The Urban Farmer

Lee Mandell’s 1,000-square-foot Brooklyn loft is at once an apartment, a grow room, a home office and workshop. As a computer programmer for libraries and archives, he supports himself by spending his days in front of a screen. But as an urban farmer, he takes frequent breaks to tend cucumber vines and cauliflower stalks that grow a few feet from his desk. Mandell, 49, founded Boswyck Farms, a Brooklyn-based indoor hydroponic farm and for-profit company, in 2008. It’s a lot of work, but it’s not without its perks: “If I want to cook, I can go snip some basil and use it,” he points out. While he hopes to eventually earn a living from Boswyck Farms, Mandell seems most motivated by the less tangible upshots of the farm. The best thing he’s gotten out of urban farming, he says, is sharing it with others.

Boswyck Farms in Brief

  • In fall 2010 Mandell hired his first interns to help out at the farm. They receive school credit for their work.
  • Boswyck Farms grows predominantly produce. This includes broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers, hot peppers, sweet peppers, basil, tarragon and cilantro.
  • The farm offers hydroponic workshops and consults for organizations such as Fountain House, helping them set up their own in-house hydroponic systems.
  • Mandell has also developed an in-school botany curriculum that teaches kids how to grow vegetables hydroponically. Says Mandell: “If they grow it, they want to eat it— and that’s a big deal.”