Urban Farming, a Bit Closer to the Sun -

Urban Farming, a Bit Closer to the Sun -

THIS summer, Tony Tomelden hopes to be making bloody marys at the Pug in Washington, D.C. with tomatoes and chilies grown above the bar, thanks to the citys incentives for green roofs.

Andrew Wilson

Children hold carrots grown in the Glide rooftop garden.

Mr. Tomelden, the Pugs principal owner, says hes planting a garden to take advantage of tax subsidies the city offers in his neighborhood if he covers his roof with plants.

If I can do something in my corner for the environment, that seemed a reasonable thing to do, he said. Plus I can save money on the tomatoes.

There wont be bloody marys at P.S. 6 on New Yorks Upper East Side, but one-third of its roof will be planted with vegetables and herbs next spring for the cafeteria. The school is using about $950,000 in city funds that it has put aside, and parents and alumni are providing almost a half-million dollars more.

For the children, its exciting when you grow something edible, said the schools principal, Lauren Fontana.

Aeries are cropping up on Americas skylines, filled with the promise of juicy tomatoes, tiny Alpine strawberries and the heady perfume of basil and lavender. High above the noise and grime of urban streets, gardeners are raising fruits and vegetables. Some are simply finding the joys of backyard gardens several stories up, others are doing it for the environment and some because they know local food sells well.

City dwellers have long cultivated pots of tomatoes on top of their buildings. But farming in the sky is a fairly recent development in the green roof movement, in which owners have been encouraged to replace blacktop with plants, often just carpets of succulents, to cut down on storm runoff, insulate buildings and moderate urban heat.

A survey by Green Roofs for Healthy Cities, which represents companies that create green roofs, found the number of projects its members had worked on in the United States grew by more than 35 percent last year. In total, the green roofs installed last year cover 6 million to 10 million square feet, the group said.

Steven Peck, its president, said he had no figures for how many of the projects involved fruits and vegetables, but interest is growing. When we had a session on urban agriculture, he said of a meeting of the group in Atlanta last month, it was standing room only. Mr. Peck said the association is forming a committee on rooftop agriculture.

Tax incentives have accelerated the plantings of green roofs, particularly in Chicago, which has encouraged green roofs for almost a decade. The Chicago chef Rick Bayless uses tomatoes and chilies he grows atop his restaurant Frontera Grill to make Rooftop Salsa.

New York State has subsidies both for roofs with succulents spread out over a thin layer of soil and for edible plants covering a smaller area. A proposed amendment to New York Citys tax abatement for some roof projects would include green roofs. Most roof gardeners arent in it for the money, though.

After her Lower East Side co-op refurbished the 1,000-square-foot roof of its six-floor walk-up, Paula Crossfield persuaded fellow board members to spend $3,000 to put a 400-square-foot garden on it. They built planters and paved part of the roof so people can walk easily among the plantings.

Ms. Crossfield, managing editor of the Civil Eats blog, about sustainable agriculture, is paying for the seeds and will do the harvesting, sharing the bounty with her neighbors. (She and her husband live on the top floor.)

In the process, she estimates she carried up 500 of the 1,500 pounds of soil they bought and put in planters.

Urban Farming, a Bit Closer to the Sun -

My decision to start a garden is an extension of my work, Ms. Crossfield said. Growing my own food helps me understand better what I write about: how food gets to our table, the difficulties it entails. Its not all about agricultural policy, she added.

The bottom line, she said, is that I harbor a secret desire to be a farmer, and my way of doing that is to use what I have, which is a roof.

Two weeks ago Ms. Crossfield transplanted seedlings from her apartment onto the roof: golden zucchini, oakleaf lettuce, brussels sprouts, butternut squash, watermelon, rainbow chard, cucumbers, nasturtiums, calendula, sunflowers, amaranth greens, tomatoes and herbs.

In San Franciscos Tenderloin district, Maya Donelson has filled planter boxes with vegetables on a 900-square-foot patch of roof at the Glide Memorial Church. For the past 11 months she has managed the Graze the Roof Project at the churchs Glide Center, a neighborhood social service provider.

The food goes to the centers volunteers and children in the neighborhood who work in the garden one day a week and learn to cook what they grow.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: June 24, 2009

An article last Wednesday about rooftop gardens referred incorrectly to a garden at Glide Memorial Church in San Francisco. It was begun 11 months ago, not two years. And a credit was omitted for a picture with the article. The photograph of a child harvesting carrots in the churchs garden was taken by


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