from slaughterhouse to rooftop farm

Strutting through Chicago’s Back of the Yards neighborhood, the re-purposed stockyard may seem like business as usual.  Look up, and you’ll quickly realize that one of these buildings is not like the others.

The Plant || image by Google Earth, diagram by Lauren Mandel

Set within one of the meat packing plants made famous by Upton Sinclair’s 1906 novel “The Jungle,” a business incubator called The Plant experiments with vertical farming.  Executive Director John Edel works diligently to stock The Plant with innovative, feel good businesses such as 312 AquaponicsPeerless Bread & JamThrive Kombucha, and SkyyGreens Aquaponics.  While the tenants predominantly raise fish and crops within the building, the Chicago-based company The Urban Canopy experiments with rooftop production.

I spoke with The Urban Canopy founder Alex Poltorak earlier this week, who explained that the company began farming above The Plant in 2011.  Poltorak first became interested in rooftop farming as a means of providing fruits and vegetables to school children, who may not otherwise have access to fresh, nutritious food.  According to company’s website, its broader vision is now “to show how rooftop farming can be a vital part of the urban agriculture movement to create a sustainable and equitable food system.”

The Urban Canopy provides vegetables to a small CSA, and experiments extensively with rooftop production techniques.  In the absence of a formal rooftop agricultural research center, Poltorak and his interns play a crucial role in experimenting and collecting data.  Current efforts include raising crops in burlap sacks, five-gallon buckets, and even polyvinyl chloride (PVC) pipe!  Spring crops included pine berries, chard, kale, mustard greens, and lettuce.

Thanks to pioneers like The Urban Canopy, Chicago’s skyline is sprouting tall.

3 Comments on “from slaughterhouse to rooftop farm

  1. Thanks for visiting, Lauren and a great post! We appreciate your kind words and insight. We’re also curious what the better rooftop growing methods are! In 2012 we ended up with these as rough stats: We ended up growing something on about 1000 sq feet of the 3000 sq feet we have available. We grew about 350 pounds of produce (~200 lbs tomatoes, 25 lbs peppers, 35lbs squash, 30lbs potatoes, 4lbs onions, 5lbs greens, and a few pounds of a dozen other things). We harvested a few hundred gallons of rain water and composted about 2500 pounds of food scraps destined for landfills…

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