farming in the sunshine state

I Grow My Own Veggies || photo by Lauren Mandel

Despite Florida’s abundant sunshine and rainfall, there is a surprising lack of rooftop agricultural activity throughout the state.  The growing conditions are perfect for food production at any altitude, and yet, most growing is reserved for the ground plain.

The one exception is I Grown My Own Veggies in Sarasota, FL.  This 3,000 sf open-air hydroponic farm rests atop a glass factory in a light manufacturing area of the city.  The farm’s Founder, Vincent Dessberg, began growing food on the roof of his factory in 2009 in an effort to grow food as locally as possible and empower his neighbors to follow suit.  His original concept was to build a restaurant below the farm, with the slogan “Your food travels 15 feet, not 15 miles.”

While the restaurant never materialized, the farm continues to produce an impressive variety of crops, including strawberries, chard, kale, tomatoes, basil, watercress, onions, and several varieties of leaf lettuces.  The hydroponic facility contains over 6,000 plants, which are grown in  stacked Styrofoam containers and drip irrigated from above.  Holes in the bottoms of these lightweight containers allow for water to drain from one pot down to the next, thereby minimizing water loss.

The farm produces three to four crop cycles per year, but according to Dessberg, growing during the summer months is tricky.  Marketing to local restaurants has also been tricky, since most of these businesses rely upon large quantities of a few select crops rather than the large variety that Dessberg has to offer.  Due to these difficulties and others, Dessberg brought on Don Gamin to manage the farm.  Gamin is poised to take over completely within the next few months, and is sure to bring some fresh ideas to the table.

2 Comments on “farming in the sunshine state

  1. Thanks, Lauren, this is great to know! Rainfall in north Florida is far from abundant, however. The past couple of years have put us into near-drought conditions. That brings up another opportunity for innovation though. For commercial buildings other than skyscrapers, I think it is feasible to anchor PVC pipe to the side of the structure near an outdoor faucet to which one could then attach variable lengths of standard garden hose. Its appearance would be unobtrusive, and the hose would be easy to stow away. Just thinkin’.

  2. Actually it doesn’t surprise me at all that there are not more rooftop gardens here in Florida. Other than South Florida (Miami, etc.) there are very few high rise buildings, even in large cities like Tampa and Orlando. There is an abundance of land, so most Floridians live in single structures with enough land to have a small garden, and with more or less year-round growing it is an easy food supply compared to other regions. Farmers markets are readily available. For example, here in Tallahassee, there is a local market available somewhere in town almost every day of the week! This makes it so easy for locally-owned restaurants to serve fresh produce (and great local seafood)…guess that makes for pretty lazy growing! Just with more folks were doing it!

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