Rooftop gardens have been around at least since 6,000 B.C. and thrive all over the world. The benefits of green space for city dwellers are many: better air, cooler buildings, and the intangible but potent psychological boost of having green space as close as the last stop on the elevator.
And as the urban agriculture movement with it ramps up, urban farmers are increasingly looking upward for new spaces to grow. City land, after all, is notoriously expensive.
But there’s a steep learning curve involved in creating a viable rooftop farm any bigger than a few potted tomato plants or herbs.
“You’re looking at the liability and insurance risk of having people on a rooftop, and then you’ve got to make sure it’s structurally sound enough to withstand the extra soil weight for production,” Angie Mason, director of urban ag for the Chicago Botanic Garden, told NPR in 2013. “And you’ve got to make sure that you’re training people so that they aren’t compromising the rooftop membrane.”
San Francisco-based Farm From a Box supplies all the components needed to create a two-acre off-grid farm, packed in a shipping container that will then serve as a farm building. It recently announced a new partnership with Netafim, an Israel-based irrigation firm with offices in 120 countries, to supply the irrigation components.
Farm From a Box is the brainchild of partners Scott Thompson and Brandi DiCarli. Their kits include renewable power systems, internet connectivity, basic farm tools, micro-drip irrigation systems and water pumps that can be adapted to fit either a ground well or municipal water supply.
News Release – WASHINGTON, April 29, 2016 – Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today unveiled the USDA Urban Agriculture Toolkit, a new resource created by USDA’s Know Your Farmer team to help entrepreneurs and community leaders successfully create jobs and increase access to healthy food through urban agriculture. From neighborhood gardens grown on repurposed lots, to innovative mobile markets and intensive hydroponic and aquaculture operations, urban food production is rapidly growing into a mature business sector in cities across the country.
“Urban agriculture helps strengthen the health and social fabric of communities while creating economic opportunities for farmers and neighborhoods,” Vilsack said. “USDA’s Urban Agriculture Toolkit compiles guidance from our Know Your Farmer team and many private partners into one comprehensive resource to help small-scale producers manage all aspects of their business. From protecting soil health to marketing to schools and grocery store chains, USDA has tools to meet the needs of this new breed of innovative urban farmer and small business owner.”
Excerpt: Richard Nixon’s agriculture secretary in the early to mid-1970s was Earl Butz, a man best known for advising the nation’s farmers to “get big or get out.”
“We’re trying to take farming practices back 100 years, but put the business model 10 years ahead,” says farmer Paul Greive of Murrieta, CA-based Primal Pastures.
Greive and three of his in-laws founded Primal Pastures in 2012, starting with pastured free-range chickens. The small family farm has since expanded its offering and, in addition to poultry, now sells pasture raised pork, lamb, beef, honey, and wild seafood to its customers.
Primal Pastures is not an organic farm, but Greive takes pride in the fact that he and his fellow farmers employ regenerative and environmentally responsible farming practices that “go beyond sustainability.”This includes letting animals carry out their natural behaviors on pasture through rotational grazing to help restore equilibrium to soil.
By Brian Allnutt
Beginning gardeners should always be prepared to garden imperfectly and learn as they go. You can make a lot of mistakes and still have a good time and pull some food out of the ground while you’re at it.
But the one area where you can’t afford to mess around–especially when gardening with children or pregnant women–is with soil contamination. Unfortunately, there are few centralized resources on urban soils and soil testing, and some dispute over what constitutes an acceptable level of various soil contaminants. However, it’s important to at least be making informed decisions about where to grow and how to grow there. Here are five key things you should be thinking about when gardening in an urban environment:
ProduceRun co-founder and president William Pattison is no stranger to farming. His family has worked the land for four generations.
“ProduceRun started on our own family farm,” Pattison says. “We wanted a better way to be found, sell and distribute our farm products to the public. I feel that our technology can make a real difference for farmers, making it easier for them to do business, and creating easier access for buyers.”
Eric Kelly, founder of Charm City Farms, has always appreciated the great outdoors. Since he was a kid, Kelly dreamed of working outside with his hands and communing with critters. But when he became an adult, reality set in—he had to get a 9-to-5 job.
But Kelly’s life took a turn after he was in a car accident. He decided to make a change. So, he left his job and hiked part of the Appalachian trail. “I tried to reconnect to myself,” he says. “I already liked plants and had a great relationship with animals, but I wanted to learn more.”
Excerpt: “These are spoiled plants,” says Gotham Greens co-founder and CEO Viraj Puri, gesturing toward seemingly endless rows of perfectly symmetrical leaves — butter lettuce, arugula, basil — in vibrant, uniform shades of green.
Increasing access to fresh and healthy food in “food deserts,” defined as low-income urban areas where a substantial number or share of residents has very limited access to a large grocery store or supermarket, requires creativity, resourcefulness and drive.
And it is drive that resulted in the creation of a grocery store on wheels that enables Moreno Valley-based Family Service Association (FSA) to tackle trenchant food access problems in Riverside and San Bernardino, two of the largest counties in the United States.
Family Service Association (FSA), an organization that builds community “one family at a time, through compassion, advocacy and comprehensive model services, fostering self-sufficiency and sustainable impacts,” launched mobile fresh market pilot project, Mobile Fresh, in December 2013. Program Director Joey Romero says at the time, Mobile Fresh was run out of a van, and FSA advertised the new mobile grocery service at some of its offices and local child care and community centers. “We parked, put a table out there and put out some fresh fruits and vegetables,” recalls Romero.