Raise the Roof
As rooftop gardens appear in major cities across the country, St. Louis is getting in on the action.
Urban Harvest STL’s Food Roof aims to bring the city’s healthy urban farming movement off the streets and onto the rooftops. Set atop a warehouse on Convention Plaza Blvd., the 9,000-square-foot community-based farm will grow crops, raise chickens and bees, and provide an outdoor gathering space for community events and educational opportunities. Produce will supply area food banks and other charitable organizations that serve underprivileged individuals.
The project is among the first to reach full funding through Rally Saint Louis, and while the lion’s share of its $25,000 minimum funding goal came from an enthusiastic base of individual supporters, Food Roof didn’t get the green light until national agriculture giant Bunge stepped in and pledged its support. Construction is set to begin early this month, with the first crops to be planted next spring. The group plans to donate all produce grown in 2014, then transition into a community-sponsored agriculture model to reduce its dependence on donations.
Urban Harvest’s core mission is taking underutilized urban spaces and creating something that benefits people and the community. Food Roof, designed in cooperation with interns at HOK, is eco-friendly and effectively functions as a storm water management system that diverts half the roof’s rainfall into the soil instead of draining into the city sewer system. The green roof also serves as a heat island mitigator, helping the building keep cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Joseph Ostafi, founding board member of Urban Harvest STL, characterizes Food Roof as a living laboratory that is experimenting with what can be grown on a rooftop and how. About 2,000 pounds of vegetables per year will be grown in a variety of styles, including in traditional farm rows with nutrient-rich engineered soil, hydroponically, in container beds, and possibly even vertical gardening. Research and metrics on what works in this climate will allow the organization to report the results for use in other urban applications and rooftop farms. “It’s a science, and a little bit different than just growing stuff in dirt,” Ostafi says. “We’re going to do a lot of experimenting.”
As a charitable and benevolent business model that aims to serve underprivileged individuals, Food Roof will also provide job training through part-time manager positions, and teach useful skills to underserved individuals in the community. Inner-city school children will be able to attend on-site classes to learn about the benefits of organic agriculture and growing their own food.
Visit urbanharveststl.org to learn about volunteer opportunities or donate funds to the cause.
Food Roof rendering courtesy of HOK.