A Commercial Hydroponic Farm—On a Bronx Rooftop!

Since about 1980, I’ve felt that we could solve a lot of our urban problems by seeing flat city roofs (and for that matter, roofs in suburban shopping centers, etc.) as resources: places where we can harvest energy with solar collectors—but also harvest food.

But when I started talking about my brainstorm, people told me that the roofs were not designed to bear the weight of a dense garden, and the amount of reinforcement they needed would make the whole idea unworkable. I never quite believed this. It seemed to me that if you were to put one or two 200 square-foot gardens onto a 2000 square foot roof, the weight load could be distributed across the entire rooftop without much difficulty. But I’m not an engineer.

Still, I wasn’t surprised to see the “green roof” movement emerge over the past ten years or so—but I was disappointed at how few green roofs seem to grow edible crops.

I do think community food self-sufficiency—particularly in urban areas–is a big part of the answer to “how do we reclaim our economy—and our bodies?” and a great antidote to the very dangerous practices of “chemiculture” [a word I personally coined, BTW], GMO seed strains, and the attempt by Monsanto and similar companies to exercise a terrifying degree of control over (and damage to) our food supply.  So I was delighted when I found these folks in the Bronx, using 6000 square feet of the 10,000-square-foot roof of a city-owned apartment building, to commercially grow hydroponic greens. With hydroponics, there is no soil, and therefore the issue of weight and roof support is moot. In this short video, Farm Manager Kate Ahearn gives us some background about the project. (I did make one error. I referred to a supermarket rooftop farm in Lynn, Mass. It’s actually in LynnFIELD.)

This model, with hydroponic gardens and protection from the elements, offers a 12-month growing season and numerous harvests. Yes, it’s more expensive to set up than a basic soil-based garden, but the payback is much greater. And as a green marketing guy, I see profitable, sustainable, earth-friendly businesses like this as a big step forward not only in economic development but in human rights and the rights of other living things.

Note: there will be more on this story. My old buddy Ted Cartselos did another shoot, with a better camera, on Friday. (Thanks, Ted, for working with me on this.)

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