Let’s hear what the experts have learned up on the roof. This post is the first in a series where I pose the same two questions to various leaders in the rooftop agriculture movement. First we speak with Dave Snyder, Uncommon Ground‘s rooftop farm director from 2008-2012. Dave was the first rooftop farmer to tend the certified organic crops above this award-winning restaurant in Chicago’s Edgewater neighborhood. While Dave has moved on to other urban agricultural endeavors, he is still one of the most knowledgeable skyline farmers around.
1| What is the greatest obstacle your rooftop farm has overcome?
Early on at the Rooftop Farm at Uncommon Ground we had problems with soil depletion. The suspicion was that reduced soil depth and high soil drainage was leading to a general and fairly rapid decrease in fertility. Our strategy was to spend a huge amount of time reading and talking to people. Although we never found a single, simple answer to our problem (which seems to be the way of the world, in agriculture especially) we followed the advice of those smarter than us and took a more active role in our soil health. Although our soil had abundant organic content, it showed rapid depletion in a couple of minerals. In addition to other fertility management strategies, we made sure to add organic compost to each bed annually to reinoculate our soil with the microorganisms responsible for breaking down our organic material, making it available to our plants. Ever since, the roof has increased productivity every year.
2| What piece of advice would you offer aspiring skyline growers?
More than anything else, the most important piece of advice is to go for it. With a little bit of planning, rooftop growing is a great project for anyone with a roof on which to grow. Don’t be intimidated by the scale and complexity of some rooftop growing efforts — there are plenty of small, micro and nano-scale rooftop gardens out there, some of which are featured in EAT UP. Expect lots of learning and gratification to spare.