Green businesses growing in LIC

THE COURIER/Photo by Alexa Altman

Environmentally friendly businesses in Long Island City are perfecting green living in an urban setting.

Coffeed, a java joint on the ground floor of the Brooklyn Grange building on Northern Boulevard, serves sandwiches, soups and salads, crafted from ingredients grown on the roof of their building. The top deck of the six-story LIC building holds an acre of farm-fresh goods, picked ripe and dropped right on the tables of patrons in the café downstairs.

“You know the guy who grows your carrots and roasts your coffee,” said Coffeed co-owner Frank Raffaele. “It’s farm to table and I’m just really happy to do that in a super, hyperlocal way.”

The eco-advocate says he intends to keep the farm going year-round, changing crops depending on the season. Currently, the rooftop oasis yields eggplant, kale, cherries, arugula and radishes. Coffeed sources most of their coffee from Africa but has it ground by a local company on Long Island. Eventually, Raffaele says he would love to grow his own beans.

Ten percent of the outfit’s sales go to City Growers, an organization that educates city children about the process and benefits of urban farming. Raffaele says it’s the first time many young people experience provincial living the beginning stages of food preparation and that many city residents miss developing a connection with the way food is grown and sourced.

“From a community standpoint, you are buying products from people who work and live in your community,” said Raffaele. “It’s just like a small town. There’s something nice that people in New York don’t have.”

While locally sourcing the best ingredients remains Coffeed’s ultimate goal, Raffaele said balancing costs and principles is complicated.

“It’s a tough niche because we want to give the best quality and source everything locally but that’s a little more expensive,” said Raffaele. “We’re trying to strike a balance.”

The farm-to-table movement isn’t limited to food. Locally-sourced flowers are gaining popularity in the neighborhood, thanks to a two-month-old business.

Debbie Demarse, owner of online flower shop NYC Farm Chic Flowers, is bringing the “farm-to-vase” movement to Long Island City, pushing the ecological and economic benefits to choosing locally-grown blooms.

Roughly 80 percent of flowers sold in the United States are imported and 50 percent of flowers shipped into the country perish en route and are thrown away before they hit the store. According to Demarse, American farmers have been forced to shut down or cut back because of the increased number of imported flowers, a trend she believes would change if people knew they had a choice.

“It’s all about education and getting the word out there,” said Demarse. “Most people don’t know there’s a choice when buying flowers.”

Demarse selects most of her flowers from growers on Long Island and a greenhouse in Hudson Valley. She has also begun working with Brooklyn Grange, the same company that partnered with Raffaele to start Coffeed.

Demarse, who buys flowers per order to cut down on the 50 percent that hit the floor, said there are no downsides or limitations to solely sourcing from local growers. The products she sells are made without harmful pesticides that have been known to cause chemical burns and cancer among famers.

Both Demarse and Raffaele hope to educate Long Island City residents about the benefits to sourcing and purchasing locally-grown and locally made items, building a self-sufficient and connected community.

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