who are these people, anyway?

Rooftop farms and gardens are sprouting up in cities across the country.  Restaurants, community groups, families, and individuals are enjoying the bounty, but who the heck is up there growing all this food?

Volunteer at Eagle Street Rooftop Farm (Brooklyn, NY) || photo by Lauren Mandel

Lots of people – that’s who!  People of all different ages and ethnicities, with different skill sets, and different reasons for growing food.  American rooftop farmers tend to be between the ages of 22 and 55, with men and women equally engaged.  Most, if not all of these farmers migrated to rooftops from ground-level farms.  Some came from urban farms, and others from more traditional rural farmsteads.  Farmers who land these highly-prized rooftop positions are generally very knowledgeable about their agrarian genre – whether it be row farming, beekeeping, or hydroponics.  It is rare that a newbie finds himself in charge of much on the skyline.

Trey Flemming of Urban Apiaries (Philadelphia, PA) || photo by Lauren Mandel

Farm interns are a pillar of small agrarian farms.  In this young industry, however, formal trainees are few and far between.  The rare rooftop farm intern generally falls on the younger end of the spectrum, and carries her position for one to two growing seasons.

Volunteers, on the other hand, are key players in most rooftop endeavours.  These are the passionate folks who lend their time and energy in exchange for the experience alone, and maybe some fresh veggies on the side.  Farm volunteers are sometimes much younger or older than typical rooftop occupants.  They may enter the roof from a marginalized, inner-city neighborhood, or form another unsuspecting environment.

Vincent Dessberg of I Grow My Own Veggies (Sarasota, FL) || photo by Lauren Mandel

Laborers are common in large-scale, high-yield commercial farms.  Hydroponic facilities like Gotham Greens are structured to support a crop of highly-trained workers.  The pulse of rural farms across the country relies on migrant labor.  By contrast, the high-profile nature of rooftop farms tends to attract a very different workforce.  At this point in the fledgling industry’s development, commercial hydroponic farms are the only type of rooftop farm that can afford to pay workers aside from the farmer.  Perhaps this will change as the industry becomes more established.

We’ve now covered the key farming players, but what about rooftop gardening?  By 2009, the National Gardening Association found that 50% of American households grew some portion of their own food.  This astounding statistic means that anyone can be a rooftop gardener!  What’s your story?  Tell us about your own rooftop gardening experience, and you could land yourself  in one of the Eat Up volumes.

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