Community Gardens Gain Ground on Rooftops

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Rooftop gardening is gaining momentum for a number of reasons not the least of which is the gnawing realization that food may not be as plentiful as it has been. There are increasingly more meat eaters in the world as India, China and developing nations get on the protein bandwagon, according to Peter Ladner, a fellow at the Simon Fraser University Centre for Dialogue in Vancouver and a participant in a project called, Planning Cities as if Food Mattered.


The too, there’s global warming causing elevated levels of droughts and floods, which affect crop growth. Ladner also points to a looming water shortage and the increasing prices of fossil fuels, both of which will be driving up the cost of producing food in the energy intensive way that has been used for the last 60 years. Bringing agriculture into city centers though has always been difficult because of the absence of acceptable space.

Janine De La Salle, director of food systems planning at the Vancouver office of HB Lanarc, urban planning and design consultants, wonders why anyone would question the importance of urban agriculture since inner cities often don’t have the volume of fresh food available because it is produced so far away. She also makes a case for urban gardens bringing people together and helping to educate young people.

That sentiment is echoed in many communities where people are turning to rooftop gardens for enjoyment, exercise and healthy food. On top of the Hammond Street Senior Center in Bangor, Maine, residents tend to lettuce, chard, green beans, cucumbers, tomatoes and even potatoes. Community members in Oakland revitalized a rooftop garden on one of the schools there, and the Brooklyn Grange is starting an organic farming effort on an industrial building using a million pounds of soil. The organizers want to provide fresh vegetables to local communities. Meanwhile in Trenton, Michigan, Sky Vegetables is harvesting fruit and vegetables from the top of a forging business that is supplying the heat to the rooftop greenhouse. The company plans to have similar operations in New York, Washington D.C., Boston and San Francisco. The overall goal is to provide produce to people’s tables within 48 hours of harvest.

Green rooftops have been sprouting in New York City for years as an outgrowth of a green space movement started in 1973 by Liz Christy and the Green Guerillas. The advocacy group continues to take on greening projects citywide and is increasingly involved in green roof gardens. Bette Midler’s New York Restoration Project founded in 1995 has also worked on the forefront of greening the city through small plots.

Individuals are getting into the act as well. There are manufacturers who sell rooftop planting systems that use bins. Since the weight of each bin is a known quantity the homeowner can plan the right number without overloading the roof. One couple in Houston grows herbs, eggplants, cucumbers and citrus trees on the roof of a townhouse built in 2008.

To underscore the emphasis of green roofs, and green roof gardening, the United States Department of Agriculture christened its first green roof on the Washington D.C. headquarters of its Economic Research Service in 2009. At the ceremony, Kathleen Merrigan, USDA deputy secretary, called it a demonstration plot attesting to how small efforts can help produce safe, sustainable and nutritious food.

Photo credit, flickr user osde8info under a CC license.

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