December 18 Questions: Chase Emmons

by Lauren Verini

Each month we will ask a new eco-maven 18 questions about his or her life, occupation and advice for other like-minded people. This month we were able to sit down with Chase Emmons, a farmer and beekeeper at Brooklyn Grange Rooftop Farm in Long Island City, NY, an organic farm on New York City rooftops. He spoke with us about his views on green living and his passion for educating others about urban farming.

1.  What is your name (and age)?

Chase Emmons, 44.

 2.  What is your occupation?

Chief Beekeeper/Director of Special Projects, Brooklyn Grange Rooftop Farm

 3. Do you have a “green” memory growing up? 

I was born and raised in Greenwich Village, Manhattan. Only real green memory was as a youth spent on the formerly defunct and overgrown Highline, shooting off fireworks, doing graffiti, etc.

4. What’s your favorite meal? 

My homemade pizza, using all my own grown produce and even grains grown in Massachusetts.

5. Who/What inspires you to be more “green” in your life?

I came around probably back in 1999-2000 when I realized it was pretty cool to actually grow my own food rather than buy it at the store.  To me it was more of a hack; doing it myself and going against the system. Also it made sense to power my video games and computers off of solar panels, and modify my car to run on vegetable oil. I like my modern creature comforts, but go out of my way to make sure I’m not damaging my 2 year old nephew’s home in their pursuit.

6. Where on the “green scale” do you fall? 

I guess pretty high, but I’m not planning on living in a yurt anytime soon.

 7. What are the most rewarding and most challenging parts of your job?

Rooftop farming and apiculture are just the coolest and most ultimate hack/modification of the current “system” that I can imagine. Showing and teaching my urban contemporaries about it all, how easy it can actually be on a personal scale, and having them walk away with an entirely new view of where their food comes from is pretty awesome too. Almost every aspect of what I/we do is challenging since this is totally unexplored territory. But in a way, one of the most rewarding things about this endeavor is that every day presents new and interesting challenges.

 8. Where’s your “greenspot”: food, bodycare/beauty, oceans, home or neighborhood, explain:

All of the above, and everything else. Sorry to sound trite, but to me the term “green” is just business as usual. I’m kind of over the whole terminology, like “green”, “sustainable”, “eco”, etc.

 9. Where do you turn for your news?

The net, of course, but I like to get as many viewpoints as possible. No partisanship for me, I’m too smart for that ruse. Extremism from any side is good to keep an eye on, if only to learn about how not to get something accomplished. So MSNBC to Fox News to Howard Stern to New Scientist to everything in between.

 10. What is one environmental change you vow to make in the next year?

Personally, I don’t have any actual list. As I find more efficient ways of doing things I just do it.  Professionally, we plan to build at least one more 50,000+ square foot roof farm in New York and participate in the design of several more globally.

 11. If you could trade places with one person from any time in history (past or present) for one day—who would it be and why?

George Washington Carver.  He was interested in the entire universe around him and was the master integrator.

12. You have a meeting with the leader of every country in the world. You have 30 seconds to tell them anything you want. Go!

Tough one.  A small part of me would love to say “you are clearly a huge part of the problem. Get out and don’t let the doorknob hit you in the ass”. In reality I’d suggest that they have possibly become too beholden to corporate interests such that they are currently not the people I need to talk to. Then I would ask if they felt I was misguided in that assertion.

 13. You have the chance to send one tweet to all the tweeps in the world. Let’s hear it in 140 characters, or less! 

Learn where your food comes from and find out what you are really putting in your mouth.  If you don’t like what you find, change it.

14. If there was one industry/product that you could make more eco-friendly, what would it be?

Livestock.  Not just eco-friendly, but humanely too.

 15. Where in the world would you most like to be right now?

Standing on a multi-10’s of thousands of square foot productive farm on top of a New York City building.  Oh wait, that’s where I am. OK, second to that, just insert any mega-city into that sentence.

 16. What is the best book you have read recently? 

I’m a Sci-Fi geek.  Best recent read was World War Z by Max Brooks and/or Player of Games by Iain M Banks.

 17. What makes you cringe?

When people call our farms a “rooftop garden”.  I know it’s not their fault, but I cringe regardless.

 18. What do you want your legacy to be?

I think it’s kind of set.  I can’t imagine the 2 million pounds of dirt and plants we have on these roofs going anywhere in the next couple hundred years. Unless sea level rise and floods NYC, in which case they’ll just be a tiny, lush archipelagos where my grand kids can do some cool SCUBA diving.



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