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Farming space in the city


From organic rooftop farms in New York City to outdoor classrooms that teach gardening techniques to inner-city kids, designers are making the most of the ambient heat and solar energy readily available on the rooftops of urban buildings.

Pop-up greenhouse cubes on the streets of Tokyo and tomato vines suspended above corporate conference tables are less permanent solutions to ever-changing and evolving cityscapes where everything is transient and few take root.

Brooklyn Grange, New York, USA

In 2010, a two dozen-strong ‘ragtag crew’ united to convert a seventh floor New York rooftop into a commercial urban farm. Two years and 10,000 transplanted tomato seedlings later, Brooklyn Grange was hailed the world’s biggest rooftop soil farm; it broke even in its first year and showed 40% growth in its second, operating over two acres of rooftops in Brooklyn and Queens. It provides over 40,000lb of organic produce every year, which is sold to restaurants and local communities through weekly farm stands.

‘At the end of the day, it’s about sitting down with our family, admiring that sunset over the city skyline, snacking on a perfectly ripe, sweet tomato and remembering: this is what food really is.’

Brooklyn Grange Farm

HK Farm, Hong Kong

Following a stint working on Brooklyn Grange (see left), HK Farm’s Creative Director, Michael Leung, was inspired to ‘bring fresh urban agriculture concepts to Hong Kong’s concrete landscape’. In March 2012 HK Farm was born, uniting aspiring farmers with artists and designers that share a common belief in the value of rooftop farming and the benefits of food that has been locally produced. The aim is philosophical as well as practical: HK Farm’s output may not be as high as that of some urban farms, but its aim is also to collaborate with schools and communities in Hong Kong, providing workshops and tours and sharing lessons in urban agriculture on a global scale.

Gary Comer Youth Center, Chicago, USA

Designed by John Ronan Architect as an outdoor classroom, the Gary Comer Youth Center’s award-winning rooftop teaches gardening methods to inner-city kids in one of Chicago’s poorest neighbourhoods. Thanks to soil depths of nearly a foot, a wide variety of plants can flourish in this 8160 sq ft vegetable garden, which provides a recreational space for 8-18 year olds in after-school hours. Annual fruit and vegetable production is 1,000lb and 175 children are fed every day from the rooftop crops; any excess is distributed to local restaurants and sold at farmers’ markets.

‘This courtyard garden provides students who have little access to safe outdoor space the opportunity to interact with the natural world freely… As children learn about the seed-to-harvest cycle, they also learn about environmental concerns.’

Gary Comer Youth Centre, Chicago, USA – John Ronan Architect

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