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.
When room to farm in a city is scarce, look up.
Montreal-based Lufa Farms built Canada’s first commercial hydroponic urban rooftop greenhouse in 2011. In the late summer of 2013, Lufa opened a second, larger rooftop greenhouse in Laval, Quebec.
Although Lufa always intended to add another greenhouse to its operation once the 2011 site opened, the company wanted to observe how the first project did first, says Lauren Rathmell, greenhouse director and founding member.
“The goal was to have by the end of our first year of production 1,000 subscribers, which is about what our first site can support by itself,” she says. “The trajectory from there was to have a goal of having 3,500 subscribers by the end of 2013.”
On the roof of a condo in downtown Nashville, Urban Hydro Project founder Jeffrey Orkin is redefining the meaning of space-efficient urban agriculture.
Orkin has turned a former rooftop utility room into a 135-square foot hydroponic grow room where he raises various types of lettuce, basil, arugula, dill, kale, cilantro, mustard greens, and more. In December 2012, Orkin launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise the funds he needed to build the grow room. Those who donated to the campaign were promised certain amounts of lettuce, basil, and arugula in return, and Orkin has been busy over the past year distributing these greens to his supporters. Orkin has also been busy selling his produce to residents of the condo unit he grows in, other community members, and local restaurants in the Nashville area.
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.”
As the largest “farm-to-fork” rooftop garden in the region, the Chicago Botanic Garden’s McCormick Place West Rooftop Garden has garnered quite a following in Chicago and across the Midwest since it was planted in late June. The gardening project was started to bring attention to local sustainable agriculture and to create jobs for people in the community.
SAVOR…Chicago, McCormick Place’s food service provider and funder, uses the fresh produce grown at McCormick Place for its restaurant and catering operations.
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.