by Rose Egelhoff
Urban Pastoral, a new rooftop farming company spearheaded by entrepreneur J.J. Reidy, is starting operations in Baltimore. The “first commercial scale hydroponic farm” in Baltimore will use media-based vertical growing systems to provide greens and culinary herbs to food service contractor Bon Appétit, as well as to participate in the Baltimore Food Hub.
After college, Reidy found his way into the world of Internet startups at LivingSocial. There, he says, “I began to think about building my dream.”
Reading about the emerging urban agriculture movement and thinking about his life-long passion for food and gardening, Reidy realized “that this was exactly what I wanted to do… instead of building Twitter and Facebook apps, solving problems that actually matter for our society.”
by Rose Egelhoff
Something’s growing atop D.C. restaurant Oyamel. Seedlings poke young leaves out of four inches of soil. The new green roof, which opened in May, is part of Up Top Acres, a network of rooftop farms.
Up Top Acres, founded by Kathleen O’Keefe, Kristof Grina and Jeffrey Prost-Greene, installs and farms green roofs around the city. They hope to partner with D.C. restaurants to offer fresh, local produce. At the same time, their green roofs provide energy savings and stormwater retention for the buildings where they are located, and the farms can be community centers for education and events.
by Hariette Halepis
When construction is completed later this summer on top of a two-story building in downtown St. Louis, Food Roof Farm will be the first of its kind in the city.
The project is being spearheaded by Mary Ostafi, a former architect with big dreams for this mid-sized city.
Ostafi is behind the city’s already bustling Urban Harvest, a sprawling downtown community garden space, and has spent the past year planning and creating the new rooftop farm space. Her work to connect city residents with their food has been inspired by other rooftop gardens throughout the world, and from a more personal source: her grandfather’s backyard Chicago garden that she often frequented as a child.
Since space in most cities is scarce, rooftop farming has become an increasingly important piece of the urban agriculture puzzle. While most cities do not have much open land, empty rooftops abound, making green roofs (used for farming or otherwise) an obvious choice for filling this underutilized space.
According to Green Roofs for Healthy Cities’ 2013 Green Roof Industry Survey, the green roof and wall industry experienced a 10 percent growth rate in 2013. While 10 percent may sound nominal, 2,164,926 square feet of green roofs were installed in the Washington D.C. Metropolitan area alone within that one year period.
Though this growth is encouraging, it has also been slow coming. The benefits of green roofs have been undisputed for several decades, but the industry itself is perceived by many as still being in its infancy.
New York City resident Jason Green wanted good local produce available in his city on a year-round basis. Concluding that other New Yorkers wanted the same thing, he addressed this insufficiency with aquaponics.
Desiring a more intimate relationship with food, Green was already gardening in his apartment window box. But in order to grow local produce year-round in New York City, he knew that a new sort of infrastructure was needed.
So Green, along with co-founders Ben Silverman and Matt La Rosa, founded Edenworks, which utilizes vertically-terraced, closed loop, modular aquaponic ecosystems.
For Nick Halmos, CEO and farmer-in-chief of Santa Cruz-based Cityblooms, urban agriculture has meant a passionate pursuit of innovation.
The native Floridian started his journey in Providence, Rhode Island in 2001 when he was an undergraduate at Brown University. Halmos can thank climate change for spurring his interest in urban agriculture well over a decade ago, when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report on global climate.
“Issues of climate change were permeating through all academic discussions,” Halmos says.
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.