This Urban Farmer is Breeding Seeds for Rooftops

Zach Pickens shows off some black Roma beans from his summer crops.

Zach Pickens shows off some black Roma beans from his summer crops.

Urban farmers in New York City face many obstacles—from high winds, to lack of space, extreme temperatures, and more. But now, there’s a line of seeds made just for them. Zach Pickens of Rooftop Ready Seeds, a small NYC start-up, has been cultivating, packaging, and selling seeds bred specifically for New York urban farms for the past four years.

Every fall he lets a portion of his crops go to seed and saves the ones that have done the best—those that have been the most flavorful or produced the most fruit in rooftop conditions. Along the way he has developed a few new varieties and honed pre-existing ones. For example, after last year’s harsh winter, he selected seeds from the hardiest of the survivors.

“I was saving seeds from year one,” Pickens told me while giving me a tour of the small urban farm he manages for Chef Tom Colicchio’s River Park Restaurant in Manhattan.

Pickens moved to New York from Ohio in 2007 with a Masters in Political Science, not farming. When he and his girlfriend (now wife) moved into their apartment in Bushwick, they discovered a 4,000-square footroof deck, and, conveiently, a landlord who said: “Sure, grow anything you want up there.” That first year he saved seeds from his basil crop.

Read the full story, originally published on Civil Eats.




Containers of vegetables at River Park Restaurant. Pickens says about 30% of the produce served at the restaurant comes from their urban farm.