This article was written by Camilla Stanley, a guest writer for Green Roofs for Healthy Cities
Green roofs are a growing trend in urban areas because of their unique ability to address several urban challenges at once. These benefits include lowering a building’s energy costs, reducing the urban heat island effect, improving air quality, boosting urban biodiversity, having a positive impact on mental health and, for businesses, strengthening a company’s marketing and increasing property value. But there is one co-benefit that is rarely taken advantage of… food production! In particular, rooftop farms and gardens provide the added benefit of being a source of locally grown produce.
The demand for locally and sustainably grown food is a growing trend as consumers become more interested in knowing where their food is coming from. There are growing concerns around the distance food travels before it reaches our plates (on average fruits and vegetables travel 1,500 miles / 2500 km), and the usage of hormones, pesticides, and GMOs in meat, dairy products and eggs. What the grocery industry is seeing now is a wave of consumers more willing to ‘vote with their dollar’ to ensure that food companies take the necessary steps to effectively reduce their environmental impact.
Rooftop urban farming is a great way to meet these growing demands as consumers are beginning to understand the importance of reconnecting and taking care of nature and the many ecosystem services that nature provides. Green roofs utilized to produce food present a great opportunity for property managers and community leaders to transform the built environment and better serve their communities. This is why Green Roofs for Healthy Cities (GRHC) has put together an informative course on rooftop farming – Introduction to Rooftop Urban Agriculture – a comprehensive review of the benefits, importance and potential of rooftop agriculture. GRHC is also hosting an Urban and Rooftop Agriculture Virtual Symposium on Thursday, July 23 from 1:00 to 4:30 pm est. The event is bringing together professionals from diverse backgrounds involved in mainstreaming urban agriculture.
The increase in events and resources are coming at a good time as urban agriculture is one of the fastest-growing sectors of the agricultural industry. Rapid technological innovation in areas like vertical farming is allowing entrepreneurs to take advantage of underutilized spaces in cities for food production. This is great for produce that is not well-suited for long-distance transport like leafy greens. Fruits and vegetables that travel long distances also lose flavour and nutrients the longer they are in transit. Urban agriculture helps reduce food waste along the supply chain, supports the growing demand for local and transparent supply chains and improves the quality of the food available at supermarkets!
Community leaders seeking to address challenges such as poverty, environmental degradation, air and water quality, waste production and disposal and energy consumption would greatly benefit from integrating urban agriculture into their strategies as it is a proven solution in which communities can improve their ecological footprint while garnering social benefits.
Property managers would be interested to know that rooftop urban farming is a great way to earn LEED credits and maintain peak LEED performance. Sites that have on-site vegetable gardens are eligible for up to 6 LEED credits in the following categories: local food protection (1 credit), social equity within the community (1 credit), heat island reduction (2 credits) and site development: protect or restore habitat (2 credits).
Municipalities are taking initiative and investing in the development of sustainable communities and repurposing unused spaces. For example, in New York City on April 18, 2019, the city council passed The Climate Mobilization Act to reduce greenhouse emissions from buildings and includes a requirement for the installation of green roofs and/or solar panels on newly constructed buildings. A similar by-law was passed in Toronto, Canada back in 2009 where all buildings over 2,000 sq. meters must install a green roof. The city now has over 700 green roofs! Other cities that have adopted green roof mandates in recent years include San Francisco, Portland and Denver! On a larger scale, initiatives such as the C40 Good Food Cities Declaration where fourteen cities around the world committed to achieving the “‘Planetary Health Diet’ by 2030 which aims to address both environmental and human health through better food choices.
For examples of some rooftop urban farms around North America, check out the list below:
– Brooklyn Grange in Brooklyn, NY
– Ryerson Urban Farm in Toronto, ON
– Boston Medical Center Rooftop Farm in Boston, MA
– Chicago Botanical Gardens in Chicago, IL
– Uncommon Ground in Chicago, IL
– STEM Kitchen Garden in San Francisco, CA
– Top Leaf Farms in Oakland, CA