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.
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 Aquaponics, Peerless Bread & Jam, Thrive 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.