ND MBA alum brings the farm to a Brooklyn rooftop and fresh produce to eager consumers

Up on the Rooftop

By Alison Damast | Spring 2015

Printer Friendly

It’s a blustery day in January, and icicles are hanging precariously from the rooftop of Gotham Greens, a commercial-scale greenhouse perched atop a Whole Foods in the once industrial Gowanus section of Brooklyn. To the northwest stretches the gray winterscape of downtown Manhattan; one story below in the parking lot, a sea of wind turbines and solar panels reinforce the notion of standing in a city proper — urban, industrial, mechanical, busy.

Inside the greenhouse, however, is an entirely different world. It’s a balmy 75 degrees. The air is moist and heavy, scented with spicy arugula, sweet Genovese basil and hearty butterhead lettuce, which grow in propagation trays that stretch as far as the eye can see.

Folk music blares from the speakers and a team of urban farmers wearing gloves quietly move around the 20,000-square-foot space picking greens, all of which will

soon be packaged and delivered to Whole Foods and other supermarkets and restaurants scattered throughout the city’s five boroughs. Often, they will hit the shelves by the end of the day.

“New York has really harsh winters and a very refined palate,” said Eric Haley (MBA ’07), the co-founder of Gotham Greens and the chief financial officer, giving a tour of the expansive greenhouse on a Wednesday morning in the middle of January. “It just became very apparent to us that the need for fresh produce far exceeds the supply. And the testament to that is that we’ve basically been sold out since day one.”

Haley, a former football player who stands at 6-foot-4, towers above the greens and tomato vines in the greenhouse on the roof of Whole Foods, where the company’s corporate office is headquartered. It’s the only commercial rooftop farm in the world integrated into a supermarket, and Haley has been involved in nearly every aspect of building and running it since it opened in 2013.

The Gowanus greenhouse, which recently celebrated its first anniversary along with the supermarket, is one of two rooftop greenhouses operated by Gotham Greens, and both are a model for how rooftop space in cities can be used to feed the growing appetite of urban consumers for local and farm-to-table produce, Haley said.

Like most of the team’s small corporate staff, Haley is dressed casually in a red plaid button-down shirt and jeans. A self-described foodie, he is passionate about food, and spends his spare time reading cookbooks, roaming the aisles of Whole Foods to look at new products and visiting farmers markets, he said. He has a laid-back and comfortable demeanor, but speaks passionately about the company’s quick rise from a pioneer in city farming to an industry leader that is now producing 300 tons of produce annually for New York City. 


  • Salt and Light7
    Salt & Light 2497
    Arturo Martinez: A Study in Character 2577
    Lauren Vidal: In the Thick 2571
    Alexander Taylor: From Father to Son 2578
    Jamie Sarubbi: Sister Act 2573
    Keith Butler: Do Well by Doing Good 2580
    Neil Jones: A Case for the Social Good 2575
  • College News3
    College News 2470
    The Cheerleader 2474
    Two Weeks in America 1469
  • Faculty News6
    Faculty News 2487
    God, Country, Notre Dame ... and Family 2480
    Ethics in action: Jessica McManus Warnell 2476
    Frank Reilly: The Greatest Life 2478
    Shopper Secrets 2491
    Going for the win-win 2570
  • Profiles7
    Wickedly Talented 2508
    Super Fan 2512
    In Harms' Way 2514
    Up on the Rooftop 2518
    Lindsay Field: Field of Dreams 2543
    Dennis Hanno: ND Roots, Wheaton Vision 2544
    Brian Ratigan: A Dream Come True 2542
  • In the Classroom1
    An Innovative Approach 2493
  • Taking Stock - Personal Essays2
    Everyday Grace: On Waitresses and Gratitude 2565
    Book of Ruth 2525
  • Class Notes6
    Class Notes 2520
    In Memoriam 2585
    Future Domers 2584
    Lindsay Field: Field of Dreams 2543
    Dennis Hanno: ND Roots, Wheaton Vision 2544
    Brian Ratigan: A Dream Come True 2542
  • Ask More of Business1
    Ask More: Committed to Veterans 2634
  • Web Exclusive1
    Finance Senior's Research Accepted by Academic Journal 2530
  • Alumni Community1
    Class Notes 2520