Farms like Ms. Bates’s, in addition to more traditional farmland, have been around for quite some time. Thomas Whitlow, an associate professor of horticulture who specializes in urban plants at Cornell University, Ms. Bates’s alma mater, said that in the 1940s some 40 percent of fresh market produce in New York was grown in victory gardens.
“Certainly, urban populations in general are very adaptable as conditions change,” Dr. Whitlow said. “They can change within the space of a year. Just a hundred years ago we were almost a hunter-gatherer society and did indeed have farming in major metropolitan areas.”
Ms. Bates had hardly seen farmland as a child. Her parents, who moved to Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, in the early 1990s, rarely took the family upstate. They had the backyard of their home, but no green thumbs between them. The yard was a play space.
After graduating from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell, where she studied developmental sociology, Ms. Bates volunteered as a groundskeeper at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Stockbridge, Mass.
“That was the first time that I drove a tractor, did wood chipping, shoveled heaps of snow in the Berkshires winter, then planted in the springtime and just worked outside with a team of people through the seasons,” she said. “That was my first experience with that type of work and really falling in love with that.”
Afterward she intended to travel, maybe visit South America. Her plans were postponed by an apprenticeship at Brooklyn Grange, a rooftop and urban farming consultancy group, where Ms. Bates farmed under the tutelage of the chief operating officer, Gwen Schantz.
“We love designing and installing green spaces for clients, but it’s equally exciting to see others taking this work up, especially young, savvy farmers like Zaro,” Ms. Schantz said.
The group played an advisory role in two fundamental aspects of Ms. Bates’s life. First by helping her start her own consultancy, Empress Green, and by providing the pretenses under which she met Mr. Landes. The two now live at Urby and work on the farm during the spring, summer and autumn growing seasons, traveling abroad in the winter.
The couple had consulted for Ironstate Development, the developer of Urby, ahead of the farm project, and are now consulting with it on a future residential farm project in New Jersey. While Ms. Bates is the affable and gregarious face of Empress Green, Mr. Landes caters to the bees in 20 colorful hand-painted hives on the roofs at the Stapleton development. By his estimate, there are nearly two million bees, and each hive produces 50 to 80 pounds of honey a season.
“In the spring this will be brimming with hemlock and filled with flowers and all the trees will be filled with flowers,” Mr. Landes said of the farm. The bees will “be able to fly about nine miles to find good food. You stand up here and it’s just like a highway. It’s amazing.”
The honey, herbs and produce from the farm are sold at a stand for the community.
“What we did was similar to other farmers’ markets in the city,” Ms. Bates said. “But because it was enclosed in a space that invites hanging out for a while, we really invited people to make it more of a Saturday afternoon activity. That was not just for Urby residents, but also anyone from the general public.”
Ms. Bates and Mr. Landes try to plant according to requests from local residents. The proceeds go to the couple’s company, supplementing the annual salary they each receive from Urby. (Urby and Ms. Bates declined to disclose the amount.) They also host workshops and a book club.
“The priority is to residents,” Ms. Bates said, “but also to build community.”
She has considered offering a community-supported agricultural association in which residents enroll to receive a regular supply of produce, but that would limit her client base. Her current all-are-welcome approach has Ms. Bates seeking other methods of distribution because, while there is a steady growth in demand, she produces more than she can sell even while supporting Urby’s communal kitchen, where Urby’s chef-in-residence hosts classes for tenants. Ideas include a subscription-based meal delivery service.
Even so, she is focused on expansion. Urby is developing another farm plot in the same complex, where now there is just a slab of concrete. Ms. Bates also hopes to offer more educational opportunities as the farm’s output increases.
Residents “want to contribute in some way, or they just feel like their kids should know what a tomato looks like growing in the ground,” she said. “A lot of New Yorkers don’t grow up seeing that.”