What Happens When Restaurants Become Urban Farms?

There are many opportunities left to explore in urban farming.

Urban farming is still pretty undefined. Everybody has a different definition of what it looks like, who it’s for, and what the goals are. This can be a great thing because it means that there’s plenty of undefined space left, making it easier for people to think outside the box.

A ton of amazing new applications are coming up for urban farming. People are growing inspiring farms and projects (just look at Ron Finley, Jon Kohler, and Ron and Faye Mitchell).

Page at 63 Main combines urban farming, feeding people, and education.

I want to show off a really cool restaurant called Page at 63 Main. Page has taken urban farming and given it a twist. As the urban farming project at Page grows, it’s spreading its tendrils out into the community and making waves.

A few years ago, Page commissioned Teryl Chapel to build an aquaponic system inside the restaurant. The system uses no soil to grow plants; instead the plants are anchored in a plastic media and fertilized by fish waste. And that’s how Page became not only a restaurant, but an urban farm.

The plants are grown in vertical towers which line one wall of the restaurant’s atrium. With the plants grown on the wall, the restaurant can still use the rest of the room to seat guests, who eat right next to the farm where their food was harvested.

The farm inside the restaurant’s atrium is indeed site to behold. Lately, Page has gone even farther with their aquaponics farm and started using it to give back to the community.

Page’s marketing and communications manager, Amber Chapel, saw an opportunity to give back to the community and got involved with the educational component of the aquaponics program. Having tasted the benefits that an aquaponic system could offer to a school, Page is trying to get an aquaponics system into one of the elementary schools in the area. Page has also done some events with the schools in the area.

At an event thrown by one of the schools, Amber had the chance to meet dozens of school who are involved with the Edible Schoolyards program. One elementary school caught Amber’s eye with its goal to grow all of its own food. The school has a greenhouse, and they were interested in an aquaponic system, so Amber is working with the school board to get an aquaponic setup installed. Right now the project is incomplete; the obstacles of funding, liability, and familiarity with aquaponics is causing delays with the school.

Amber is hopeful about getting past these impediments, however. She feels that when the timing is right and when the school board understands what a school aquaponics garden will look like, that they will be positive about the benefits of the garden. She also believes that getting started with a small system before scaling in to a big food-producing system will make this threshold easier to cross for the school.

Funding options for schools keep expanding as government agencies put out more grant opportunities and as awareness for agriculture and food grows.

In the meantime, Page continues to host tours and events to educate young people about food, agriculture, and Long Island’s rich food history. For Page, sourcing from local purveyors has always been important. One goal of the restaurant is to bring the local history to the table when they serve food, giving guests the opportunity to enjoy and preserve that history.

 Page grows vertical gardens in the atrium, on the roof, as well as in a grow room in the basement. Tours are led through these, and many tours including a cooking section as well.

These events include individual and groups tours as well as structured events like the Little Foodies event. The event was free with no age limit. Page saw ages from three to fifteen years old, and the event was wildly successful.

The reactions to the green wall and the aquaponics system were enthusiastic, and the event integrated food and nutrition lessons. To top it all off, the head chef did a cooking activity with the attendees and the night ended with a meal prepared with greens and free-range chickens from Page.

Page is present as much as possible at community events like HarborFest. Last year, Page’s aquaponic system manager Freddy built a portable aquaponic system to show off at the festival.

Freddy built a portable system down in our booth so we could actually display a working aquaponic system and spread the word. And it was hugely successful. We got great feedback from the community,” says Amber Chapel.

Overall, the reaction to Page’s aquaponic system is the same.

‘Wow.’ That’s the biggest one. One of the adults said that she wished that we would have an event like that for adults. Where they could come in and learn more about it and cook and eat. I think people are just really impressed. And the fact that they get to see up close the food they’re food growing. And the fish, and they can hear the water. It’s interesting, especially for guests in the dining room to dine in that environment. We noticed almost immediately when the green wall was installed in the atrium room that guests were requesting to be seated back there.

The future of Page is full of possibility. The restaurant is hoping to expand their growing space beyond the current location so that they can supplement even more dishes with the produce. (Follow Page at 63 Main on Facebook.)

What will you do with an urban farm?

The possibilities are endless and exciting.

You can start your dream today with a simple Farm Wall, a turnkey system that allows anyone to grow beautiful greens on walls and fences.

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