roof top farm
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.
Hydroponic Urban Ag Startup Seeks to Create Scalable, Sustainable and Affordable Model to Feed CitiesDecember 4, 2012 | Melonie Magruder
Cityblooms is a food revolution waiting to happen. The Santa Cruz startup is now developing a comprehensive system to grow hydroponic microgreens on a commercial scale, but it came from humble beginnings.
The company was founded in 2001 by Nicholas Halmos, then an undergrad at Brown University. He was working on a junior year entrepreneurial project, when he and his friends decided to experiment with hydroponically grown tomatoes, and a light bulb turned on.
“I have been into urban agriculture longer than most,” Halmos said. “Even though I never particularly had a green thumb and we had no idea what we were doing.”
He started by buying a tomato plant at Home Depot, washing off the soil and encouraging hydroponic growth in a setup in his bathroom. The plant exploded with fecundity and Halmos began having dreams of feeding an urban nation.
Below New York City’s skyscrapers, 8-foot tall okra plants tower over an impressive array of vegetables, herbs and flowers growing on a rooftop farm situated just 100-feet from the kitchen of Riverpark Restaurant. Lunch and dinner menus state that meals are made with “produce grown right here at the Riverpark Farm.” In fact, the 15,000-square-foot urban farm on East 29th Street supplies 100 percent of the restaurant’s organic herbs, lettuce, and flowers.
However, researchers in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences, along with faculty from New York University, soon will begin a study to examine the state of urban agriculture in the United States today.
Chris Bajuk got into urban farming almost by chance. Though not from a farming background, he has been gardening in backyards since childhood. And, in recent years he has been experimenting with hydroponic systems. “A good friend of mine, and classmate from the University of Washington MBA program, came over to my house and was awestruck by how much produce I was growing on my backyard deck using hydroponics,” says Bajuk, who was growing peas, beans, tomatillos, peppers, cucumbers, zucchini, watermelon and corn in buckets. “He suggested we start an urban farming business,” he reflects. “Thus, UrbanHarvest was born.”