Why There Are More Roots Sprouting on Rooftops in New Orleans

Sourced from Next City

Elisa Bach says she only buys older model cellphones off EBay. “I know how tank-prone my phone is … if I can’t replace it for around $100, it doesn’t fit my lifestyle nor career choice,” says Bach, who uses specialized aquaponics tanks to grow herbs and vegetables for sale at the Rouse’s Central Business District grocery store in the heart of New Orleans.

What makes this garden unusual, though, aside from the fact that the garden doesn’t use soil, is that it’s perched on top of the store itself. Rouse’s, a local grocery chain, reached out to the Recirculating Farms Coalition in 2012 to ask for help taking advantage of its roof space to grow organic produce it could just take downstairs to sell to customers.

“They were ahead of the curve,” Bach says. There were practical considerations behind the plan. “Herbs are always better cut fresh,” Bach says. The move fits into a larger local trend focused on growing and eating locally.

Marianne Cufone founded the Recirculating Farms Coalition, which has been pushing for practical solutions that can enable communities to produce more of the basic foods they need themselves. Supporting and encouraging rooftop gardening has become part of their toolset.

“The big challenge in land access is, especially here in New Orleans, but all over, is that land is valuable,” says Cufone. “And even if it’s not valuable now, people acquire it, sit on it, and wait for it to become valuable. And that is especially an issue in New Orleans. We have something like 25,000 empty lots, and you can’t get your hands on it no matter who you are unless you’re a developer or someone with lots of cash.”

These challenges led Cufone, who also teaches an environmental policy class at Loyola University’s law school, to draft legislation creating a green-roof installation tax credit. Louisiana previously passed the Urban Agriculture Incentive Zone Act in 2015, which supports local government efforts to reduce property taxes for landowners that lease to farmers.

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