Emerging Work: The Coolness of the Urban Farmer

Posted on July 18, 2011


A worker at the Hearty Roots farm in Tivoli, New York planting potatoes

Andy Kropa is a talented freelance photographer who lives in the world capital of hipsterism: Brooklyn, New York. Kropa happens to be from Iowa, a place that is generally not considered hip.

While Brooklyn has a rich culture of artisanal baking, brewing, pickling, and whatever, Iowa has rich black earth that produces prodigious amounts of corn, soybeans, and whatnot. Growing up in Iowa, Kropa viewed farming as being about as uncool a thing as there was. Living in Brooklyn has opening his eyes to farming’s new hipness.

“I think it’s now considered way more cool that being in a band,” he told me recently.

A couple of years ago, after he’d been laid off from a magazine job during the darkest moments of the Great Recession, Kropa started looking around for a long-term photo documentary project to sink his teeth into. “I had time on my hands,” he said. He wanted to focus on how other people who suddenly had time on their hands were coping. “But I wanted to come up with an angle on all this downtime that wasn’t just another sad story–about people who had turned it into something positive for themselves.”

He began documenting Community SupportedAgriculture projects, including a one-acre rooftop-farm operation called the Brooklyn Grange, which ironically is located on Northern Boulevard in Queens. A couple of hours to the north, in Tivoli, New York—in the heart of the Hudson Valley, another center of foody hipness—Kropa shot other younger farmers getting their hands dirty. He also looked at urban farming projects in other cities, including Chicago.

Free-range chickens from Awesome Farm in New York

 What he discovered, he says, was a generation of people in their 20s–just a few years younger than Kropa himself–who viewed farming without the ironic associations he’d grown up with. “I wanted to try to show agriculture in a way it hadn’t been depicted before,” he said.

You can see images from this ongoing project at SocialDocumentary.net, and at Kropa’s website. The work will also be on view at the Brooklyn Grange building at 37-18 Northern Boulevdard, Long Island City, Queens, throughout the summer growing season.

Planting time at the Brooklyn Grange

Yoga break at City Farm in Chicago

Pies at the Eagle Street rooftop farm in Greenpoint, Brooklyn

The Brooklyn Grange as the new American heartland

I should note here that the magazine from which Andy was laid off was the magazine I used to edit, and that I was laid off the same day he was. So we have a bond. I think this work is, as Andy say, uplifting–and inimitably cool.