Chicago has something to brag about. Uncommon Ground, a restaurant on the north side of town, houses the country’s very first certified organic rooftop farm. The farm was founded on the restaurant’s Edgewater location in 2007, and became certified by the Midwest Organic Services Association (MOSA) shortly thereafter.
The 2,500 square foot rooftop contains an intricate patchwork of raised beds, containers, and gathering space, with a lower roof area reserved for bee keeping. The farm’s innovative design drips with sophistication, and great care was clearly taken in both layout design and material selection. One key innovation involves a railing system that integrates raised planters into the perimeter fencing. Additional design features include a rainwater harvesting system (to capture roof runoff), drip irrigation, and solar thermal panels (to heat water within the building using sunlight), which provide an extra pinch of “green” to the rooftop farm and the building below.
Earlier this week I visited Uncommon Ground for the first time, and was delighted by the farm’s spring bounty. Radishes, mustard greens, and lettuces were out in full force, as were blossoming chives and spring peas, climbing toward the sun. An idyllic setting? Yes. An example of how a commercial agricultural facility can build community and empower people? You betchya.
Before diving into a fiddlehead and asparagus salad down below in the restaurant, I had the pleasure of meeting Dave Snyder, Uncommon Ground’s full-time farmer. Dave’s official title of Rooftop Farm Director is as comprehensive as it sounds. In addition to crop planning and tending to seedlings, Dave spends almost half of his time tending to people. Whether it’s leading rooftop farm tours or training interns, coordinating with the chef or meeting with partner organizations – it’s all part of the job.
As Dave and I chatted, he sat on a bar stool beside a pile of papers ballasted with Felco hand shears. When discussing Uncommon Ground’s decision to go organic, Dave explained that “we use our farm as an education and outreach tool… to get people more aware of the food they’re eating.” One benefit of the farm’s organic certification is that it opens the door to conversation about organics. If you can get people talking about organic veggies, they are more likely to try them, love them, and support the cause.
Sign up for a rooftop farm tour at Uncommon Ground’s Edgewater location next time you’re in Chicago, and see what all the fuss is about!