Rethinking Rooftops

Sourced from Produce Grower

Rooftop farming is intensive agriculture using engineered soil and irrigation on building roofs. Commercial rooftop farming is an emerging practice at the intersection of agriculture and urban planning, where economic and environmental returns are equally important. Rooftop farms can take many forms, including gardens, high tunnels or climate-controlled greenhouses. Rooftop farming enables production of hyper-local food and its associated social and educational benefits in urban areas where land is unavailable or prohibitively expensive for farming.

The basics of rooftop farms
Municipal zoning laws and building height restrictions are barriers to rooftop farms, but some cities are beginning to revise their codes to accommodate urban agriculture and rooftop farms. In New York City, for example, it became easier for property owners to obtain the city’s approvals for constructing rooftop farms in 2012 when a citywide planning initiative known as “Zone Green” removed the zoning impediments for incorporating ornamental and agricultural uses on rooftops. In this new context, the Brooklyn Grange, a 1.5-acre commercial rooftop farm, was constructed atop an 11-story building of the former Brooklyn Navy Yard. For this construction, $592,730 was funded by the Community-Based Green Infrastructure Program of the NYC Department of Environmental Protection based on the expectation that the farm could reduce drainage volume and nutrient load to the East River while producing fresh vegetables for local consumption. While commercial rooftop farming is still in its early stages, New York City alone has 0.9 billion square feet (about 21,000 acres) of flat roof surface, 14 percent of which is considered suitable for large-scale (>10,000 ft2) commercial farms (Ackerman et al. 2013; Acks 2006).

Rooftop farms can increase revenue through diverse social and cultural programs, not just vegetable production. For example, the Brooklyn Grange became a popular destination for environmental and agricultural tourism, and is used for exercise classes, weddings, photo shoots, music events and organic food tasting. Also, the Grange offers farming internships as well as environmental education programs that have engaged approximately 40,000 K-1 students. These programs emphasize participation of immigrants, refugees and other under-represented groups, which are subsidized by the municipal programs for green-job training and diversity.

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