In Big Cities, a Bigger Focus on Rooftop Farms

In a recent column, I contemplated on who I thought were the first entrepreneurs. Ever. One of these, I’m sure, was the farmer. Times have changed and many would say that as consumption and populations increase, so will the need for farming. And, therefore, the need for land.

According to the USDA today “about 51 percent of the U.S. land base (including Alaska) is used for agricultural purposes, including cropping, grazing (on pasture, range, and in forests), and farmsteads/farm roads.” Land is a limited resource, but there are innovative companies out there elevating the concept of farming to rooftops today.

Gotham Greens

The founders of the New York, NY-based Gotham Greens – Viraj Puri, Eric Haley, and Jenn Nelkin Frymark – had a vision for a local, ecologically-driven, urban farm operation that could offer city dwellers the freshest and highest quality culinary ingredients, year-round, at competitive prices.

Gotham Greens built its flagship hydronic rooftop greenhouse in 2011. Hydroponic farming is the technique of growing plants in water to minimize the use of land. Today, Gotham Greens grows premium-quality, year-round, pesticide-free, leafy greens, basil and tomatoes for the local NYC and Chicago markets. These operations enable them to harvest daily, and deliver directly to supermarkets and restaurants within hours of picking the produce. This drastically reduces food waste, eliminates the need for long distance trucking, and gives customers a fresher and more nutritious product.

Up Top Acres

Founders of the Washington, DC-based Up Top Acres – Kristof Grina, Kathleen O’Keefe, and Jeffrey Prost-Greene – having grown up together, found a similar passion for creating a space in the city that benefited residents environmentally, socially and economically. Kristof was working on a small farm in Maryland, Kathleen was working in urban planning and Jeff was working on a start up. The idea of rooftop farming sprouted.

Up Top Acres designs, builds and operates organic soil-based rooftop farms by activating underutilized rooftops in neglected spaces. They distribute the food locally, and the farms serve as living classrooms for children and adults.

In addition to creating farmable urban land, the farms function as a green roofs – generating LEED credits and fulfilling environmental regulations through storm-water retention (70 to 100 percent), energy conservation, heat island reduction, and habitat preservation.

Up Top Acres opened their first farm in May 2015. A few months later they operate three farms in Washington, DC and Maryland. Each farm functions as a pilot for the systems they will be using in the future. The Farm at Oyamel is in partnership with ThinkFoodGroup, and a pilot for their small scale farms geared towards restaurant production. The Farm at Elm and Woodmont is the pilot for their commercial farms which will produce food to sell at farmers markets and through CSAs. The Garden at Green Place is a model for their residential farms which can supply neighborhoods with local food.

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Written by:
Vanessa Ferragut, CMP is a Sustainable Event and Meeting Planner in Washington, DC. She is the founder of Ferragut Event Group, LLC, an event planning company that focuses on sustainable meetings and events. Vanessa is also a local foods enthusiast and Founder of Greenease, Inc, a mobile app dedicated to promoting restaurants, cafes and grocers that work with local farms and provide sustainable food options. She is passionate about supporting organizations that embrace sustainability in their business and service practices, promote community activism, and minimize their overall environmental impact in the hospitality sector. You can follow her at @vferragut and @GreeneaseApp.
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