On a rooftop in Brooklyn (yes, that was totally a PJ Harvey reference!)...
On a dreary, rainy, fall day in NYC...
Another Instagram story unfolds...
I had the pleasure of meeting Nicole for the first time last summer (and yes, we met through Instagram!). Nicole is the marketing and partnerships manager over at Gotham Greens and we had been following each other for a while before eventually meeting (I may or may not have invited myself!) at the Gotham Greens rooftop greenhouse located above Wholefoods in Brooklyn.
We spent the hour basking in the warm, humid air of the greenhouse (my fave!), grazing on seasonal fresh greens and bonding over our shared love for good food, travel and wine.
Studying international business and marketing, Nicole's undeniable passion for food took her straight out of college and across the Atlantic Ocean to Northern Italy where she teamed up with her (now) husband to run a 'tailor-made' food and wine touring company from their family's 500-year-old estate.
Nicole spent her days cycling through the Prosecco region and hitting up the local markets, shops and bars. Showing people the area from a locals point of view and at the same time fulfilling her passion for all things food, culture and lifestyle.
Um, inspiring much?
After running these tours for just over a year, Nicole decided it was time to move on. So she headed back to NYC and started working in the private equity sector…
But food kept calling her name.
She eventually started a weekly supper club with her husband (who just happens to be Italian and a chef!) and it was during that time that she discovered Gotham Greens.
The rest is now history!
"I still remember the first time I found Gotham Greens’ Blooming Brooklyn Iceberg at the grocery store. It was the dead of winter and the packaging said ‘greenhouse grown in NYC’. I had never even heard of Gotham Greens’ rooftop greenhouses but was enticed by their iceberg lettuce which was a rich green color and looked like it might actually have some flavor and nutrition- what a concept! I brought it home and was hooked, it quickly became a staple on our menus.”
When Nicole heard that Gotham Greens was expanding, she found what was literally her dream job- a combo of sales, marketing and partnerships working with local makers, restaurants, and grocers. Oh and of course, food bloggers!
Nicole has been working with Gotham Greens for almost 2 years now. She arrived just in time to help them open their second greenhouse and is in charge of branding, communications, and yep, you guessed it, social media.
A little background on Gotham Greens...
WHO? Gotham Greens was founded in 2009 by two friends who met during their study abroad program in Italy, setting out to change the inefficiencies in our current food system. Whole Foods has been a partner from the early days and their first greenhouse opened in 2011. They now have 4 in total. The most recent one opening in Chicago last year, taking out the title of the world largest rooftop farm!
Viraj Puri: Co-founder and CEO
Viraj oversees all marketing, sales, operations and development and is the guy they call upon to do most of the public speaking as apparently, he’s pretty good at it!
Eric Haley: Co-founder and CFO
Eric comes from a finance background so understandably, he’s in charge of the money side of things.
Jennifer Nelkin Frymark: CAO
Or “rock star” as Nicole calls her. One of the few women in this industry, Jennifer is the brains behind the horticulture and joined the boys in 2009.
WHERE? They have 2 rooftop greenhouses in Brooklyn, 1 in Queens and 1 in Chicago.
WHAT? Gotham Greens produce mainly that, greens. Arugula, basil, butterhead lettuce, red sorrel/mustard, kale, iceberg lettuce: “blooming brooklyn" in NYC and “windy city crunch” in Chicago. In Brooklyn they have also started growing tomatoes. In this particular location the arugula and kale is grown exclusively for Wholefoods which is literally harvested in the morning, sent down the shoot and is on the shelves that afternoon! Redefining the term "local".
WHY? A lot of the produce that New Yorkers have access to in the winter is traveling thousands of miles across the country and by the time it gets to them, the quality, freshness and nutrition has perished. Gotham Greens focus on the highly perishable leafy greens and herbs because they are the things that the longer you wait from harvest to consumption, the less flavourful and nutritious they are.
HOW? Hydroponics. Plants are grown in volcanic rock cubes and by taking the nutrients you would traditionally find in soil and dissolving them into the water, customizing the recipes for each individual plant to cater to it’s specific nutritional needs and coddling the plants in a dreamy, “summer all year long” environment they are producing pesticide free, tender and deliciously tasty greens. Gotham Greens uses the “nutrient film technique” which means there is always a thin layer of water that is feeding the plants and whatever is not collected by the plant is recycled. Using 1/10th the amount of water as traditional soil based practices. So basically for every acre Gotham Greens is producing, you would need 20 acres for a soil based farm! and they produce it in half the amount of time. Makes sense for urban environments don’t you think?
A lot of thought and technology is involved to keep this dreamy greenhouse environment happening though. Since the plants are growing in an enclosed, climate controlled rooftop greenhouse, they are enjoying full sun all day long. On the dreary, winter days like this one, subsidiary lighting kicks in to help out, enabling Gotham Greens to have consistent quality and yields year-round. There is even a weather station on top of the greenhouse! There are also sensors throughout the greenhouse that are connected to a computer control system which turn fans, misting systems and lights on and off to control things like temperature and humidity. If things get too steamy in the greenhouse, the windows and rooftop will automatically open and close.. Pretty amazing huh?
5 minutes with Nicole:
What is NYC to you? NYC is about passion. It's not always the easiest place to live (see high cost of living, itty bitty apartments, stanky sweaty subway rides etc) but as a New Yorker, it's a small price to pay for living the dream. That buzzing energy that everyone talks about in NYC is real and people from all over the world come here to follow their dreams- Whether it means working as a Post Doc studying fish at the Natural Museum of History (yes, that's an actual job!) or growing premium quality, local produce in year-round rooftop greenhouses right here in NYC. There's no other place i'd rather be right now.
Favourite Gotham Green? Our new Asian blend, it's a combo of our baby bok choy, mustard greens, tat soi and mizuna - I love to eat it both raw or sautéed.
3 words that are important to you around food? Delicious. Sustainable. Nutritious.
Sweet or savoury? Both! I like my sweets savoury and my savory sweet!
Red, white or rose? It depends on the season but it doesn't get much better than a tart rose on a summer afternoon.
What would your last meal be? I assume that there are courses here (a girl can dream right!) It starts with a mixed Gotham Greens salad doused in lemon, salt and olive oil with a dollop of res goats cheese and dried cherries. There's definitely a homemade pasta course in there- say crab and mascarpone stuffed ravioli with bitter greens and root veggies on the side. I'd finish with an earthy dessert from Wassail- say the soft chocolate cake with Amaranth and beet- buttermilk sherbet.
Favourite travel experience? My husband and i moved to Italy for a year and it completely changes my perspective on food, family and the type of life i wanted to live. I always thought i was a city girl but over time i really came to love the animated language, afternoon naps and a slower pace.
Winter or Summer? Summer
Go to comfort food? Sticky rice with roasted vegetables
And finally, you and your husband ran a supper club, Under The Table Brooklyn (amazing btw!), any funny stories to tell? Oh man, YES. The supper club was all about bringing food lovers together so sometimes we'd host a group of folks that knew each other and other times it was a big 'ol communal table. As front of house, it was always a fun exercise for me. We'd be welcoming people into homes as strangers but most times they left as friends.
We'd always had a set tasting menu and wine pairing and one particular menu was inspired by our recent trip to Uruguay, which meant it was mostly meat focused. One of our guests couldn't make it last minute and their vegetarian friend took their place, which we found out after serving the amuse bouche! This meant that we had to come up with a 5 course vegetarian tasting menu with only the ingredients in our fridge... talk about a premise for a reality show! We ended up pulling it off with veg-head options like Beet (instead of Beef) carpaccio. The wine pairings always ensure that everything went down smoothly.
SIMPLE BUTTER LETTUCE SALAD WITH SHAVED RADISH AND A RED WINE VINIAGRETTE
INGREDIENTS: (serves 2)
1/2 tub of Gotham Greens Butterhead lettuce , individual leaves peeled and washed
2-4 radishes, thinly sliced (i used a mandolin for this) or you could matchstick them
small handful chives, finely chopped
FOR THE VINAIGRETTE:
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
4 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 small shallot, finely diced or minced
salt and pepper
- In a bowl or jar with a lid, whisk or shake the dressing ingredients together. Taste test. Add more of what you like (vinegar, salt etc) and set aside
- Plate the greens, radish and chives or throw them into a serving bowl. Drizzle the dressing on top and eat immediately!