From Supermarket Rooftops to a Storied Ball Park, an Urban Farming Co. Increases Access to Local FoodSeptember 12, 2017 | Charli Engelhorn
Since its inception in 2008, Green City Growers (GCG), a Certified B Corporation that installs and maintains vegetable gardens and farms within the greater Boston area, has assisted in the production of more than 175,000 pounds of organic produce, donated more than 12,000 pounds of fruits and vegetables, and engaged more than 7,500 people through their efforts.
“The mission is to grow food in unused spaces and provide people access to fresh produce,” says Jessie Banhazl, CEO and co-founder of GCG. “Having that mission as the core of our trajectory has led us into so many different spaces, which has been really fun and interesting and made us realize that there are so many possibilities for this kind of work.”
Atop a Parking Garage in a Staten Island Residential Development, an Urban Farm Builds Community and ThrivesAugust 14, 2017 | Charli Engelhorn
Sometimes, the best laid plans do not always work out, and for Zaro Bates, co-founder and proprietor of Empress Green Inc., this small deviation from her plan would come to encapsulate her life in every facet.
Empress Green Inc. is an urban farming business specializing in organic food production, education, and consulting. Bates and her husband, Asher Landes, started the company in 2016, shortly after moving into the residential development Urby, a 500+ apartment complex that sits on the north shore of Staten Island, New York. The couple built and now maintain a 4,500-square-foot urban farm on top of one of the complex’s parking garages between two of the main buildings.
“During a 3-year development consultancy, we evolved several green roof and urban farm concepts that would be attractive shared amenities for the residents,” Bates says. “We decided on an intensive green roof urban market garden with a Farmer-in-Residence to manage the farm and run workshops and events for the community.”
Located in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area, Rooftop Roots is a social enterprise taking the restrictive needs of a city littered with zoning laws and height restrictions as a challenge worth going vertical for. Designing, installing and maintaining custom gardens on rooftops, and creating community gardens across the city, Rooftop Roots is helping to build the conversation on how the nation’s capital utilizes its green spaces.
“We’re a nonprofit landscaping company but instead of mowing lawns we build gardens and maintain gardens for residential, commercial and community partners,” says Thomas Schneider, Executive Director of nonprofit Rooftop Roots.
After discovering their dream of office buildings with built up gardens on top was practically impossible to achieve with D.C.’s height restrictions, Rooftop Roots had to rethink its business plan. “We won’t only put gardens on roofs but we’ll put gardens in every nook and cranny and urban landscape we possibly can,” says Schneider.
Rooftop gardens have been around at least since 6,000 B.C. and thrive all over the world. The benefits of growing in the sky 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 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. “And you’ve got to make sure that you’re training people so that they aren’t compromising the rooftop membrane.”
For urban farmers, clever space utilization is key, especially in a major city like Washington D.C., where planners estimate there will be a need for 200 million square feet of new housing by 2040. Using rooftops can change the game and offer major ecological benefits along with fresh local food. Rooftop Roots is a team of D.C. locals who have been working for five years to scale up rooftop growing in their city and supply local food banks with the harvest. Seedstock spoke to executive director Thomas Schneider about how it’s done.
Seedstock: I understand that Rooftop Roots was born in a conversation between you and Christian Patrizia, your marketing director whilst hanging out on a roof. How long between that conversation and the first seed getting planted? What were some of the first steps?
Thomas Schneider: Gosh, the idea came up on July 3, 2010. I started thinking about it more and more, trying to figure out how to make it work, and asking random people I met what they thought about the idea. That fall, we came up with the name and the concept, and that winter we started reaching out to folks in the non-profit arena to figure out where to get started.