How many dress-wearing, jeans-obsessed, New York–based farmers do you know? Because the answer now is at least one: Annie Novak. At just 27, she helped open the country’s first commercial green roof row farm—6,000 square feet she still tends to daily six years later—on a quiet street in Brooklyn’s Greenpoint neighborhood, but that’s hardly the only surprising thing we discovered while spending an afternoon at Eagle Street Rooftop Farm. The first? She’s even more down to earth (farmer pun!) than you’d expect. Here, she explains her love for farming, her approach to “workwear” and why touching dirt is good for everyone.
First things first: How’d you get into farming?
As a kid, I spent every day outdoors, riding bikes and visiting the Chicago Botanic Garden, so studying agriculture in college was a natural path for me. When the opportunity came up to help start a huge rooftop farm in Brooklyn, I jumped at it. I knew it was a way to help people realize that where their food comes from really matters.
Is that the M.O. for Eagle Street Farm?
Definitely a part of it. There’s something incredibly empowering about knowing how to grow food. You can always take care of yourself and the people you love.
What are your tips for gardening at home?
You really just need three things: a big five-gallon container, healthy soil and good conditions—sunshine, water and enough room to grow. I included a lot more details about which plants to pick in my new book, The Rooftop Growing Guide: How to Transform Your Roof Into a Vegetable Garden or Farm. And beautiful illustrations too.
You’ve said that touching soil will make us all get along better on the subway…
Engaging with the outdoors is such an important part of being human. It reminds us that we impact the earth, and vice versa. When people first start gardening, I can see the pride and joy they take in their capacity to grow beautiful things. The next chapter is watching them fall in love with the rest of the world, which was there all along.
We have to ask: Farming in dresses—how’d that start?
I’m a tomboy who grew up reading fashion magazines. My favorite outfit as a child was this silk ball gown with a tank top. It made me feel like the person I wanted to become: feminine and confident, but with a sense of humor about the whole thing. There’s nothing inherent in a dress or skirt that makes farming harder. In fact, both genders have worn them to farm throughout history. The one key: pockets. I’ve certainly put quite a few hot peppers through the wash!
Off-duty, what’s a typical Annie outfit?
When I’m not at the farm, I get to wear more white dresses and closed-toed flats. And if sunscreen’s not handy, I love a good hat.
And now, Annie tackles our lightning-round questions.
What’s one thing you do every single day?
Sweat and laugh. It keeps you healthy and wealthy in all the ways that matter.
Favorite crop to grow and sell?
Chili peppers are delicious and tough as can be, even in the face of our unique growing system, a three-story-high green roof. They go into our hot sauce, Awesome Sauce. I always get phone calls midwinter when people run out. (We keep a secret stash.)
One thing you’re newly into?
Playing the drums. I’m terrible, but who couldn’t love playing the drums?
Perfect weekend day?
I’d be on a boat (if I wasn’t in a garden!).
Favorite time of day?
The bookends: dawn and just past dusk. That’s when I go for walks with my foster dog, Leo. He’s in need of a good home!
Annie is wearing our Wrap Midi Dress in Linn Stripe.
Come meet Annie IRL and learn to grow your own sunflowers (!). And because we love a good party favor, take home a seed packet, a tote and a very-limited-edition bandana featuring Annie’s vegetable sketches. Our mini-tour kicks off this weekend, making stops in Washington DC, Brooklyn, Portland and Chicago. Get growin’ and RSVP.
Photography by Jennifer Trahan.