You may not be surprised to learn that we lose over 50 acres of American farmland to urban development every hour, but you may be surprised that during that same amount of time, our population increases by 240 people. The result of these two things occurring simultaneously is that we are finding ourselves with more people to feed, and less land to grow enough food to feed the bustling human population. That’s why we’re seeing more and more farmers begin to think long term. Forward-thinking farmers are increasingly breaking out of conventional growing techniques to grow food in spaces that had previously been considered unusable for farming: cities and rooftops.

In addition to helping meet the growing demand for food production, rooftop farms provide many other benefits:

1. They Help Create Greener and Cleaner Cities

Cities with bare rooftops experience the heat island-effect as a result of heat radiating off of these empty roofs. The heat island-effect leads to increased energy usage and also contributes to the poor air quality that is often found in cities. Rooftop farms provide a great opportunity for cities to mitigate the effects of this phenomenon. By helping to cool buildings, rooftop farms reduce energy consumption and overall carbon emissions. Plus, rooftop farmers lessen the environmental impact of food transportation by growing food in the communities they serve.

2. They Enhance the Urban Landscape

Rooftop farms quite literally make cities greener through the cultivation of lettuces, spinach, tomatoes, peppers, and many other crops. The improved urban landscape has also been known to contribute to the well-being of city dwellers. In fact, studies indicate that exposure to nature and vegetation provides many mental health benefits, from decreased anxiety to increased productivity. 

3. They Increase the Availability of Healthy Food

Thanks to rooftop and urban farmers, more people living in concrete jungles have access to fresh, wholesome, and affordable food. This hyper-local food also travels fewer miles and is often healthier and more delicious, too.

Rooftop Farming Goes Global 

Rooftops offer ample, otherwise unused open space perfect for growing vegetables, making rooftop farming an appealing solution to feed growing urban populations in the future. Many cities throughout the world have already started to adopt rooftop farming.  For example, in Paris, the Paris Expo Porte de Versailles is currently being renovated in order to become home to the world’s largest urban rooftop farm next year. Visitors will be able to purchase produce and sample it in the rooftop restaurant. The farm will also host educational tours and various events, and citizens will even be able to rent space to grow their own crops! 

Domestically, one of the first rooftop-to-restaurant farms in the U.S., The Bell Book & Candle fuels its seasonal fare with 65 Tower Gardens in only 2,500 sq. ft. Restaurant goers are able to enjoy a variety of fresh herbs, vegetables, and fruits just six flights of stairs below where it was grown and harvested.

Create Your Own Rooftop Garden

If you have a rooftop where you live, but don’t think you have a green thumb, you don’t have to wait for other people to start your own rooftop farm or garden. You could be growing your own organic produce and filling your home with freshly-picked produce in the coming months!

Green roofs, container gardens, and greenhouses are distinct rooftop gardening spaces, each with their own benefits and challenges. You’ll want to choose a growing technique based on your plant goals, climate, microclimate, local code, and budget. Most of us would be categorized as small-scale residential gardeners and are probably looking for something that is a lower-budget investment, so for us, a container garden would be a great option. Gardening Know How has a great tutorial for how to start your own rooftop garden:

  1. Step 1: In some buildings, rooftop gardens may be prohibited or require special treatment and it’s best to know these details before you get started. Your first step should be to research the local ordinances, rental property rules, or homeowner association regulations pertaining to rooftop gardens in your home/building.
  2. Step 2: Some buildings weren’t built to withstand the additional weight of a rooftop garden, and while although others may be able to take the extra weight; they may only be able to take a limited amount of weight. That’s why before moving forward, it’s important that you have an architect or a contractor advise whether or not the building is safe to build a rooftop garden on. They don’t need to be involved in the entire garden building process. 
  3. Step 3: If your building is safe to build on, it’s best to use as little weight as possible. Opt for plastic, fiberglass, or foam planting containers, and avoid using pavers. Choose lightweight potting soil rather than garden dirt. Utilize styrofoam peanuts for drainage rather than rocks or pottery shards. 
  4. Step 4: Remember that your rooftop garden will be significantly windier than a normal garden, so you’ll need to incorporate windbreaks into your design. A great way to do this is to use trellises or other latticed windbreaks for your rooftop garden. 
  5. Step 5: Decide on a means for watering your rooftop garden. Since it will need to be watered frequently in hot weather, you may want to consider having a water storage system built in or having an automatic watering system installed. 
  6. Step 6: All green roofs, regardless of the types of plants they grow, help address the heat island effect and stormwater runoff, and also reduce energy costs of a building by acting as an insulating layer atop the roof. 

Rooftop farms are also a great way to provide healthy and fresh food to the urban community (and if you’re able to start your own rooftop farm, to your family). As you learned in this post, you don’t have to wait for someone else to start a rooftop garden! If you have a roof, you can follow the above steps to get started.

Building a rooftop farm or an urban farm, in general, are great steps towards living a healthier and more sustainable lifestyle. If you’re looking for other ways to contribute to the future of our planet, then you should learn more about Spring Power & Gas’s innovative energy and natural gas solutions!