In America, over an acre of farmland is lost every minute.* With the increasing appeal of urban living and pop culture’s rediscovery of fresh food, urbanites are planting farms and gardens throughout cities. In the midst of this agricultural renewal, contaminated soils and vanishing garden space compel farmers, activists, and restaurateurs to look toward the skyline for a food solution. Rooftops provide the space that cities need to grow fresh veggies close to home.
Eat Up| The Inside Scoop on Rooftop Agriculture will be the first book publication dedicated entirely to rooftop agriculture. This three-part series provides a practitioner’s view of how to turn dreams of rooftop farms and gardens into actual spaces that feed people. Each volume digs into the nuts and bolts of rooftop agriculture for either home gardeners (volume one), entrepreneurs and restaurateurs (volume two), and policy makers and academics (volume three). All three volumes operate under the Eat Up brand.
The goal of Eat Up is twofold: to act as the pivotal voice of a movement, and to empower people to bring fresh kale, tomatoes, and beets to tables across America. With inspirational photographs of rooftop farms, interviews with skyline farmers, and insider strategies, Eat Up provides readers with the practical tools they need to feed their stomachs and their souls.
Rooftop agriculture is not a fad – it is the future of our urban food system.
* U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2009. Summary Report: 2007 National Resources Inventory. Natural Resources Conservation Service, Washington, DC, and Center for Survey Statistics and Methodology, Iowa State University, Ames, IA.
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High tunnel veggies || Photo by Lauren Mandel
As your asparagus lies low waiting for spring, it has plenty of time to fantasize about warmer soil. Jump up to a rooftop, and this fantasy could be closer to reality than your vegetables have ever dreamed.
Buildings emit heat. Since hot air rises, local building codes specify how much insulation must be installed inside the roof to keep this heat from escaping. But what if there were a way to let some of this heat enter a rooftop greenhouse?
Some ground-level greenhouses rely upon radiant heating to regulate winter temperatures. This method involves heating the floor so that hot air can warm the plants and soil. Perhaps this same principle can be applied to rooftop greenhouses, whereby heat from the building is harnessed and re-used. With new construction, could municipalities be convinced to allow for thinner insulation below greenhouses?
In my travels, I have yet to see this practice in action. Do you think that it’s feasible? Would municipalities allow for such an unusual variance?
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To the newbie, designing and building a rooftop farm may seem like a cakewalk. What’s the big deal? You just plop a regular farm on top of a building and it’s business as usual, right? Wrong. Planning a successful rooftop farm requires careful consideration of siting (where the farm will be located), infrastructure, project goals, and long-term financing. Coordination with the building’s architect is also crucial, particularly when designing a rooftop farm for a building that has not yet been built.
Proper coordination can avoid one serious rooftop threat that ground-level farmers will never face: reflectivity. Light that reflects off of surrounding surfaces can scorch spinach and burn brassicas. Highly reflective glass on neighboring buildings, or even on surrounding levels of the farm’s own building, can devastate crops.
Here are two anecdotes that illustrate the power of reflectivity:
1| The green roof firm for which I work designed and built a courtyard shade garden for an important Philadelphia client. The courtyard is surrounded by taller building stories, which are faced with glass so that workers can enjoy the garden view. The garden’s ferns, heuchera, and other shade plants performed well at first, until strong summer rays reflected off of the windows and fried some of the plants! What seemed at first to be a shaded haven had become a seasonal hotbox. The most sensitive plants were replaced with sun-loving species, and next time we will coordinate with the architect to avoid a similar mishap.
2| In 2010 a Las Vegas hotel found itself in a sticky situation when poolside guests were burned by light reflecting off of the hotel’s glass façade. For 90 minutes each day, the concave building reflects light that is hot enough to melt plastic and burn hair. Guests have the ability to seek refuge under patio umbrellas, but replace people with vegetable plants, and you’d have some fried green tomatoes on your hands.
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