Monday, November 8, 2010

21st Century Agriculture: Rooftops and Store Shelves Welcomed, Soil Need Not Apply

Growing food in urban areas has existed for some time, whether herbs and tomatoes are grown from one's balcony or window bed, or a supermarket staple like New York's Zabar's invests in greenhouses atop their Upper East Side buildings. Recently, the process of hydroponically growing these fruits and vegetables atop urban roofs has gained notoriety.
"Hydroponics (from the Greek words hydro [water] and ponos [labor]) is a centuries-old method of growing plants using mineral nutrient solutions in water and without soil." (Urban Gardening, Part 1: The Hydroponic Lab on the Roof, Ted Madden, TechNewsWorld June 22, 2010)
Because of limited space, many urban areas are looking to make use of their rooftops--and because of the weight-savings that hydroponically growing your vegetables provides, this process is gaining in popularity. Meet, for example, Gotham Greens:
"Gotham Greens is creating New York City’s first commercial scale greenhouse farm. The 15,000ft2 rooftop greenhouse facility will annually produce over 30 tons of premium quality, pesticide-free, sustainably-grown, vegetables, fruit, and culinary herbs. The farm will combine technically sophisticated Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) techniques with unique energy saving innovations. The produce grown will be sold under the Gotham Greens brand at grocery stores and farmer’s markets, as well as restaurants across the city. The greenhouse facility will begin crop production in 2011." (Gotham Greens website)
However, this new concept isn't void of its own challenges. The weight of greenhouses, collecting fertilizer runoff, transporting items to and from the rooftop garden, building permits etc. require a solid investment of time, expertise and capital.

To avoid some of these challenges, Biodynamicz, a consultant for hydroponic garden installation, feels the rooftops of parking structures offer a good location for urban gardens: they are structurally sound and easily accessible.

Others are taking hydroponics "down a notch"--rather than using rooftops and the energy from the sun, hydroponic gardens in Seoul, South Korea are grown entirely indoors. This prevents variability due to climate and weather events while still providing local, fresh food in its urban city.

Lotte Supermarket has even begun growing produce on the shelves, as reported on by CNN's Eco Solutions:

Hydroponic rooftop gardening may not be the solution in all cases, but the concept of re-establishing a local and reliable avenue for the growth of produce is a good start for pioneering companies.

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