From farmland to The Farm

(A map from 1766 showing the many farms dotting lower Manhattan)

(A map from 1766 showing the many farms dotting lower Manhattan)

Not so long ago, much of New York was farmland. In 1799, Francis R. Stabile purchased Bayard’s East Farm, a sizable plot of earth at Grand and Mulberry, for a bank mortgage of $30,000. These days, the only kind of New York farm you can get for $30,000 is an artisanal dinner at a farm-to-table restaurant. Well, maybe it’s not that expensive, but I once ordered a small lentil soup that cost $26! Sorry, I digress.

The fact that this location was once a farm is a big part of the reason why we created the Farm where we did—just blocks from Bayard’s farm. It seemed like fate to bring parts of an actual farm into a place that once was created for that purpose. It also looks pretty amazing, makes the whole office design more organic, and puts stucco and cubicles to shame—but those are just a bonuses.

For someone who once worked in a windowless concrete office next to the men’s room, I can assuredly say The Farm is a far more relaxing environment. You’ll find yourself more productive, less stressed, and you can also tell people you’re a farmer. It’s the ultimate way to out-Brooklyn someone. Try it out! “Oh, you pickle your own vegetables? That’s fun. I’m an actual farmer.” It’s liable to make their beard fall clean off.

It’s hard to believe so much of this massive city was so different. Instead of skyscrapers, there were modest farms homes with yards. Instead of halal carts on the corner, there was livestock roaming the streets. Instead of the express train, there were horse-drawn carriages that ran very, very local. Still don’t believe it? Check out this lithograph from 1862:

(The junction of Broadway and Eighth avenues in 1861. Lithograph by George Hayward for D.T. Valentine's Manual, 1862. The Museum of the City of New York)

(The junction of Broadway and Eighth avenues in 1861. Lithograph by George Hayward for D.T. Valentine's Manual, 1862. The Museum of the City of New York)

“I don’t trust lithographs,” you say. “There have always been skyscrapers in Manhattan. And several Forever 21s!” I appreciate your gusto, but just a stone's throw from The Farm is Orchard street. They named it “Orchard” because it’s where James Delancey, an early politician in New York, had his massive farm and apple orchard in the 1700s. But, unfortunately for James, he was a British loyalist and occupier. So after we won the war (go us!), James had to pack up and return to the Queen. His orchard was reclaimed by the government and divvied up to more loyal Americans. But as a consolation prize, they gave James the street name, so it wasn’t all bad for him.

These days if you want to crunch into a Granny Smith on Orchard street, you’ll have to find a Duane Reade. Wouldn’t it be cool if an Apple store opened on Orchard? That’s kind of what we’re doing with the Farm—paying homage to the old tenants. So, hurry up and sign a lease on Orchard, Apple Computer Company!

There were once so many orchards here with so many apples, early farmers started calling New York “The Big Apple” in the late 1700s. Actually, that’s a complete lie. It was coined by a sports writer in the twenties. But my version works way better for the narrative of this post, so let’s stick with that.  

(The Eden Farm, stretching from Broadway to the Hudson River)

(The Eden Farm, stretching from Broadway to the Hudson River)

One final, TRUE, historical nugget before we sign off—The Eden Farm, shown above, was another farm owned by a British loyalist, Medcef Eden. After the war, he likewise had to pack up his crumpets and take the trolly home. After that, John Jacob Astor owned the land which is today Times Square. Mind blown? Me too. Times Square is such an overwhelming place these days—part of me wishes it was still a farm.

It’s easy to forget what another world New York was just a couple hundred years ago. But here at The Farm, surrounded by reclaimed farms, working above former farmland alongside your fellow farmers, we won’t forget. Because the past is important… as is the future. Just think how different New York will look in another hundred and fifty years. Flying Lyfts? Invisible Subways?? Dollar-slice Space Pizza??? A farmer can dream.