Gardens in the Sky

Rooftop gardens offer culinary and environmental perks. (Photo: Michael Van Vleet [CC BY 2.0]/Flickr)

I’ve spent some time studying green roofs. We’re planning an addition to our home, someday, and we'd like the addition to have a green roof. I envisioned one with edible plants but was told by some experts that wasn’t feasible. I wasn’t so sure I believed them then, and after what I read on the New York Times site today, I’m pretty darn sure I talked to the wrong people.

Rooftop edible gardens are popping up all over the place -- mainly in cities. According to the article, restaurants are growing edible rooftop gardens for food for their restaurants, schools are doing it to provide fresh food to their students, businesses are doing it for tax incentives, churches are doing it as social service projects, and some individuals are attempting to turn rooftop gardens into their livelihood.

Ben Flanner ... said he became fascinated with organic agriculture and was set to take an internship on a rural farm but then had a change of heart. “I wanted to farm but I didn’t want to leave the city,” he said.
Mr. Flanner was lucky to find an environmentally aware company -- Broadway Stages, a stage and lighting company -- that wanted a green roof on one of its buildings. It paid to prepare the roof for planting and agreed to let him grow food on it. Mr. Flanner and his partner, Annie Novak, did the planting and will be able to keep all the profits from their organic vegetables.
“People are knocking on my door to buy the stuff,” he said. Andrew Tarlow, a partner in four nearby restaurants, including Marlow & Sons, has agreed to buy anything Mr. Flanner grows.

One rooftop won’t a livelihood make, but if Flanner can get a few more rooftops, chances are he can have a profitable business.

In addition to providing sustainable food, edible rooftop gardens have other environmental benefits. They can help reduce the “heat island” effect in cities that have few trees and lower the temperature around the building with the rooftop garden. They can help improve air quality in the area and improve water retention.

It’s exciting to see the rate of growth of rooftop gardens. Green Roofs for Healthy Cities did a survey and found that the number of green roof projects done in the U.S. jumped 35 percent last year.

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.

I just may get my edible green roof after all, someday.

Do you have any experience gardening from your roof? Share it with us in the comments.