“Photos are essential to our business,” shares Anastasia Cole Plakias, vice president and founding partner of the Brooklyn Grange. “Our aim is to change the way people think about fundamental definitions of farmland and urbanity. Photography is a powerful tool—a striking image of sunflowers towering over the midtown skyline really helps get our message across.”
Brooklyn Grange is one of the world’s largest soil rooftop farms, located on two properties in New York City: Long Island City, Queens, and the Brooklyn Navy Yard Farm. Combined, these sites harvest more than 50,000 pounds of organically cultivated produce each year. In addition to growing and distributing vegetables and herbs, the business delivers a variety of community education programs and events. Its leadership team also provides urban farming, plus green roof consulting and installation services.
It’s Personal: Photos Build ‘Farmily’
Images produced by Brooklyn Grange entice neighbors to come buy vegetables. The images help sell dinners, classes and events. And the images foster community.
“Photos tell our story—and I don’t mean the factual story that we grow 50k lbs. of vegetables on 2.5 acres of rooftops in NYC. I mean the personal, day-to-day sense of being part of what we call the ‘farmily.’ Asserts Plakias, “A big reason people come out of their way to shop with us, or commit to joining our Community Supported Agriculture for the full season, or book an event on our site is because they see our photos and they see who we are. They’ve seen my partner Gwen’s kids growing up on the farm, teething on kale. They watch the tomatoes blush in early July, then deepen to vivid yellows, oranges, reds and purples while ripening on the vines.”
Plakias herself does much of the photo capture, but the entire team will snap and share. “With so many photogenic moments popping up all the time we keep a camera handy. Work on the farm is visually compelling—using photos to tell that story is totally organic. No pun intended,” she smiles. Despite the bounty of photo opportunities, the team remains selective about what gets shared. “We’ve all got a keen eye and it’s hard to take a bad picture of the farm, but nevertheless, we follow the rule: if you wouldn’t ‘like’ it, don’t post it.”
Plakias manages content that’s added to the website, newsletter and marketing collateral. Chase Emmons, the managing partner and locations director, handles social media for Brooklyn Grange and gathers photo files from the team. He also oversees licensing and commercial deals. Aside from daily photo posts to social media, website updates, placement in marketing collateral and signage, some of their favorite shots are destined to appear in a Brooklyn Grange book in the Spring of 2016.
Pausing, Plakias recounts one more use for images. Since the team snaps so many great shots during the growing season, “We hold back a few photo gems. In winter when the city is at its dreariest we brighten website visitors’ days by uploading a few sunny summer shots.”
Aside from the staff, each year thousands of international visitors also contribute. “We love it when the community shares. Our social handle @brooklyngrange is prominently posted near the door. Getting help spreading the word is a great way to further tell our story.”
The Conservationist and Sustainable Photography
A long time Nikon shooter, Plakias has most recently been relying on a Nikon D5000. “One of the first lenses I used was an AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR. Since then I’ve played around with many other lenses. I like that Nikon has kept camera bodies and lenses compatible through the years.” Her mother shot with a Nikon in the 1970s and still has the glass. Notes Plakias, “I love that her old lenses work with my current DSLR. In fact I dated the serial number of her Auto-H NIKKOR 50mm f/2 and it looks as if it was manufactured between 1968 and 1971. It still shoots beautiful images. As a conservationist I wish every company made products intended to last forever—then honored that intention with sustainable design practices.”
She talks about creating photos: “I climb a lot of ladders and shoot through windows to get aerial views of not only Grange rooftop spaces, but also the green roof, garden and farm spaces we design and build for clients. The Nikon D5000 has served us well, but I’m excited about graduating to our new full frame Nikon D810.”
The Value of Visuals
When it comes to citing ROI for all their visual capture, Plakias references three streams. One is fun ROI: soon after posting a photo of the season’s first ripe heirloom tomatoes (photo caption reading something akin to ‘they’re selling fast’), there will be customers who arrive breathless asking, ‘Did we miss the tomatoes?’ A second return on investment: she states that people are more compelled to buy tickets to a natural dye workshop or sunset dinner they host if marketing efforts are accompanied by inviting photos.
The value of visuals touches search engine results too. Plakias points out that their large volume of image uploads (with targeted HTML tagging) helps improve site ranking and SEO, which means driving traffic and business alike. “Brooklyn Grange books a lot of location work thanks to the photos we post of our rooftops. Scouts recommend us as a backdrop to clients looking to create interesting visual content. Editors who see a pretty picture of our staff picking tomatoes have no trouble visualizing our site as a set for fashion spreads. Many of the location scouts who book our space for editorial and commercial shoots find us via Instagram, or by searching Google images for a rooftop garden or farm.”
She continues, “But perhaps the greatest return comes when a property owner sees our shots and asks us to come build a green roof on their building.” Thanks to the positive buzz created for Brooklyn Grange, more calls are coming in from individuals interested in adding green. “We love any opportunity to build an urban green space and create a new fresh food source in the city. Doing so helps the planet and our bottom line at the same time.”
A Cornucopia of Images Tells the Story
What sort of photos best tell a Brooklyn Grange story? “We capture a diverse range so that we will appeal to all types—but the most loved photos are those that show a stark contrast of farm against city skyline.” Plakias says funny-looking vegetables also draw attention. “We once posted a photo of “His and Hers” carrots. The shot itself is nothing special—you barely even see the farm—but that image was in our top three most liked on a major photo-sharing site”. Other favorites include close-ups of produce, plus the meals they prepare for themselves.
“In an increasingly globalized world, photography is a universal language.” Plakias closes with, “And in an increasingly digitized world in which people have decreasing attention spans, it’s important to grab their attention. Not everyone will read this whole blog post, for example, but I bet many will scan the photos.”