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Rooftop-integrated food production FAQ

Thanks to all of you for your questions on rooftop agriculture, or, more specifically, our building-integrated food production at the Rooftop Victory Garden at True Nature Foods.

Here are some frequently asked questions and our responses.
We hope you will find it a valuable resource.

Rooftop Victory Gardens FAQ

General project information
Rooftop Victory Gardens
True Nature Foods
6034 N. Broadway Ave., Chicago, IL (map)
Area: 960 square feet (Phase I)

Schedule
Design: 2005-2006
Construction: October 2006
First harvest: summer 2007

Objective
Rooftop-integrated food production project which provides a safe, secure source of food, introduces beauty into the urban environment, manages site stormwater, mitigates the Urban Heat Island effect through evaporative cooling and moderate-albedo surfaces (0.30), and demonstrates to the public the management of resource cycles in an urban locale.

Q1. How much did the project cost?
A1. If you don’t factor in the many, many hours of volunteer labor provided by Urban Habitat Chicago (which any real project should… labor is expensive), the funding dedicated to this project is as follows:

Source: $5,000 City of Chicago Green Roof Grants Program 2005: Residential and Small Commercial Buildings grant
Applied to: engineering calculations, materials
Pro-bono work: labor (see above), architectural consultation

Q2. What plants are being grown?
A1. The following plant species have been successfully grown on the roof:

Food

Amaranth
Basil
Buckwheat
Collard greens
Eggplant
Green beans
Horseradish
Tomatoes (yellow pear, grape, beefeater, roma)
Lavender
Mushrooms
Mustard greens
Onions
Pepper, bell
Peppers, chile
Potatoes
Sage
Snappeas
Thyme
Wheat
Zucchini

Green manure, growing media establishment, attraction of beneficial insects

Burdock
Cleome
Clover
Cosmos
Dandelion
Marigolds
A variety of grasses

Food, Fuel, and Fiber

Species are planted for their benefits in terms of Food, Fuel, and Fiber. More information on this shortly.
Species planted depends upon the season. For more information, see our press release Wheat, peas, buckwheat, favas and more - from a Rooftop Victory Garden

Species that are also being discovered on the roof due to bird droppings, wind, etc. These include: ash tree and other tree saplings.

Regarding native species

For those of you who have questions regarding the use of native species or our choice of plant species, please contact project lead Mike Repkin, as there are very good reasons for each species chosen.

Q3. How much produce are you getting from the roof?
A3. No weighted yields are accounted for in terms of vegetables, as we are still early in the project. There have been significant yields of: all tomato varieties, collard greens, snappeas, green beans, buckwheat, and amaranth.

Q4. How much maintenance is required?
A4. The following maintenance plan has been followed:

Peak growing season (May-October)
All sprinklers are on a timer and completely automated. Harvesting required at least twice weekly. Seeding 3 times: early spring, early summer, and late summer. Addition of organic fertilizer monthly. Photographic and written observation at least 2 twice weekly for documentation and to update website.

Off-season
Photographic and written observation at least 2 twice weekly for documentation and to update website.
Biweekly checks for system stability and periodically after major weather events.

Q5. Why doesn’t the roof garden just blow away? After all… it’s just plants and the system isn’t anchored to the roof, right?
A5. Planning a green roof requires the involvement of design and engineering professionals to make a successful system in compliance with municipal codes.
For more on this, see Getting started on a rooftop agriculture project.

To insure our project not only wouldn’t end up in the street, but that it wouldn’t end up in the store below, we did the following:
* Existing conditions were carefully documented by a licensed architect.
* Calculations were made by an Illinois-licensed structural engineer to determine a capacity for what the roof could handle, taking into account the dead loads such as the weight of the system and live loads such as snow, wind, and people walking on the roof.
* An overall design was chosen to fit the existing conditions and the very modest budget. The design included the type and weight of growing media (based on complete saturation by water) and other components in the system.
* Drawings and calculations were submitted to the City of Chicago, the design was checked by City officials, and a permit was issued for construction.

Q6. Did you look to any other edible rooftop garden case studies as a reference? If so which ones?
A6. Our inspirations in terms of actual projects was limited.
Though plenty of folks were raising herbs or vegetables in containers, we knew of no other rooftop-integrated food production projects at the time.
Japanese gardener Masanobu Fukuoka was, however, one of our guiding lights in terms of his low-intensity approach, general attitude toward the production of food, and grace.

Q7. What are the future plans for the Rooftop Victory Garden?
A7. Phase II, an 800 square foot area immediately east, is planned for the near future.
We have also been working intermittently on a staging area and a better way of getting onto the roof. We’re also looking for funding.
Read more about this at the Rooftop Victory Garden project page.

Learn more

Getting started on a rooftop agriculture project provides more information on planning a rooftop agriculture project.

For general questions on green roofs such as cost, recommended systems, etc., please look elsewhere.

Media resources

Wheat, peas, buckwheat, favas and more - from a Rooftop Victory Garden UHC press release (PDF format 40 KB)

To arrange an interview with Urban Habitat Chicago, please contact us.
To arrange an interview with True Nature Foods, please contact owner Paula Companio at 773-465-6400.

See more media resources for the Rooftop Victory Garden.

Last updated January 31, 2008

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