Rooftop farms appealing, but will they catch on?
Rooftop farms: Cities have 'just scratched the surface'
By Paulina Firozi Chicago Tribune June 11, 2015
For more than a decade, Chicago has been at the forefront of the green-roof movement. Now the city is poised to take an active role in the next environmental push — using roofs to grow food.
Rooftop farms are popping up around the city, from McCormick Place, which has grown tens of thousands of pounds of produce since 2013, to a Pullman factory — expected to have the world's largest operation when it's completed this summer — to small businesses and educational programs.
Smaller-scale rooftops also have opened or are proposed around the city.
Tracy Boychuk had a small rooftop garden built on the top of her garage in 2011 by Omni Ecosystems, a company that manufactures green roofs. While the space was being installed, she and Omni founder Molly Meyer discussed Meyer's business idea to bring more food-producing rooftops to Chicago residents. Boychuk was intrigued.
They expect their company, The Roof Crop, to be up and running this summer. Under their business plan, businesses and individuals with new commercial buildings would pay The Roof Crop to build farms, and The Roof Crop would then rent the space to produce crops. The Roof Crop would keep the proceeds from sales.
The Roof Crop is building a 6,800-square-foot rooftop farm on its West Town headquarters, as well as a 1,000-square-foot vertical green wall. Meyer and Boychuk, who plan to sell their vegetables to local markets and offer subscriptions, are also building a 1,000-square-foot indoor urban farm to support year-round crop production.
Omni Ecosystems employs an engineered soil system whose properties combat one of the pitfalls of rooftop farming — the limited weight capacity on roofs, Meyer said. The material can be up to one-fifth the weight of a typical soil system, Boychuk said.
For entrepreneur Boychuk, the growth of rooftop farms in the city marks a turning point in people's relationship with food.
"There's a reason that people aren't the healthiest," Boychuk said. "It's because they are disconnected from high-quality food sources. … It's not how we're meant to eat. It's not sustainable."
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