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Staten Island's Hottest Amenity: A Commercial Farm?


Tenants are increasingly health- and environmentally conscious, and are looking for properties that mesh with their socially conscious lifestyles. Efficient HVAC systems, yoga studios or even some cucumber water in the lobby can show a tenant that a property is keeping up with the times. 

A rental building in Staten Island has raised the bar with the first commercial farm in an urban residential development.


Spanning 5k SF, Urby Staten Island’s urban farm grows more than 50 varieties of greens, summer vegetables, flowers, herbs and roots. This produce is not only used by the 900-unit building’s residents, but is also sold at weekly farmers markets and in the building’s Bodega farmstand (pictured), part of its 35k SF of commercial space.


The farm was the brainchild and ongoing effort of Zaro Bates (pictured), who, alongside her business partner, Asher Landes, has been running the farm (as well as a 20-beehive apiary) since being brought on as a consultant by project developer Ironstate in 2013. 

A graduate of Cornell University’s agricultural school, Zaro tells Bisnow she had been working a number of different agricultural jobs at the time, including running a farmers market in Union Square. Hearing about Ironstate’s desire for an urban garden, she presented the firm with a number of different concepts of varying levels of technological complexity. Impressed with the designs and Zaro’s drive, Ironstate hired Zaro, and the two worked to bring holistic, natural living to NYC.

Things hit an early snag, Zaro says, as her plans placed the garden on the roof. Construction materials had already been ordered and couldn’t support the garden, so it had to be moved and shrunk to the building’s courtyard. 

It actually worked out for the best, Zaro says, as now the garden isn’t a full-time venture, and she can spend more time bringing food in from the countryside and holding workshops for residents. It also limits the types of produce that could be grown there to more “densely grown” plants like salad greens.

“We’ll let our rural counterparts handle the crops that require a ton of space to be profitable, like wheat, corn and soy,” she says.


The garden’s still barebones, she admits, requiring a cold storage and packaging area. The produce is stored in the on-site café’s fridge. The café—named Coffeed—is open and uses the apiary’s honey.

Although Zaro and Asher handle the daily nitty-gritty of maintaining the produce and growing seedlings, the two eventually plan to hand over the reins to new farmers who have the requisite skills to handle the farm's complexities.

In the meantime, Zaro says she’s thrilled when tenants tell her they came to the property because they’ve been following her on Facebook, or when tenants and neighbors sit at the farm’s picnic tables, interacting on a genuine basis.

“Friendship comes from multiple unstructured interactions, and elevators don’t give time to have long conversation,” she says.