For north Brooklyn residents Claudia Lake and Benjamin Kabin, it was starting their own micro-greenery.
Lake, a makeup artist, and Kabin, a photographer and content creator, teamed up after finding themselves trying to figure out how to best spend their time during the lockdown.
“I’ve always had a little garden on my fire escape,” Lake said. “It’s been an interest of mine for a long time.”
Lake had also taken some classes with Brooklyn Range, which describes itself as the world’s leading soil rooftop farming company and sustainability center. She took the idea to Kabin, and together they did enough research to realize the profit margins seemed right.
“It seemed like a productive thing to do,” Kabin said. “It sounded really interesting and exciting.”
They launched their new business, Newtown Creek Farms, which sells salad mixes, purple radishes, speckled peas, broccoli and other produce to restaurants, stores and directly to customers. They began selling their products in July.
Lake and Kabin grow their crops vertically, indoors and under LED lights, which means they can grow microgreens year-round. They plant the seeds on trays, giving them the right amount of moisture to turn into seedlings.
Once they’re strong enough, they are moved into the LED lights and watered until they’re ready to harvest. According to Lake, the turnaround time is between one and two weeks.
“Anyone can grow a tray of microgreens,” she said. “It’s a very simple process.”
The duo has also been able to apply their creative talents into their new venture in the plants they choose to grow, how they make their mixes, and how they market their product and put it on social media.
“Each plant is a little individual and they’re so beautiful,” she said. “There is creativity and the artist’s eye in that.”
The COVID-19 pandemic presented a few challenges, like limiting in-person meetings and that some restaurants are not doing full menus due to financial circumstances. But overall, Kabin said the response has been positive from every chef they’ve spoken to.
They also had the advantage of working within a tight-knit community of artists and chefs in Bushwick and Williamsburg. Lake noted that being quarantined during the pandemic allowed them to hone their business approach and grow it.
“For the most part, we’ve been very blessed and lucky,” she said. “People have responded really well.”
While growing up in Manhattan, Lake was involved with community gardens. She noted that there are many food deserts across the city.
That’s why Newtown Creek Farms wants to work with organizations like GrowNYC, host a farmer’s market and bring another CSA to Williamsburg and Bushwick.
“We’d love to grow this business so we can support ourselves,” Kabin said. “We’d love to be in as many restaurants in Greenpoint, Williamsburg and Bushwick as we possibly can.
“We definitely have big goals,” he added, “but it’s one day at a time.”
Eventually, the pair also want to host educational programs to teach people about the health benefits of microgreens, which Lake repeatedly described as a superfood, not a garnish.
“It’s not just pretty, it’s nutritious for you,” she said.