roof top farm
UrbanFarmers is on a mission to bring commercial-grade urban farming to consumers hungry for fresh locally-grown produce, and it’s doing so from the rooftops.
Based in Zürich, Switzerland, the company offers a brand of rooftop-based and modular growing systems to client businesses. It does so using aquaponics, a technology that combines plants and aquatic life forms into a harmonious recirculating habitat.
“At present, UF operates the only commercial aquaponic food production system in the EU,” Urban Farmers’ Director of Business Development Tom Zöllner tells Seedstock. “Although there are numerous initiatives and projects in almost every city, almost all of them are socially driven community-based, small-scale projects. We are not aware of anyone else that has been able to implement a large-scale, high-tech aquaponic system that sells year round into a major retailer.”
As urban populations grow and the demand for local food rises, agricultural innovators see opportunity atop the roofs of city buildings. Much of this space is devoted to outdoor gardens, but rooftop greenhouses are also sprouting up in cities with cold climates.
Some are large structures used for commercial purposes, some are owned by restaurants, some assist in feeding the needy, and some are used for educational purposes. But all have one thing in common—they enable growers to grow food year-round in urban settings.
When Jeffrey Orkin started the Urban Hydro Project, he knew he wanted to test the waters of hydroponic growing on a small scale, but didn’t know exactly what the end result would be—until now. Orkin has officially made the move from small-scale hydroponic experimenter to full-scale hydroponic entrepreneur with the creation of Greener Roots Farm.
Orkin started the Urban Hydro Project in a 135 square foot utility room on the roof of a condo in downtown Nashville. For Greener Roots Farm, he plans to scale up significantly. Orkin is currently finishing the build-out on a hydroponic farm in a 6,000 square foot space.
Since 2008, Brooklyn’s Gotham Greens has been working hard to make a difference in the lives of New Yorkers.
As an urban farming pioneer, the for-profit company has established two large commercial farms in the city to meet the demand for fresh, wholesome, local produce. In the process, it has served as a pioneer in the rapidly evolving world of urban agriculture.
“Inspired by innovation and technology, we are driven by a sense of duty to address ecological issues facing our agricultural system,” explains Viraj Puri, co-founder and CEO of Gotham Greens. “The objective is to provide city residents with fresh, local produce, year-round.”
One day, as Alan Joaquin surveyed the landscape of his native Hawaii from his perch in the pilot seat of a Hawaiian Airlines jetliner, he had a revelation.
“I saw nothing but rooftops, and realized we could be growing food on them.”
Joaquin, an entrepreneur since his teen years with a strong interest in horticulture and environmental restoration, was looking for another place to literally “roll out” a modular urban farming system he had been developing.
Joaquin, now a commercial airline pilot, got his start in business in his teens and early twenties as a commercial landscape contractor focusing on ecological restoration, and developed an erosion blanket product to rehabilitate stream banks and facilitate native species restoration.
When you think of New York City, you think of an urban cement jungle of taxis and crowded people – antithetical to a peaceful world of green gardens and fresh produce. Not Zach Pickens. When he followed his wife, a theatre producer, to the Big Apple from his Ohio roots, he figured it was just the time to start his rooftop garden business: Rooftop Ready Seeds.
Pickens, a political science major, wasn’t exactly trained for urban farming. When he saw an empty rooftop on his apartment building in Brooklyn, he relied on memories of his grandparents’ backyard gardens to guide his effort to ‘green’ the asphalt plot.
Eventually, he was hired as the farm manager for Riverpark Farm, supplier for Riverpark restaurant, and one of the largest urban farming models in New York City (they launched their rooftop farm on the site of a stalled construction site).
Traveling from farm to market has never been a shorter trip than it is for the produce grown by Green Sky Growers, a rooftop aquaponic farm, in Winter Gardens, Fla. The farm’s main client is a restaurateur housed in the same building. Delivering fresh produce is a mere one-minute commute in an elevator.
The unique aquaponic operation arose through the personal vision of Bert Roper, an aquaculture expert from Winter Gardens, Fla., whose ancestors settled the area more than a century ago. Although Roper passed away in late 2012, his legacy lives on. It’s visible in the lush, edible greenery that draws nutrients from a rooftop pond atop a multi-rise, 3,000 sq. ft. warehouse.
Although the Swartz family has been farming for three generations, Joe Swartz’s Sky Vegetables in Amherst is very different from the typical farm of his father and grandfather.
When his grandparents, John and Anastasia Swartz immigrated to the United States from Poland, they settled on a 40-acre homestead where they raised dairy cows, tobacco, onions, vegetables, and five children. Their sons, Walter and John Swartz took over the farm and expanded production to 300 acres of rented land in Amherst and surrounding towns.