Though most people need to leave their city limits to get to the countryside, an increasing number of urban denizens only have to take a quick trip in an elevator. Hong Kong, Tokyo, Singapore, Amsterdam, Montreal, and several U.S. cities now have farms being built on top of multistory buildings. In fact, the largest rooftop farm in the entire world–the Brooklyn Grange–is actually in New York City.
“There is nothing more rewarding than sitting down at the end of a good day of working with our hands, watching the sun set over a healthy, productive farm, and enjoying some freshly picked vegetables as a team,” said Anastasia Cole Plakias, founding partner of the Brooklyn Grange.
The Brooklyn Grange cultivates over 50,000 pounds of organic produce that’s grown annually over its two and a half acres spread out over two buildings in New York City, and also has chicken coops and over 30 beehives. Its food is sold either at the grange’s farm stand, or to local restaurants.
Ben Flanner first opened the grange in 2010, spending an entire year to develop a 6,000-square-foot pilot project, eventually scaling it up to 43,000 square feet.
President and founder of Green Roofs for Healthy Cities Steven Peck explains that urban farming will help supply populations with food without increasing the pollution or cost of food transportations as the price of fossil fuels and urban populations rise.
“Five years ago, there were virtually no rooftop farms,” said Peck. “Now they are starting to appear across the globe.”
The idea was born from the green roof movement, where roofs are partially or completely covered with a special waterproof membrane that allows vegetation to grow. The benefits of a green roof are myriad. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, they reduce energy usage, air pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions, while also improving human health, comfort, and quality of life. Plus, they efficiently manage storm water runoff, too.
“Rooftop farms are a great way to take advantage of unused space, but it’s important to make sure the roof you are setting it up on can handle the additional stress,” explains the president of DVR Roofing in Toronto, Canada.
These rooftop farms go one step further. Rather than growing moss or grass, these rooftop plots allow vegetables and fruits to grow for locals and also give volunteers the chance to learn farming skills.
Although the movement is still very young, according to Peck, “it has a lot of promise to provide jobs and healthy food in cities.”