers in a parking lot at an old Phizer factory in Williamsburg.
Karsten Ch'ien of Square Roots conducted the tour. He explained the background of the company and the technology they use. He said one of the company's goals is to encourage more young people into agriculture with a combination of tech, city living, and passion for healthy and locally grown produce.
Square Roots' office from where many of the hi-tech operations of the greenhouses are run. The average age of the staff is 24.
Ten shipping containers are currently used as greenhouses. Ch'ien explained the containers require less capital to set up, are easy to remodel and move if necessary, and the "farm" is easily expandable by simply adding more containers as needed.
The old Pfizer factory houses the offices of many new startups and food companies.
Tour participants inspect one of the greenhouses. This particular greenhouse has a glass viewing panel behind the doors to allow visitors to see inside while protecting the produce.
Sage is growing in this greenhouse. The sage grows in eight different stages of maturity. There are two harvests a week of the different sections, with sage yielding 70 lbs per week.
The other Square Roots tour leader was Rakan Ammouri (second from left).
Neon pink is one of the lighting colors used in the greenhouse.
Ch'ien poses in front of the greenhouse.
The plants are grown in coconut fiber.
Ammouri and Ch'ien show off one of the three delivery bicycles that Square Roots uses to make local deliveries. The company typically delivers up to a maximum of 20 miles away. The advantage - they can use the bicycle lanes!
The next stop on the tour was City Acres on Broadway in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
The refrigerated organic section was heavily stocked with pre-packaged salads and similar healthy meals.
This refrigerator was stocked with conventional produce.
Cherries from Chile on the shelves of City Acres.
Organic garlic, shallots, and ginger are labeled accordingly by the store.
A variety of herbs grown by Square Roots were available, retailing at $3.99.
A City Acres team member is proud of the produce section.
A close-up of the refrigerated organic section.
Another section housed a variety of freshly cut vegetables, further highlighting the store's focus on grab-and-go, quick-to-prepare produce.
Freshly-cut fruit is also available. It was explained that produce for convenience suits the market of the Williamsburg district.
Natalie's Orchid Island juices are on the shelf.
The third stop on the tour was 3 Guys From Brooklyn. Located in southwest Brooklyn near Dyker Heights, it is open 24/7 and is described as one of the last remaining open air markets in New York City.
With 28 feet of sidewalk available, the market remains traditional in the way it sells produce.
It was explained that this high-volume low-cost model appeals to the area's diverse demographic. Plum tomatoes and bananas are the two top sellers here.
The wooden stands need to be well maintained and replaced more often due to the exposure to the elements.
Tri-color cherry tomatoes.
More exotic produce can be found inside.
Scott Zimmerman, whose father Stanley was one of the original "Three Guys" when the store was first opened in 1975.
Philip Penta (left) now runs the store with the help of Scott Zimmerman. Penta explained that keeping the store open 24/7 every day is challenging, but with staff required on site to receive deliveries anyway, it made sense to keep the store open. He said many of the overnight patrons are taxi drivers and foodservice customers such as bakers. Penta also mentioned that while looking to modernize some functions of the business, they are careful to retain the store's character, which their customers are familiar with.
For lunch, the tour stopped by at Whole Foods Market on 3rd Avenue in Brooklyn, where the participants took the opportunity to browse the produce section. Here, the store's Produce Manager explained the layout.
The Brooklyn tour group, with the day's tour leader Jim Bartelson at bottom left.
Each major produce category has its own "island" display, here with all the citrus varieties.
Limes from California.
The apple "island".
It's pear season with numerous varieties available at this beautiful pear "island".
Locally-grown Asian pears from New Jersey.
Tour participants Jelger De Vriend and Maud Jentjens of Innovative Fresh in the Netherlands browsing the produce department.
This island contained all the bagged citrus and apple varieties. In the foreground are organic "Morning Kiss" brand oranges and lemons.
The tropical island, with many colorful fruits on display, including Ecuadorian yellow and pink dragon fruit, several mango and plantain varieties, along with melons, papayas and pineapples.
An example of cross-merchandising, with tomatoes, assorted herbs, local mozzarella cheese, as well as pesto made by Gotham Greens (on the roof of the building).
An assortment of cherry and grape tomato options.
The delicious lunch spread at Whole Foods.
Gotham Greens has an urban greenhouse on the roof of the Whole Foods store at 3rd Avenue, Brooklyn. The two companies have formed a partnership at this location.
Unfortunately, lunch was interrupted by a fire alarm and subsequent evacuation of the store.
Continuing the urban agriculture theme, the next stop was a nondescript red brick building near the Brooklyn Navy Yard housing New York City's only mushroom farm - Smallhold. Andrew Carter (center) is one of the co-founders.
Carter explained the science of how Smallhold nurtures mushrooms on "blocks", the cubic substrate upon which mushrooms spring to life.
Carter shows a close up of the mycelium attached to the substrate, which is made out of sawdust.
Adam DeMartino is the other co-founder and is in charge of the business side. DeMartino and Carter met while in college and later quit their jobs to launch their mushroom farm vision.
Smallhold grows up to ten different mushroom varieties.
Smallhold nurture the mushroom blocks for clients like Whole Foods, before setting up the 'farm' in their respective stores or restaurants. Smallhold continue to look after the farm remotely from their Brooklyn office while their clients are able to sell and use the mushrooms for their customers.
DeMartino standing next to a typical small farm which would be set up in a store or restaurant. He is holding a block that is growing a Lion's Mane mushroom. DeMartino says the Lion's Mane is gaining in popularity and has many different uses.
The last stop was at Brooklyn Fare, a compact supermarket in downtown Brooklyn.
Part of the produce section at Brooklyn Fare.
Pre-packaged and convenience foods are again the focus in the busy downtown Brooklyn area.
Brooklyn Fare has ready-to-eat salads and vegetables available by the pound.
An assortment of juices, cut fruit, salads, ready-to-eat meals and other fruit is on offer at Brooklyn Fare.
Kumquats, green kiwi, Asian pears, guavas and strawberries, all available in clamshells.
Assitant manager Alfredo Lucero next to the colorful citrus display.